Cover photo credit: Thomas Hossie



"Endangered" means the species lives in the wild in Ontario but is facing imminent extinction or extirpation.

Date added to the Species at Risk in Ontario List

June 2, 2017

Read the assessment report (PDF)

What it looks like

Unisexual Ambystoma (Small-mouthed Salamander dependent population) are dark grey with varying amounts of greyish-blue flecking on the sides and limbs. Adults can reach 18 cm in total length. Young salamanders (larvae) have feathery gills behind the head, legs (both front and back) and a tail fin and are generally brown to olive in colour. It is very difficult to distinguish between Unisexual Ambystoma salamander larvae and that of other mole salamander species.

Unisexual Ambystoma (Small-mouthed Salamander dependent population) look identical to Small-mouthed Salamanders and can only be distinguished from them using genetic testing.

Where it lives

Unisexual Ambystoma salamanders live in leaf litter, under logs and in underground cavities in deciduous and mixed forests, typically within close proximity to breeding habitats. Adults breeds in vernal pools (temporary woodland ponds) or fish-free permanent wetlands. They lay their eggs in clumps attached to underwater vegetation in shallow water. The eggs hatch into aquatic larvae after about one month, and the larvae transform into juveniles by the end of summer. The juveniles leave the pond and head into the surrounding forest. Unisexual Ambystoma salamanders spend the winter underground where they can get below the frost line and avoid freezing temperatures, such as in mammal burrows, rock crevices or other underground cavities.

Although these salamanders spend much of the year underground or under cover, they can often be observed in early spring when they travel to breeding sites.

Where it’s been found in Ontario

The Unisexual Ambystoma (Small-mouthed Salamander dependent population) have a very restricted global distribution and are only found on Pelee Island in Ontario, Canada as well as in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana in the U.S.

What threatens it

This species is at imminent risk of extirpation since it has a very small distribution within Ontario and the entire population depends on as few as 4 to 6 breeding ponds. Habitat loss and degradation are the most significant threats to this species in Ontario. Salamanders are also killed on roads as they migrate to and from breeding ponds. This is a particularly serious issue when a road is located between a breeding pond and the forests where adult salamanders live. Chemical contamination of breeding sites, such as agricultural or urban runoff, road salt, or pesticides, can cause developmental deformities and even mass mortality of eggs or larvae. Climate change and introduced diseases may become serious threats to salamanders in North America in the future.

Action we are taking

Endangered Species and their habitat are automatically protected.

Recovery strategy

A recovery strategy advises the ministry on ways to ensure healthy numbers of the species return to Ontario.

Read the executive summary and full document (May 30, 2018).

Government response statement

A government response statement outlines the actions the government intends to take or support to help recover the species.

Read the government response statement (February 28, 2019)

Review of progress

A review of progress made toward protecting and recovering a species is required no later than the time specified in the species’ government response statement, or not later than five years after the government response statement is published if no time is specified.

Read the report on progress towards the protection and recovery of 12 species at risk, including Unisexual Ambystoma (Small-mouthed Salamander dependent population) (2022).

What you can do

Report a sighting

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry tracks species at risk such as the Unisexual Ambystoma (Small-mouthed Salamander dependent population). You can use a handy online form to report a sighting to the Natural Heritage Information Centre. Photographs with specific locations or mapping coordinates are always helpful.

Learn more about reporting wildlife.


Volunteer with your local nature club or provincial park to participate in surveys or stewardship work focused on species at risk.

Be a good steward

  • Private land owners have a very important role to play in species recovery. If you find a Unisexual Ambystoma (Small-mouthed Salamander dependent population) on your land, you may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats.
  • Visit the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas, the Canadian Herpetological Society website or Toronto Zoo Adopt-a-Pond website to learn more about amphibians in Ontario.
  • Watch for salamanders that may be crossing roads, particularly between late March and April when they are migrating to breeding ponds. Road mortality is a serious threat to salamanders because they are slow-moving and hard to see on the road.

Report illegal activity

Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-866-MOE-TIPS (663-8477).

Quick facts

  • All Unisexual Ambystoma salamanders are female and they require the male of another Ambystoma species to create offspring. Unisexual Ambystoma (Small-mouthed Salamander dependent population) live and mate with Small-mouthed Salamanders. Their offspring are unique in that they are also all females, but they are not hybrids.
  • Unisexual Ambystoma (Small-mouthed Salamander dependent population) breed in late March or early April. During breeding season, they travel from their overwintering sites to breeding ponds; they generally make this journey on the first few warm, rainy nights in the spring, often before the ice and snow has fully melted.
  • Unlike most small animals, Unisexual Ambystoma (Small-mouthed Salamander dependent population) can live a very long time; some individuals can live upwards of 20 years.