A native amphibian, the California slender salamander, fascinates Michael Ellis.
As I was doing a little yard work — yes, I’m still at it — I moved a big pile of leaves and uncovered the most common salamander, actually I dare say the most common amphibian, in our region — the California slender salamander. It is also known as the worm salamander and indeed it is thin with teeny, tiny legs.
Alarmed, its natural response was to thrash back-and-forth rapidly and then go perfectly still. I guess that strategy works most of the time. The color is rather cryptic mostly brown with a broad dark maroon stripe running right down the back. And when it abruptly stopped against the dirt, it was challenging to see.
If a predator does attack, the tail can be sacrificed and re-grown with little problem. One researcher watched a slender salamander twist its tail into a knot around a garter snakes head. It then secreted a substance that glued the snakes jaws shut for 48 hours. Don’t mess around with Slim!
California slender salamanders were originally considered one species thriving in the Coast Ranges from Monterey to Oregon and in the northern Sierra foothills. They have now been split into five separate species. But you’d have to analyze their DNA to tell the difference. The reason for this extraordinary success and wide distribution is simple. They are very small only five inches including the long tail at max. This coupled with those small legs enables then to enter earthworm and termite holes. Here they find plenty of food - small mites, springtails, baby spiders, whatever. Many different ecosystems meet these basic requirements.