Ambystoma texanum
Smallmouth salamander
Image of Ambystoma texanum

Photo by Richard M. Lehtinen 

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Key Characteristics

The Smallmouth Salamander is a medium-sized salamander (4.3 - 7 inches adult length) with a small head and snout as its name implies. The head often looks swollen behind the eyes, and the lower jaw barely protrudes beyond the upper jaw when viewed in profile. The adults are brownish gray to grayish black with light gray speckles of lichen like markings, particularly along the lower sides of the body. The hybrids may be intermediate in form and color or may resemble one or the other of the parent species.

Status and Rank

  • State Status: E - Endangered (legally protected)
  • State Rank: S1 - Critically imperiled
  • Global Rank: G5 - Secure


County NameNumber of OccurrencesYear Last Observed
Distribution map for Ambystoma texanum

Updated 2/25/2015. Information is summarized from MNFI's database of rare species and community occurrences. Data may not reflect true distribution since much of the state has not been thoroughly surveyed.


Smallmouth Salamanders inhabit forested bottomlands and associated wetlands in or adjoining floodplains. They also can utilize more open habitats such as prairies and farm fields. Smallmouth Salamanders require temporary, shallow bodies of water, which are usually fish-free, for breeding. Outside the spring breeding season, Smallmouth Salamanders generally remain hidden beneath rotting logs, rocks or leaf litter or underground in crayfish or small mammal burrows. Juveniles and adults appear to generally remain close to their breeding ponds.

Specific Habitat Needs

Downed woody debris needed in Southern wet meadow, Wet prairie, Southern hardwood swamp, Floodplain forest, Inundated shrub swamp, Mesic southern forest

Natural Community Types


For each species, lists of natural communities were derived from review of the nearly 6,500 element occurrences in the MNFI database, in addition to herbarium label data for some taxa. In most cases, at least one specimen record exists for each listed natural community. For certain taxa, especially poorly collected or extirpated species of prairie and savanna habitats, natural community lists were derived from inferences from collection sites and habitat preferences in immediately adjacent states (particularly Indiana and Illinois). Natural communities are not listed for those species documented only from altered or ruderal habitats in Michigan, especially for taxa that occur in a variety of habitats outside of the state.

Natural communities are not listed in order of frequency of occurrence, but are rather derived from the full set of natural communities, organized by Ecological Group. In many cases, the general habitat descriptions should provide greater clarity and direction to the surveyor. In future versions of the Rare Species Explorer, we hope to incorporate natural community fidelity ranks for each taxon.

Feel free to send questions and comments to Brad Slaughter at


Protecting known Smallmouth Salamander sites and maintaining suitable habitat at these sites are essential for conservation of this species. Maintaining and/or constructing a complex of natural or artificial vernal ponds within suitable forested habitats would provide breeding, foraging and dispersal habitat for this species. Vernal ponds that are fish-free and hold water through at least July would be most beneficial to this species. Maintaining cool, moist microenvironments and sufficient leaf litter and woody debris on the forest floor is important for providing cover and foraging habitat for juveniles and adults. Managing forested habitats utilizing partial harvest techniques and longer rotation cycles would likely benefit this species. Exposure to highly acidic conditions and/or chemical pollutants should be minimized to reduce the potential for adverse impacts to Smallmouth Salamanders until more is known about their potential impacts.

Active Period

Breeding from third week of February to fourth week of March

Active from third week of February to fourth week of September

Survey Methods

The best time to survey for this species is during the spring breeding season when adult Smallmouth Salamanders are migrating to and congregating in breeding ponds. Migrations to breeding sites typically occur at night during rainy weather. Surveys can be conducted using aquatic minnow traps to capture adults in the breeding ponds or using drift fences with or without pitfall traps placed around breeding ponds to intercept individuals entering or exiting the ponds. Surveys for aquatic larvae or newly transformed juveniles dispersing from breeding ponds also can be conducted in the spring and/or summer (i.e., April – June/July) using minnow traps or drift fences with or without pitfall traps, respectively. Trapping should occur on multiple nights during the breeding season, and drift fences and traps should be checked on a daily/nightly basis.

Page Citation

Michigan Natural Features Inventory. 2007. Rare Species Explorer (Web Application). Available online at [Accessed Nov 27, 2015]

More Information

See MNFI Species Abstract


Survey References

Technical References