Written by Beth Geiger

The Pacific Giant Salamander (Dicamptodon tenebrosusis) the largest terrestrial salamander in North America. It’s common along coastal northwest streams. Yet getting to know this foot-long amphibian is uncommonly difficult.

For starters, the Pacific Giant Salamander spends its days hiding under rocks and logs. It emerges only at night or on very rainy days to hunt insects, fish, and rodents. Females incubate their eggs, hidden, for as long as seven months. If an adult is chased, it will flee. If captured, it will growl (one of the only salamanders to vocalize), wave its tail, emit a nasty smell, and bite with powerful jaws. But even spotting an adult is lucky. It’s more likely to glimpse the larval stage: a fully aquatic animal that, for reasons that are unclear, may never mature but remain in the gilled larval stage even for reproduction. Courtship behavior has never been observed. Biologists aren’t even sure how long Pacific Giant Salamander lives.

Though this salamander remains mysterious in many ways, its habitat needs are clear. Pacific Giant Salamanders can’t live in a stream that is clouded by silt. Silt fills in the hidden microhabitats that this animal needs. The salamander also requires a cool stream, preferably one shaded by old conifers. In fact, the presence of Pacific Giant Salamanders is considered an indicator of a healthy, clear, cool stream; one that has not been clogged by logging runoff or exposed to the sun by clearcutting.

So it’s good to know that the Pacific Giant Salamander thrives at our Ellsworth Creek Preserve on Willapa Bay. At this 7600 acre coastal preserve, the Conservancy purchased an entire watershed. There, we are restoring miles of creek and forest, protecting critical habitat for salamanders and many other species. In the cool shade of this lush forest, our work meets even the pristine standards of the Pacific Coast Salamander.