San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionSDNHM Field Guide
Monterey Ensatina, by Bradford Hollingsworth

Ensatina eschscholtzii eschscholtzii
Monterey Ensatina


The name Ensatina comes from the Latin ensatus, meaning sword-shaped, while eschscholtzii is in honor of F. Eschscholtz, a German zoologist.


Ensatinas are medium-sized salamanders, ranging from 2-3 inches snout-vent length. They have a stout body with relatively long legs. They have smooth skin, 12-13 costal grooves, and the base of the tail is strongly constricted.

The color pattern of Ensatinas is highly polymorphic through their range. The Monterey Ensatina is reddish to light brown in coloration. The base of the legs are often lighter, either orange or reddish orange. The Monterey Ensatina lacks blotches.

This species has no larval stage and the young are miniatures of the adult form.

Subspecies: There are seven subspecies of Ensatinas; two occur within our region. The Monterey Salamander (E. e. eschscholtzii) and the Large-blotched Salamander (E. e. klauberi) can be readily distinguished from one another based on color pattern.

Range and Habitat

The Monterey Ensatina is found from central California to norther Baja California. It is distributed along the coastal mountains.

This species enjoys deciduous and evergreen forests. It can be found under rotting logs, bark and rocks. In the southern portion of its range, it frequents forests and well-shaded canyons, as well as oak woodland and chaparral.

Natural History

This salamander belongs to the family Plethodontidae or Lungless Salamanders. It lacks lungs and respires completely through its skin. Therefore, it needs moist habitats to allow the skin to "breathe."

The Ensatina is a relatively long-lived salamander, some reaching 14-16 years of age. As with all plethodontid salamanders, reproductive rates are slow, producing small clutches of eggs and reaching sexual maturity between 3-5 years of age. The Monterey Ensatina is also believed to be a mimic of the Rough-skinned or California Newts, both of which produce toxic secretions. The Monterey Ensatina is a fully terrestrial species and does not need to return to water to breed.

Behavior: Ensatinas remain beneath the ground in the dry summer months, and emerge with the rains of autumn, winter and spring. Adults tend to be more active during the day compared to other plethodontid salamanders. Studies suggest that Ensatina salamanders are territorial outside the breeding season, fending off intruders of the same species.

Diet: Enstainas eat a wide variety of foods, including mites, spiders, sowbugs, beetles, slugs and snails. Monterey Ensatinas will emerge to forage after rains, or stay hidden in moist debris and wait for prey to pass by.

Breeding: Breeding usually occurs from November to March. After several hours of elaborate courtship, the male deposits a spermatophore which is then picked up by the females cloaca and used to fertilize her eggs. In late spring, females from southern populations will lay a single cluster of about 8 eggs. Eggs are deposited underground, beneath bark or within rotting logs. After 4-5 months the eggs hatch and fully developed young emerge. These miniature salamanders are about an inch long (20-26mm SVL).

Conservation Status

There has been no proposed conservation plans.

Suggested Reading

Petranka, James W. 1998. Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution.

Text by Bradford Hollingsworth, Kathy Roberts, and Kim Gray-Lovich.
Photo by Jim Melli

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