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Description

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A large, heavy, terrestrial salamander. Gilled adults are found in some populations. Transformed adults reach sizes of 17 - 30.5 cm total length and larval adults may reach 35 cm (Stebbins 1985; Petranka 1998). In transformed adults, the dorsal color is reddish brown overlain with copper-colored, coarse marbling. The marbling often extends to the chin, throat and undersides of the forelimbs (Nussbaum 1976). Young metamorphs have bright, golden marbling. Larvae are the stream type and have short, bushy gills and a low tail fin that extends forward to the hindlimb insertion. Larval coloration is light brown above with a white to yellowish venter. The tail lacks the conspicuous blotching seen in larval D. tenebrosus. A yellow stripe is usually present behind the eyes and the tips of the digits are black and cornified (Petranka 1998).

On the basis of genetic differentiation, D. tenebrosus was recently recognized as a species distinct from D. ensatus (Good 1989). The genus Dicamptodon was historically included as a subfamily (Dicamptodontinae) in the family Ambystomatidae, and was placed in a separate family, Dicamptodontidae, based on features of the spinal nerves (Edwards 1976).

See another account at californiaherps.com.

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Distribution and Habitat

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Restricted to Coast Ranges in California, from Sonoma and Napa counties south to Santa Cruz county with a geographic isolate in Monterey county (Stebbins 1985; Petranka 1998). Giant salamanders inhabit humid, forested areas, and are found in and around permanent and semi-permanent streams. Larvae are more abundant than adults and tend to occur in small to medium sized mountain streams. Adults are rare, but occasionally can be found under rocks and logs near, or under rocks in streams during the breeding season (Petranka 1998).

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Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors

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Little is known about the biology of the terrestrial adult. Information on mating and courtship is not available. Nests of D. ensatus have been found below cover objects (rocks and longs) submerged in running water. Clutch size ranged from 70 - 100 eggs (Petranka 1998). Dicamptodon ensatus are probably similar to other species of Dicamptodon in many features. Larval diet has not been studied, but presumably includes aquatic invertebrates and some aquatic vertebrates, as seen in D. copei (Nussbaum et al. 1983). Juveniles and adults forage above ground on rainy nights and can sometimes be found on rural roads. Adult D. ensatus have been reported to eat smaller D. ensatus. Birds and shrews may also prey on D. ensatus, but they have to contend with a strong defensive bite (Petranka 1998). Dicamptodon ensatus are known to vocalize (Stebbins 1951). Larvae reach high densities are likely an important component of stream communities (Petranka 1998).

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Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors

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This species has a small range and is threatened by logging and development. Stream siltation is a particular problem for the larvae (Petranka 1998).

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

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Maximum longevity: 16.9 years (captivity)
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Conservation Status

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The Pacific Giant Salamander is a rare species due to several factors, the most important of which are limited range, human activities, severe weather, and predation. The Pacific Giant Salamander is protected from killing or collecting under the Wildlife Act in British Columbia. It has been "red-listed" by British Columbia, meaning that it is being considered for "threatened" or "endangered" status.

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: near threatened

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Gonder, M. 1999. "Dicamptodon ensatus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Dicamptodon_ensatus.html
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Life Cycle

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Development - Life Cycle: metamorphosis

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Gonder, M. 1999. "Dicamptodon ensatus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Dicamptodon_ensatus.html
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Benefits

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The Pacific Giant Salamander is sold as a pet in the United States where it is more common then in British Columbia.

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Gonder, M. 1999. "Dicamptodon ensatus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Dicamptodon_ensatus.html
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Trophic Strategy

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The adult and larval forms of the Pacific Giant Salamanders are predators. Adults feed on land snails and slugs; insects such as beetles, caddisfly larvae, moths and flies. They also eat small mammals such as shrews and white-footed mice; and other amphibians. Larvae feed on absolutely anything that comes near them. This includes insects, snakes, and small fish. In an experiment they were shown to grab anything attached to a hook, and refuse to let go of it, even when dragged from the water.

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Gonder, M. 1999. "Dicamptodon ensatus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Dicamptodon_ensatus.html
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Distribution

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The Pacific Giant Salamander is found along the West Coast of North America from northern California to southern British Columbia. Its range in British Columbia is only about 250 square kilometers, a meager 0.03% of the province. It is also only found in a limited area in California.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

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Gonder, M. 1999. "Dicamptodon ensatus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Dicamptodon_ensatus.html
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Habitat

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The Pacific Giant Salamander is found in a variety of aquatic habitats, including lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams. They prefer fast moving water to slow moving water. Cover is another vital characteristic of this Salamander's habitat. Cover is used for hiding, protection from the sun, and brooding eggs.

Aquatic Biomes: lakes and ponds; rivers and streams

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Gonder, M. 1999. "Dicamptodon ensatus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Dicamptodon_ensatus.html
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Life Expectancy

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Average lifespan
Status: captivity:
16.9 years.

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Gonder, M. 1999. "Dicamptodon ensatus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Dicamptodon_ensatus.html
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Morphology

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Like all salamanders, the Pacific Giant has an aquatic larval stage, and a terrestrial adult stage. The adult is stout-bodied with a long tail. It is very large, usually 30 centimeters or more in length. Its tail is about 40% of its total length, and is laterally compressed as an aid for swimming. The Giant Salamander has four toes on the front feet, and five toes on the hind feet. Pacific Giant Salamanders are often identified by their coloring. They have a distinct pattern of dark blotches on a light brown almost brassy-colored background. Color is known to vary widely within the range of this species.

Larvae of the Pacific Giant Salamander are streamlined and adapted for life in flowing water. They have small "fuzzy" gills behind their heads and a fin along the top and bottom of their tails.

Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; bilateral symmetry

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Gonder, M. 1999. "Dicamptodon ensatus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Dicamptodon_ensatus.html
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Reproduction

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Mature adults migrate to suitable streams or springs for breeding. This is believed to occur from spring to autumn, but not much is really known. The female deposits from 85 to 200 eggs, singly or in clumps, in a hidden subterranean or underwater nest site. The female protects these eggs for up to seven months. She aggressively protects them from being cannibalized by males or eaten by other predators, and eats little or nothing herself. When the larvae finally hatch, they live in the nest for another two to four months. During this time they do not feed but get energy from their yolk. Because of this long gestation period, females are only able to reproduce once every two years. They also do not reach sexual maturity until they are five or six years old. These things combined with the small number of eggs laid give this animal a relatively slow reproductive rate.

Key Reproductive Features: gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)

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Gonder, M. 1999. "Dicamptodon ensatus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Dicamptodon_ensatus.html
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Conservation Status

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California giant salamanders are at risk from urban development, increasing silt and sediment in streams, and habitat fragmentation resulting from urbanization, agriculture, and logging.Adults are also often killed on roads along nearby streams on rainy nights. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, D. ensatus is “Near Threatened,” which, on a seven-category scale from “Least Concern” to “Extinct,” is one category above “Least Concern.”

Reference

Hammerson, Geoffrey and Bruce Bury. 2004. Dicamptodon ensatus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2004 http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2004.RLTS.T59080A11866765.en. Accessed May 28, 2016.

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Ecology

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California giant salamanders fulfill both predator and prey roles in their ecosystems. They are food for a variety of predators, including fish, snakes, small mammals such as weasels, river otters, water shrews, and large birds, and they consume sizeable quantities of insects and other invertebrates (Bury 2016). D. ensatus also appears to play important roles in organizing terrestrial and aquatic communities. They can reach high densities and biomasses in small streams that lack fish, and may perform ecological roles similar to those of fish (Petranka1998). Early evidence shows that salamanders play important ecological roles in influencing leaf decomposition and nutrient recycling in deciduous forest systems, and it is possible that D. ensatus also fulfills this role.Two or slightly more larvae can be found per square meter in habitats that are in good condition, and 1-2 adults per square meter can be found. Dicamptodon larvae can eat the larvae of their own species or other species of salamander larvae (Petranka 1998).Perhaps with the purpose of startling predators, the California giant salamander can bark or rattle.Few other species of salamander have the ability to vocalize (Stebbins and Cohen 1995).

Reference

Stebbins, Robert C., and Nathan W. Cohen. 1995. A Natural History of Amphibians. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

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Habitat

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The California giant salamander inhabits the central coast of California, mainly in two separate distributions: in and around semi-permanent and permanent streams in mesic coastal forests north of San Francisco Bay through Sonoma and Napa counties to southern Mendocino County and in Santa Cruz County to the south. There is also a reported geographic isolate in Monterey County further to the south (Petranka 1998). Larvae are generally found in clear, cold, well-oxygenated streams with sufficient cover such as rocks, debris, and overhanging stream banks, but they also live in mountain lakes and ponds. Early in the year, when the water flow is faster, smaller larvae are found closer to the banks of streams. As the flow drops seasonally, first year larvae move to deeper pools and into main stream channels where older larvae live (Petranka 1998).

Adults usually inhabit the forest floor, generally in dark, wet, or moist forest microhabitats. They are benthic, generally found under rocks, logs (they prefer decaying wood to newly fallen trees) or other surface cover, and burrow in soil or fallen logs/debris, although they occasionally climb trees and shrubs (Clausen and Hammerson 2010; Stebbins 2003). Population densities are highest in areas with larger stones (Bury 2016).

References

  • Bury, R. Bruce. 2016. “Dicamptodon ensatus.” AmphibiaWeb: information on amphibian biology and conservation. Berkeley, California. http://amphibiaweb.org. Accessed June 1, 2016.
  • Clausen, M. K., and G. Hammerson. 2010. “Dicamptodon ensatus.” NatureServe Explorer. http://explorer.natureserve.org/. Accessed May 31, 2016.

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Life Cycle

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California giant salamanders begin as white eggs, about 5.5 mm in diameter, with the embryos inside taking about five months to develop.This incubation period is one of the longest of all salamanders. They then undergo metamorphosis and experience a larval stage in which their bodies are outfitted with a streamlined shape and gills behind their head for their first phase of life in an aquatic environment.Additionally, their tails have fins running along the top and bottom of their bodies for surviving in running water.Usually the stream living larvae greatly outnumber the transformed adults. Larval gills are bushy and have a dull red color, while larval bodies are typically light brown with a yellow stripe behind each eye. Juvenile D. ensatus have golden marbling that persists into adulthood, although it often fades in older adults. Fully transformed adults have very large heads, smooth skin, and12-13 costal grooves along their sides.

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Overview

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Dicamptodon ensatus (California giant salamander) is a large, terrestrial amphibian in the family of giant salamanders, or Dicamptodontidae. Its native range is the southernmost of the four extant species in this family of the largest living terrestrial salamanders and is limited to coastal areas in central California, primarily north of San Francisco Bay. Their genus and species nomenclature most likely refers to the possession of two curved or compressed, sword-shaped teeth carried by paired premaxilla bones (Duellman and Trueb 1994). Adult salamanders are about 6-17 cm from snout to vent and about 17-30 cm in total length (Petranka 1998). In their terrestrial adult stage, their tail, which accounts for 40% of their total body length, is laterally compressed (flattened sideways) in order to aid them in swimming (Gonder 1999). California giant salamanders are easily identifiable purely by their large size, but can also be recognized by the black markings, blotches, or marbling on their bodies. These salamanders are brown to light brown, but can vary in color to include coppery brown, red, and yellow. They can be found in damp forests under rocks and logs and around permanent and semi-permanent streams. Larvae are more abundant than adults and are commonly found in mountain streams (Petranka 1998). D. ensatus can be distinguished from the Pacific, or coastal giant salamander (D. tenebrosus), as the latter species, which lives from Mendocino County, California northward through western Oregon and Washington (except for the Olympic Peninsula) to southern British Columbia, has fewer teeth in the upper jaw and shows finer-grained mottling on their backs that typically does not extend to their undersides (Fellers and Kuchta 2005; Stebbins 2003).

References

  • Bury, R. Bruce. 2016. “Dicamptodon ensatus.” AmphibiaWeb: information on amphibian biology and conservation. Berkeley, California. http://amphibiaweb.org. Accessed May 29, 2016.
  • Duellman, William E., and Linda Trueb. 1994. Biology of Amphibians. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Fellers, Gary M., and Shawn R. Kuchta. 2005. “California Giant Salamander.” In Amphibians of the Pacific Northwest, edited by Lawrence L.C. Jones, William P. Leonard, and Deanna H. Olsen, 50-53. Seattle: Seattle Audubon Society.
  • Gonder, M. 1999. "Dicamptodon ensatus." Animal Diversity Web. Ann Arbor, Michigan.
  • http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Dicamptodon_ensatus/. Accessed June 2, 2016.
  • Petranka, James W. 1998. Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian
  • Institution.

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Tropic Strategy

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Dicamptodon ensatus is a carnivorous and insectivorous heterotroph from the immature stages through adulthood (Clausen and Hammerson 2010). Larvae will consume a variety of invertebrates such as insect larvae and adults, amphipods, ostracods, mollusks, and crayfish. Larger larvae will prey on some salmonids, sculpins, and salamanders. Adult diets are dominated numerically by aquatic organisms, but they consume a higher volume of terrestrial prey, shifting to prey such as large aquatic insects, invertebrates, especially snails and slugs,and occasionally vertebrates such as fish, mice, snakes, and other salamanders (Fellers and Kuchta 2005). They are also reported to consume beetles, caddisfly larvae, moths, and flies (Gonder 1999).

References

  • Clausen, M. K., and G. Hammerson. 2010. “Dicamptodon ensatus.” NatureServe Explorer. http://explorer.natureserve.org/. Acessed May 31, 2016.
  • Gonder, M. 1999. "Dicamptodon ensatus." Animal Diversity Web. Ann Arbor, Michigan. http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Dicamptodon_ensatus/. Accessed June 2, 2016.

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California giant salamander

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The California giant salamander (Dicamptodon ensatus) is a species of salamander in the family Ambystomatidae. Dicamptodon ensatus is endemic to California, in the western United States. The species once additionally included individuals now belonging to the species D. aterrimus (Idaho giant salamander) and D. tenebrosus (coastal giant salamander), under the common name Pacific giant salamander, which now refers to the genus and family.

Taxonomy

The Pacific giant salamander (D. ensatus) was thought to consist of three geographic populations, an Idaho isolates, a group in northern California, and a group in Oregon and Washington.[2] In 1989 genetic studies showed that the D. ensatus populations consisted of three species: the Idaho giant salamander (Dicamptodon aterrimus) in Idaho, and two highly divergent species with a narrow hybrid zone in California, the coastal giant salamander (Dicamptodon tenebrosus) (ranging from northern California to Washington) and the California giant salamander (Dicamptodon ensatus) (ranging from Santa Cruz County to Mendocino County).[3][4] A fourth species of Dicamptodon, Cope's giant salamander (D. copei ), lives on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington.

Habitat

The natural habitats of D. ensatus are temperate forests, rivers, freshwater lakes, and freshwater marshes in northern California.

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Terrestrial adult in Pescadero Creek County Park, San Mateo county, CA

Description

The adult California giant salamander can reach 17–30.5 cm (6.7–12 inches) in total length (including tail). Like most salamanders, the California giant salamander has four toes on the front feet and five toes on the back feet. The California giant salamander's tail is approximately 40% of the total length of the salamander and is laterally compressed. The head, back, and sides of the salamander have a marbled or reticulate pattern of dark blotches on a light brown or brassy-colored background. They have a broad head with a shovel-like snout and a fold of skin across the throat called the gular fold. The eyes are medium in size and have a brass-flecked iris and a large black pupil. This species is one of the few salamanders capable of vocalizing.[5]

Terrestrial adults search for prey such as snails, slugs, other invertebrates, small mice, shrews, possibly reptiles, and other amphibians under surface objects and in tunnels, whereas aquatic adults and larvae eat aquatic invertebrates, fish, and other amphibians. California giant salamanders are preyed upon by the American water shrew (Sorex palustris) and the western aquatic garter snake (Thamnophis couchi).[6]

Reproduction and development

The California giant salamander breeds from March to May, with egg-laying peaking in May. Eggs are concealed several feet below the surface in cold, slowly flowing water often beneath rocks and coarse woody debris in stream bottoms. Adults sometimes stay near their nests. Larvae may lose their external gills and transform to terrestrial adults after 1 to 2 years. In permanently perennial streams, adults may retain their gills and become aquatic adults.[6] (See Neotenes below.)

Range

The California giant salamander is endemic to Northern California and lives up to 6,500 feet (2,000 m) primarily in damp, coastal forests including coast Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii) and California coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) in both montane and valley-foothill riparian habitats. They tend to be common when they occur. The adult terrestrial form is found under surface litter and in tunnels, while the adult aquatic and larval forms are found mainly in cool, rocky streams and occasionally in lakes and ponds.[6]

It is found in two (possibly three) isolated regions. The first range includes Sonoma, Napa, and Marin Counties, southwestern Lake County, western Glenn County, and southern Mendocino County. The other documented region is south of the San Francisco Bay from central San Mateo County to southern Santa Cruz County plus western Santa Clara County. The California giant salamander does not occur in the East Bay, forming a gap between these two populations.[4][7] There is an unconfirmed sight record from Big Sur in Monterey County, approximately 75 miles (100 km) to the south of the documented population in the Santa Cruz area.[4]

Neotenes

Some California giant salamander larvae continue to grow into adults and become sexually mature without losing their external gills. This process is called neoteny. Adult-sized neotenes have a uniform brown coloring on their heads, sides, and backs and retained external gills which allow them to live in perennial streams as aquatic adults.[6]

References

  1. ^ a b Geoffrey Hammerson, Bruce Bury (2004). "Dicamptodon ensatus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2004: e.T59080A11866765. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2004.RLTS.T59080A11866765.en. Retrieved 14 November 2021.
  2. ^ Nussbaum, Ronald A. (1976-04-23). "Geographic variation and systematics of salamanders of the genus Dicamptodon Strauch (Ambystomatidae)" (PDF). Miscellaneous Publications Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan (149): 1–94. Retrieved 2011-09-29.
  3. ^ Goode, David A. (July 1989). "Hybridization and Cryptic Species in Dicamptodon (Caudata: Dicamptodontidae)". Evolution. 43 (4): 728–744. doi:10.2307/2409302. JSTOR 2409302. PMID 28564189.
  4. ^ a b c "Dicamptodon ensatus – California Giant Salamander". Retrieved 2009-04-15.
  5. ^ Hogan, C. Michael (2008). Nicklas Stromberg (ed.). "California Giant Salamander: Dicamptodon ensatus ". Archived from the original on 2009-01-30.
  6. ^ a b c d Kucera, Thomas (1997). California Giant Salamander (Report). California Department of Fish and Game. Retrieved 2011-09-29.
  7. ^ Distribution map. iucnredlist.org
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California giant salamander: Brief Summary

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The California giant salamander (Dicamptodon ensatus) is a species of salamander in the family Ambystomatidae. Dicamptodon ensatus is endemic to California, in the western United States. The species once additionally included individuals now belonging to the species D. aterrimus (Idaho giant salamander) and D. tenebrosus (coastal giant salamander), under the common name Pacific giant salamander, which now refers to the genus and family.

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