An adult measures 3-6 inches in total length, with a large head and eyes, long legs and a relatively short body. The colorful blotches range from orange to light cream or yellow. The tail is rounded and constricted at the base, which helps differentiate this salamander from other salamanders in the area.
Peninsular Ranges of southern California from the San Jacinto Mountains to northern Baja California. Can range to elevations up to 10,000 feet.
They like moist, shaded pine forests and oak woodlands. They can be found under rocks, logs, and woody debris, especially bark that has peeled off and fallen beside logs and trees.
Food includes a wide variety of invertebrates, including worms, ants, beetles, spiders, scorpions, centipedes, millipedes, sow bugs, and snails. A salamander will thrust out a long sticky tongue to capture prey, crushing the prey in its mouth before swallowing. Typically feeding is done using sit-and-wait ambush tactics, but sometimes Ensatinas will slowly stalk their prey.
Predators include raccoons, owls, bears, snakes, jays, other salamanders and frogs.
Ensatinas are fully terrestrial and do not need to return to water to breed. Breeding usually occurs from November to March. After several hours of an elaborate courtship, involving the male rubbing his body and head against the female, the male deposits a gelatinous mass of sperm, or spermatophore, which is then picked up by the female’s cloaca and used to fertilize her eggs. In late spring, females will lay a single cluster of about 8 eggs. Most lungless salamanders lay eggs in moist places on land, such as in rotting logs or beneath bark, and may “brood’ the eggs by secreting large amount of mucus to prevent egg desiccation. The eggs usually hatch after four to five months. Unlike most other types of salamanders, frogs, and toads that have aquatic larvae that must hatch into water, the young Ensatinas hatch directly from the egg into inch-long terrestrial salamanders with the same body form as an adult. This is because the eggs are fluid-filled capsules – each larva floats in its own personal aquatic environment until it matures.
Due to habitat loss and fragmentation it is listed as a California Species of Special Concern by the California Department of Fish and Game.
At lower elevations, you might find the Monterey Ensatina (Ensatina eschscholtzii eschscholtzii). It is not nearly as colorful, as the large-blotched Ensatina.