California Tiger Salamanders (Ambystoma californiense) are a Federally listed threatened/endangered species that is endemic to California. Jepson Prairie Preserve is an important habitat for this species, and significant research on the life cycle of this amphibian was conducted here.
In order to cope with California’s hot, dry summers, California Tiger Salamanders (CTS) spend the vast majority of their lives underground in rodent burrows. In fact,
the average California Tiger Salamander spends over 95% of its postmetamorphic life underground. At Jepson Prairie the salamanders live in burrows made by Botta’s Pocket Gophers. Even in the middle of the summer, the burrows remain relatively cool and moist.
Adult CTS leave their underground habitat only after the rains begin in the fall, making their way down to the large playa lake at night time, to mate and lay their eggs. They then migrate back to the burrow system and make sure to get underground before the end of February so that even during a dry spring they will be underground before the rains end for the year.
The eggs that were left in the pool hatch after 2-4 weeks. The larval salamanders that emerge from these eggs are fully aquatic with external gills and a large dorsal fin. During the larval period, which lasts 3-5 months, the salamanders grow very rapidly, doubling in size approximately every two weeks.
As the pools begin to dry up in the spring, the salamanders metamorphose into their terrestrial form by resorbing their gills and fin. They must finish their metamorphosis before the ponds dry up, or they will be stranded on the dry pool bed and die. Those larvae that do finish metamorphosis emerge from the pool at night and immediately seek a burrow.
Once underground, the average salamander takes four years to reach adult size, at which time it can return to the playa pool to breed. If they manage to escape predation and desiccation during their annual migrations, CTS can live to be up to 13 years old.