Garden Slender Salamander

Batrachoseps major major


Adults 3.2-6.1 cm (1.3-2.4 in) snout-to-vent length (SVL). A small, slender salamander with tiny limbs, possible to mistake for a worm at first glance. Heavy-bodied for a slender salamander.

Background coloration is variable and can be brown, tan, or grayish. Individuals from drier inland regions are often especially pale. Dorsal stripe may or may not be present and is often indistinct. Ventral color is pale gray.

Similar Species

Quick ID Notes


Found in coastal Southern California from the foothills on the northern border of the Los Angeles Basin to El Rosario in northern Baja California. Occurs inland up the western slope of the Santa Ana Mountains and in the Coachella Valley to Cabezon and Palm Springs. Isolated populations are know from east of Jacumba, San Diego County, as well as on Santa Catalina Island, the Coronado Islands, and Todos Santo Island[1].

An introduced population is found in the San Joaquin Valley at Hanford in Kings County[2].


Found in oak woodland, grassland, and chaparral. Have adapted to urban settings and are sometimes found in gardens and backyards, even in urban Los Angeles. Rarely found at elevations over 760 m (2,500 ft.), with the exception of a few populations in the southernmost parts of their range that are as high as 1,200 m (4,000 ft.). Occurs under rocks, logs, bark, leaf litter, and other debris.


Most of life is spent under substrate (rocks, logs, bark, and artificial cover) where moisture is held in the soil. Only observed moving on the surface on rainy nights.

When disturbed the salamanders sometimes roll up into a tight coil.


Breeding occurs during the winter and clutches of 10-20 eggs are laid in moist substrate underneath surface cover[2]. Egg laying can be communal[3]. Young hatch from the eggs already fully formed.


A sit-and-wait predator. Feeds on small invertebrates.

Meaning of Scientific Name

Greek - batrachos meaning amphibian, frog and seps meaning lizard — therefore a "lizard-like amphibian"[4]
Latin - larger.[4]

Conservation Status

The southern California coastal lowlands frequently by this species have been developed heavily over the past century. While it has adapted to yards and gardens in many situations, land development has still fragmented its range[2] .

Taxonomic Notes

As recently as the 1960s, some sources only recognized two species of slender salamander in California, though several populations were in question[5]. In 1998, after 30 years of back-and-forth between scientists, a complex of four species (Batrachoseps diabolicus, Batrachoseps kawia, Batrachoseps regius, and Batrachoseps relictus) was split off of Batrachoseps pacificus[6]. In 2000 another paper by Jockusch and Wake[1] led Batrachoseps major to be split from Batrachoseps pacificus and gain distinct species recognition. Just one year later Batrachoseps luciae, Batrachoseps minor, Batrachoseps gavilanensis, and Batrachoseps incognitus were described as species distinct from Batrachoseps major[7], splitting what was formerly known as Batrachoseps pacificus into ten distinct species. New species continue to be described from species groups previously thought to be within Batrachoseps pacificus[8].

Batrachoseps major aridus, discovered in 1969 and originally classified as a separate species, was classified as a subspecies of Batrachoseps major by Jockusch and Wake in 2000[1].

Batrachoseps major is considered to be especially closely related to Batrachoseps minor, Batrachoseps incognitus, and Batrachoseps pacificus. These species form the Batrachoseps pacificus group along with Batrachoseps luciae, Batrachoseps gavilanensis, and Batrachoseps gabrieli[3].

from Sierra San Pedro Martir in Baja California may represent yet another distinct species[9]. A new species of slender salamander found on the Vanderberg Air Force Base is also thought to be closely related to the Batrachoseps pacificus group[10].


  1. Wake, D.B. and E.L. Jockusch. (2000). Detecting species borders using diverse data sets: plethodontid salamanders in California. Pp. 95-119 in R.C. Bruce, R.G. Jaeger, and L.D. Houck, eds. The Biology of the Plethodontidae. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.
  2. Nafis, Gary. "Batrachoseps major major - Garden Slender Salamander”. 2011.
  3. Wake, David and Tom Devitt. 2007. "supergenus Batrachoseps". Version 18 June 2007 (temporary). in The Tree of Life Web Project.
  4. Beltz, Ellin. "Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained",, 2006.
  5. Stebbins, R. C. 1966. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 1st Edition. Houghton Mifflin Book Co., Boston. New York, NY.
  6. Jockusch, E. L., D. G. Wake, and K. P. Yanev. 1998. New species of Batrachoseps (Caudata: Plethodontidae) from the Sierra Nevada, California. Los Angeles Co. Nat. Hist. Mus. Contrib. Sci. 472: 1-17.
  7. Jockusch, E.L., K.P. Yanev, and D.B. Wake. (2001). Molecular phylogenetic analysis of slender salamanders, genus Batrachoseps (Amphibia: Plethodontidae), from central coastal California with descriptions of four new species. Herpetological Monographs 15: 54-99.
  8. Jockusch, E.L., Martinez-Solano, I., Hanson, R., and D.B. Wake. (2012). Morphological and molecular diversification of slender salamanders (Caudata: Plethodontidae: Batrachoseps) in the southern Sierra Nevada of California with descriptions of two new species. Zootaxa 3190: 1–30.
  9. Nafis 2006
  10. Holmgren, Mark. 2006. Slender Salamander Discovery on Mainland, UC Santa Barbara Biodiversity Field Notes'', 1: 10.

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