San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionSDNHM Field Guide
Large-blotched Ensatina, by Jim Melli

Ensatina eschscholtzii klauberi
Large-blotched Ensatina


The name Ensatina comes from the Latin ensatus, meaning sword-shaped, while eschscholtzii is in honor of F. Eschscholtz, a German zoologist. The subspecific name klauberi is in honor of Laurence M. Klauber, a famous herpetologist from San Diego.


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 Large-blotched Ensatina has a black ground color with orange, yellowish, or pink blotches. The blotches can sometimes fuse together to form bars or bands. Some individuals have been found with larger blotches which are connected together.

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 Large-blotched Salamander (E. e. klauberi) and Monterey Salamander (E. e. eschscholtzii) can be readily distinguished from one another based on color pattern.

Range and Habitat

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."

This species occurs in southern California from the San Jacinto Mountains to northern Baja California. Its occurrence in Baja California was often suspect, but its recent discovery in the Sierra San Pedro Mártir has put these doubts to rest.

This species enjoys deciduous and evergreen forests. It can be found under rotting logs, bark, and rocks. To the south, it frequents forests and well shaded canyons, as well as oak woodland and chaparral.

Natural History

The Large-blotched Ensatina is a fully terrestrial species and does not need to return to water to breed. Ensatinas are relatively long lived salamanders, 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 at between 3-5 years of age. The color pattern of the Large-blotched Ensatina is thought to be cryptic and used for camouflage.

Behavior: Ensatinas remain beneath the ground in the dry summer months, and emerge with the rains of autumn, winter and spring. In the Sierra San Pedro Mártir, it emerges with the monsoonal rains which begin around August. 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. Large-blotched 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

The Large-blotched Ensatina is currently a Federal Special Concern species (FSC) and as a California Special Concern species (DFG-CSC).

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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