The genus of salamanders you are studying is
one of the most diverse amphibian groups in
California! Batrachoseps even has a special
species only found out on the Channel Islands.
Batrachoseps is a member of a very large
family of salamanders called the
Plethodontidae, which originated (we think)
in the Appalachian mountains of the eastern United
States. The oldest fossils of this family are
from the Miocene epoch. This period of time
began about 28 million years ago and ended around
5 million years ago, and was a very warm period
during which the first kelp forests and grasslands
appeared. We can't say for sure how old
Batrachoseps is, but a good guess would be
somewhere between 5 and 8 million years.
The Desert Slender Salamander is an
endangered species which inhabits a very
restricted range in Southern California. The
Salamander has only been reported from a small
canyon on the east slope of the Santa Rosa
Mountains! It is a great example of how difficult
it can be to protect endangered species... Imagine
what would happen to this species if someone
decided to build houses in this canyon!
Batrachoseps species can be found all over
California. The best way to find them is to go
out in the middle of winter, when things are wet
(maybe February) and turn over every rock and log
you see. Under one of them will be a tiny
salamander all curled up, maybe protecting its
eggs. Batrachoseps are very slow, and it is OK
to handle them as long as you are gentle and
you keep your hands wet with dew from the grass.
I usually find them in oak woodlands in the grass
under the trees beneath large hunks of wood or
bark, but of course you can find them in the
desert as well.
When you complete your report, ask your
family to make a trip up to San Luis Obispo or
Cambria and hunt around on a grassy hill that has
lots of oak trees.
I don't know how much they weigh, but they are
usually only about 6-8 cm long, so it isn't much!