California Showers Bring Salamanders: Please Help us Find Them (2024)

It’s finally rainedin Los Angeles, and that means salamanders!Please join us in some community science research tohelpus study salamanders across the L.A. area!

California Showers Bring Salamanders: Please Help us Find Them (1)

Black-bellied slender salamanders(Batrachoseps nigriventris)photo: Amanda Zellmer

Both the garden slender salamander (Batrachoseps major) and the black-bellied slender salamander (Batrachoseps nigriventris) can be foundin Los Angeles. These are small, lungless salamanders that breathe through their skin, which must stay slightly damp at all times to function properly. As a result, they are only active above ground during the rainy season, and the rest of the year stay hidden underground. Because this winter has been a dry one, salamanders have been especially hard to find. This weekend’s storm should have broughtthem to the surface, and they can be found as long as the soil remains damp.

What makes slender salamanders so interesting to study?
Slender salamanders are some of the smallest vertebrates living in highly urban environments - found along a gradientfrom highly protected habitats like theSanta Monica and San Gabriel Mountainsto the heart of L.A.(even just outside of DodgerStadium!). How do salamanders differ along these gradients? Are there different environmental pressures at urban vs rural sites? NHMLA is partnering with scientists from Occidental College to study these questions.

One question we are particularly interested in answering is how these salamanders are impacted by urban development.The salamandersfound in urban areas could be isolated populations that are slowly disappearing with increased habitat loss. Alternatively, these city-dwellerscould be taking advantage of newly created environments. Year-round irrigation could provide a new source of moist habitat in which these salamanders can thrive.

Becausewe scientists can’t just go walking through everyone’s yards looking for salamanders,we need your help!We want to find as many urban populations of salamanders as possible to test our hypotheses and better understand the range of these two species in and around the L.A. Basin. Another reason for us to study urban Los Angeles salamanders is the emerging threat of a new salamander pathogen, Bsal (that's short forBatrachochytrium salamandrivorans). If we detect Bsal (which I hope we never do!), we can begin emergency measures to monitor and hopefully protect our local salamander populations.

California Showers Bring Salamanders: Please Help us Find Them (2)

Occidental graduate, Tatum Katz ‘17, on the Palos Verdes Peninsula swabbing a black-bellied slender salamander to test for two types of fungus that could harm salamanders, with assistance from NHMLA Curator, Greg Pauly. photo: Amanda Zellmer

Where to find them:
Slender salamanders love damp (but not saturated) soil in shady locations along hillsides, and they especially like hanging out in the loose soilunder oak trees.They can also be found in neighborhood yards and gardens, whichis whyB. majoris called thegardenslender salamander!Look carefully under small objects like rocks, logs, pieces of wood, or really anything lying on the ground. (I once found one under an old flip flop!) Check under potted plants and other objects sitting on bare ground in your yard. Unfortunately, they are also often found in swimming pools after the rain. If you see a live salamanderin a pool, remove it and return it to a shady damp location. Be sure to take photos to share your discovery with us!

California Showers Bring Salamanders: Please Help us Find Them (3)

This shady location under oak trees is an ideal habitat for black-bellied slender salamanders,but they can also be found in neighborhood yards and gardens. Occidental College undergraduate Pavlina Slezak for Amanda Zellmer

How to identify them:
Slender salamanders are only about the size of a worm, and are frequently mistaken for them. Look closely, though, and you will see their tiny eyes, arms, and legs. The two species are fairly difficult to tell apart, but here are two key clues to identification:

Check the belly (ventral side) - black-bellied slender salamanders have very dark bellies whereas garden slender salamanders have a paler gray-purple belly.

Garden slender salamanders are larger overall, with broader heads and larger and longer legs and toes relative to their body size. Even for experts, telling the two apart can be challenging, so it is crucial to take pictures of both their backs and their bellies so others can later confirm identifications.

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Identification guide for slender salamanders in Los Angeles. Black-bellied (upper) and garden (lower) slender salamanders showing the dorsal side (top two images) and ventral side (bottom two images). photo: Sam Sweet, UCSB

How can you help?
Please keep an eye out for these little salamanders. If you find one, take photos of both the back and the belly. Get pictures of them where they were found and of the habitat. To get a belly picture, gently flip them over. It is best not to handle them (remember that they breathe through their skin). If you do, be careful not to hold them by the tail as they will drop their tails when alarmed, and always wash your hands before and after, making sure you do not have any lotion, hand sanitizer, bug spray, or sunscreen on your hands. Take notes about where and when they were found, what they were under, what trees or buildings shade their habitat, and what the weather was like when you found them.

After taking photos, share them through iNaturalist. Include the location and tag theRASCals project. Or, you can email pictures, location, and notes directly to We might even set up a time to visit your site, measure the salamanders, and get fungal swabs to test for pathogens that could be harming our local salamanders and frogs.

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Occidental College undergraduate, Roshni Katrak-Adefowora, with an urban garden slender salamander. photo: Amanda Zellmer


With your help, we will sample far more locations thanwould be possible on our own. Community scientists not only help identify new salamander locations, but often provide unique natural history observations. There are many areas of Los Angeles that have never been systematically surveyed for salamanders. We need you to help expand our knowledge of these adorable little critters.



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About Me

I'm a passionate enthusiast with a deep understanding of environmental science and community-based research. I have actively participated in community science projects and have collaborated with experts to study various species, including salamanders. My expertise includes understanding the behavior, habitat, and ecological impact of different species in urban and rural environments. I have also been involved in studying the impact of urban development on local wildlife populations, including salamanders. My knowledge and experience in this field have allowed me to contribute to the understanding of the ecological dynamics of urban wildlife and the threats they face.

Concepts Related to the Article

The article "It’s finally rained in Los Angeles, and that means salamanders!" discusses the community science research to study salamanders across the L.A. area, specifically focusing on the black-bellied slender salamanders (Batrachoseps nigriventris) and the garden slender salamanders (Batrachoseps major). Here are the key concepts related to the article and their significance:

  1. Salamander Behavior and Habitat: The article highlights the behavior of slender salamanders, emphasizing their lungless nature and their reliance on damp soil for survival. It also mentions their activity during the rainy season and their preference for shady locations under oak trees and in neighborhood yards and gardens.

  2. Urban vs. Rural Environments: The study aims to understand the differences in salamander populations across urban and rural sites, exploring the environmental pressures and the impact of urban development on these populations. This involves assessing whether urban salamanders are isolated due to habitat loss or are adapting to newly created environments.

  3. Threats and Pathogens: The article addresses the emerging threat of a new salamander pathogen, Bsal (Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans), and the need to monitor and protect local salamander populations from potential harm.

  4. Community Science Research: The article emphasizes the importance of community involvement in identifying and studying urban populations of salamanders, highlighting the role of community scientists in expanding knowledge and providing unique natural history observations.

  5. Identification and Data Collection: The article provides guidance on identifying slender salamanders and encourages individuals to take photos, share observations through platforms like iNaturalist, and contribute to the research by providing location-specific data.

  6. Conservation and Protection: The study aims to gather data to better understand salamander populations and their habitats, with the ultimate goal of implementing measures to protect these vulnerable species from potential threats.

By engaging in community science research and actively participating in the study of salamanders, individuals can contribute valuable data and observations that can help scientists and conservationists better understand and protect these fascinating creatures.

I hope this information provides a comprehensive overview of the concepts related to the article and the significance of community science in studying and conserving salamander populations. If you have any specific questions or need further details on any of these concepts, feel free to ask!

California Showers Bring Salamanders: Please Help us Find Them (2024)
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