Of Oregon’s native amphibians, the largest, and perhaps one of the most bizarre, is the pacific giant salamander. Reaching thirteen inches in length, these semi-aquatic creatures are brown and have external gills as juveniles, and are mottled brown and black as adults. Their ideal habitat is made up of the clear, icy mountain streams of the Washington and Oregon Cascades and the coastal ranges of Oregon and California. Pacific giant salamanders start their life entirely aquatic, with gills that allow them to breathe underwater. Most of their time as adults is spent undercover beneath logs, bark or stones, either in the streambed or on land, though they will roam about freely after heavy rains. Pacific giant salamanders feed mostly on small aquatic invertebrates and small vertebrates such as smaller salamanders or fish hatchlings.
Why does it need our help?
Although the pacific giant salamander is not a particularly threatened species, it has some potential cause for concern. As an amphibian, it depends on a clean aquatic habitat for the survival of its young, and as foraging habitat. Logging and other human activities can lead to siltation and higher temperatures of stream waters, making important salamander habitat much less desirable. Amphibians such as the pacific giant salamander are considered indicators for the declining health of waterways. They are particularly sensitive to changes in water quality and are often the first to be affected by them. Healthy waterways and roadless areas free of logging are important for supporting the secure populations of pacific giant salamanders that currently exist in Oregon.
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Did you know?
- Some pacific giant salamanders exhibit a condition called “neoteny”, in which they never mature past the aquatic juvenile stage. While they increase in body size and reach sexual maturity, they never shed their gills and keep a fully aquatic lifestyle for their entire lives.
- A related species, the California giant salamander, is one of the only salamanders that make noise—it will emit low-pitched barks when threatened.
- Don't let dogs eat them! This species is known to be one of the few carriers of a parasite that causes neorickettsia poisoning (more commonly known as Salmon Poisoning or Salmon Disease) which can infect and possibly kill your furry friends!