Species Profile

Small-mouthed Salamander

Scientific Name: Ambystoma texanum
Other/Previous Names: Smallmouth Salamander
Taxonomy Group: Amphibians
Range: Ontario
Last COSEWIC Assessment: May 2014
Last COSEWIC Designation: Endangered
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered


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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Small-mouthed Salamander

Small-mouthed Salamander Photo 1
Small-mouthed Salamander Photo 2

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Description

The Small-mouthed Salamander has a relatively small head and, as its name would suggest, it has a short, narrow snout. This salamander has small teeth arranged in at least two rows. The back is black or very dark brown and the belly is black with a few light spots. The flanks and the long tail are covered with light grey-blue spots that resemble lichen. The larvae have pigmented throats. This average-sized salamander can grow to a maximum length of 17.8 cm. Males are smaller than females, but their tails are longer.

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Distribution and Population

The Small-mouthed Salamander occurs in the United States in the coastal plain extending from eastern Texas to western Alabama, in Louisiana and Mississippi, and in areas northward to the extreme southeast of Michigan, northern Ohio and Pelee Island in Ontario. This species’ area of occurrence in Canada is no more than 40 km2 (i.e., the total area of Pelee Island, the largest island in Lake Erie). Although considered abundant in 1991, the species was nonetheless designated as vulnerable by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) due to the extremely limited size of its Canadian range. In the spring of 2000, the Small-mouthed Salamander was noted in three existing breeding grounds on southern Pelee Island (Pond, Stone Road and Mosquito Point Woods) and in a remnant forest habitat, representing a total area of occupancy of no more than 5 km2. This constitutes a significant reduction of its range on the island. Two of the five breeding grounds that were still in existence in 1991—North End Woods and Girl Guide Pond on the northern and eastern shores of the island—seem to have disappeared. These formerly flooded woodlots where the highest frequencies of Small-mouthed Salamanders were once noted are now dry land. It is interesting to add that hybrids resulting from the mating of this species with the Blue-spotted Salamander can be found on Pelee Island (see the Biology section). Data on approximately 1200 larvae captured between 1983 and 1991 indicate that these hybrids represent 78% of the salamanders captured at known breeding grounds on Pelee Island. This data also revealed that the frequency of “pure” Small-mouthed Salamander and Blue-spotted Salamander specimens in relation to the frequency of various hybrid types varies within each population. As it is extremely difficult to differentiate the Small-mouthed Salamander from certain hybrids without genetic testing, the discovery of a large number of eggs, larvae, or even adults serves only to confirm breeding success and not population densities for this species. The breeding success of female hybrids is known to be dependant on their association with male Small-mouthed or Spotted Salamanders. The discovery of larvae and juveniles in populations that have been found to contain only Small-mouthed Salamanders proves the species’ persistence in the area. It is impossible to determine the density of “pure” populations or to assess trends due to the difficulties associated with the identification of Small-mouthed Salamanders in the field. There are currently no population estimates for the Small-mouthed Salamander on Pelee Island.

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Habitat

In Canada, the Small-mouthed Salamander can be found in several types of moist habitats, including tall-grass prairies, dense hardwood forests and agricultural lands that provide suitable breeding grounds such as ponds and other natural basins. The most important habitat requirements for this burrowing species include soft soil in which to dig burrows and temporary or permanent fishless water bodies for breeding. Outside the breeding season, adults spend most of their days hidden in burrows dug by themselves or by other species, underneath decomposing tree trunks, rocks or fallen leaves. The larvae are aquatic.

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Biology

These salamanders mate and lay their eggs in marshes and ponds in early spring (late March or early April). Females generally lay 200 to 300 eggs, individually or in small piles, on the dead leaves and twigs that line the bottom of the breeding pond. The eggs hatch after 9 or 10 days and small larvae are born. Metamorphosis occurs three months later in June or July when the larvae turn into terrestrial adults. Small-mouthed Salamanders reach breeding age two years after this metamorphosis. These nocturnal salamanders do not migrate very far, as breeding ponds and areas inhabited by adults are close to one another. Larvae and adults feed on a variety of invertebrates, including insects. The life expectancy of adults in a natural environment is not known, but they can live at least 15 years in captivity. This species presents an interesting particularity: like other salamander species of the Ambystoma genus, this species includes hybrids resulting from interbreeding between the Small-mouthed Salamander and the Blue-spotted Salamander. In fact, several triploid and a few tetraploid individuals, each with one or two sets of chromosomes instead of two, have been identified on Pelee Island. It is now known that hybrid egg division and development are activated, without fertilization, by the spermatozoa of “pure” males.

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Threats

Due to its extremely limited range in Canada, this species is particularly vulnerable to the degradation of the environment, drops in the water level and other factors that result in the destruction of its habitat. Various development activities have occurred in the northern and eastern parts of Pelee Island, and areas that were once home to this species appear to have disappeared. The felling of trees and the removal of decomposing stumps are detrimental to salamanders because forest cover slows the evaporation of breeding ponds and wetlands, and rotting trunks provide habitats for the invertebrates on which adult salamanders feed. A drop in the water level could also be detrimental to the Small-mouthed Salamander. For instance, the low water level in Mosquito Point Woods could pose a problem if the area were to dry out too quickly or if rainfall were insufficient to ensure the area remains flooded, particularly during the critical March to July period (breeding season and larvae metamorphosis period). Fortunately, the fact that breeding occurs at night and that salamanders remain underground during the tourist season minimizes the risk of capture for adult individuals. However, competition with the increasing number of hybrids can potentially become a limiting factor, although the continued presence of these hybrids depends in part on the presence of male Small-mouthed Salamanders.

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Protection

Federal Protection

The Small-mouthed Salamander is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

Two of the five breeding ponds or grounds used by the Small-mouthed Salamander (Mosquito Point Woods and the Stone Road site) are found in the nature reserves on Pelee Island. The largest population of Small-mouthed Salamanders is found in the Mosquito Point Woods site in the Fish Point Provincial Nature Reserve, which is part of Ontario’s provincial park system. The Stone Road site is on land belonging to the Federation of Ontario Naturalists and the Essex Region Conservation Authority.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for the Small-mouthed Salamander (Ambystoma texanum) in Canada
Status First posting on SAR registry

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Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

13 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the small-mouthed salamander Ambystoma texanum in Canada (2004)

    In this update of the 1991 status report for the Small-mouthed Salamander, we bring together all available data that relate to the distribution of Ambystoma texanum on Pelee Island: the only Canadian locality for this species. We include locality information for Ambystoma texanum, A. laterale and diploid, triploid and tetraploid genomic hybrids that also exist on the island because: (1) the identification of A. texanum, and distinguishing that species from the genomic hybrids is confusing; and (2) both A. texanum and A. laterale males are used as sperm donors for the persistence of genomic hybrid combinations. Although this update only considers the status of "pure" diploid A. texanum, the presence of rare A. texanum males can be estimated through an examination of the more common genomic hybrids.

COSEWIC Assessments

  • COSEWIC Assessment - Small-mouthed Salamander (2004)

    Designated Special Concern in April 1991. Status re-examined and designated Endangered in May 2004. Last assessment based on an update status report.
  • COSEWIC Status Appraisal Summary on the Small-mouthed Salamander Ambystoma texanum in Canada (2014)

    The Canadian distribution of this salamander is restricted solely to Pelee Island. The entire Canadian range is only about 40 km2, and only three breeding sites are known. Although this species was first assessed as Endangered 10 years ago, there is little new information and new threats exist for this salamander. The continued existence of the population is precarious because of habitat degradation of wetland breeding sites. Predation and habitat destruction by recently introduced Wild Turkeys is a new threat to the existence of salamanders on Pelee Island.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Small-mouthed Salamander (2004)

    This salamander is restricted solely to Pelee Island in Canada. The extent of occurrence is only 40 km2 (effectively the total area of Pelee Island). It occupies only three extant breeding sites and surrounding remnant forested habitat with total area of occupancy equalling not more than 5 Km2. It has exhibited declines in area, extent and quality of habitat, and in the number of locations on the island where it may be found. Threats to its continued existence include loss of wetland breeding sites and modified drainage patterns.
  • Response Statement - Small-mouthed Salamander (2015)

    The Canadian distribution of this salamander is restricted solely to Pelee Island. The entire Canadian range is only about 40 km2, and only three breeding sites are known. Although this species was first assessed as Endangered 10 years ago, there is little new information and new threats exist for this salamander. The continued existence of the population is precarious because of habitat degradation of wetland breeding sites. Predation and habitat destruction by recently introduced Wild Turkeys is a new threat to the existence of salamanders on Pelee Island.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for the Small-mouthed Salamander (Ambystoma texanum) in Canada (2017)

    The Minister of Environment and Climate Change is the competent minister under SARA for the Small mouthed Salamander and has prepared the federal component of this recovery strategy (Part 1), as per section 37 of SARA. To the extent possible, it has been prepared in cooperation with the Province of Ontario, as per section 39(1) of SARA. SARA section 44 allows the Minister to adopt all or part of an existing plan for the species if it meets the requirements under SARA for content (sub-sections 41(1) or (2)). The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry led the development of the attached recovery strategy for the species (Part 2) in cooperation with Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Orders

  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessments Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Act (2004)

    The Order acknowledges receipt by the Governor in Council of the assessments of the status of wildlife species done pursuant to subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The purpose of SARA is to prevent wildlife species from being extirpated or becoming extinct, to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity and to manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened.
  • Order Amending Schedules 1 to 3 to the Species at Risk Act (2005)

    The Minister of the Environment is recommending, pursuant to section 27 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA), that 43 species be added to Schedule 1, the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. This recommendation is based on scientific assessments by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and on consultations with governments, Aboriginal peoples, wildlife management boards, stakeholders and the Canadian public.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2004 (2004)

    2004 Annual Report to the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2013-2014 (2014)

    Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to "assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species". COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings in this reporting year (October, 2013 to September, 2014) from November 24 to November 29, 2013 and from April 27 to May 2, 2014. During the current reporting period, COSEWIC assessed the status or reviewed the classification of 56 wildlife species. The wildlife species assessment results for the 2012-2013 reporting period include the following: Extinct: 0 Extirpated: 0 Endangered: 23 Threatened: 12 Special Concern: 20 Data Deficient: 0 Not at Risk: 1 Total: 56 Of the 56 wildlife species examined, COSEWIC reviewed the classification of 40 that had been previously assessed. The review of classification for 25 of those wildlife species resulted in a confirmation of the same status as the previous assessment.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act : Terrestrial Species - January 2015 (2015)

    The Government of Canada is committed to preventing the disappearance of wildlife species at risk from our lands. As part of its strategy for realizing that commitment, on June 5, 2003, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species provided for under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Extirpated, Endangered and Threatened species on Schedule 1 benefit from the protection of prohibitions and recovery planning requirements under SARA. Special Concern species benefit from its management planning requirements. Schedule 1 has grown from the original 233 to 521 wildlife species at risk. Please submit your comments byApril 15, 2015, for terrestrial species undergoing normal consultationsand byOctober 15, 2015, for terrestrial species undergoing extended consultations.For a description of the consultation paths these species will undergo, please see:Species at Risk Public Registry website
  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: November 2004 (2004)

    The Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003 as part of its strategy for the protection of wildlife species at risk. Attached to the act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, hereinafter referred to as the 'SARA list'. Canadians are invited to comment on whether all or some of the species included in this document should be added to the SARA list.

Recovery Document Posting Plans

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada's Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan (2016)

    Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan identifies the species for which recovery documents will be posted each fiscal year starting in 2014-2015. Posting this three year plan on the Species at Risk Public Registry is intended to provide transparency to partners, stakeholders, and the public about Environment and Climate Change Canada’s plan to develop and post these proposed recovery strategies and management plans. However, both the number of documents and the particular species that are posted in a given year may change slightly due to a variety of circumstances. Last update March 31, 2017