Marbled Salamander (Ambystoma opacum)
Recognized Subspecies in VA: None
Size: 3 - 4.5 inches
Range: Statewide, but rarer in the Valley and Ridge
Status: Least Concern
The Marbled Salamander is a unique animal, even for the Mole Salamanders. This species spends most of its time in forest, in burrows until they emerge September-November to lay eggs. Females travel to empty vernal pools, where they take shelter and lay their eggs in moist soil. The female will guard the eggs for weeks, until the vernal pool fills, and the poor-swimming female has to leave. Once submerged, the eggs hatch within a few hours into larvae. These larvae over winter in the pools, feeding on the smaller inhabitants such as Fairy Shrimp and Scuds. Then, as spring rolls around, and the Spotted Salamanders return to lay eggs of their own, the Marble larvae begin to transform into metamorphs, and leave the pool. This is thought to lower competition between the salamanders. Then the juveniles spread throughout the forest, before becoming adults and returning.
Adults are typically a slate gray (blackish) base with light bands across the back. Males typically have white bands, while females have more of a gray. The venter is plain and slaty. This is the only Ambystoma species in Virginia with a cylindrical tail. Marbles are typically thick, and often tubular in shape. Metamorphs emerge patternless, but develop a pattern with age. It starts as silvery flecks, and evolves into bands. Larvae are dark, with large heads. They are usually the largest salamander larvae in the pool. Larvae will also have a row of silvery dots down the sublateral.
Similar Species: This species does not have any local species that are superficially similar as adults. Juveniles and larvae may be mistaken for other Ambystoma species, but time of year and size should help.
Maps and External Sources
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