D. ensatus larvae care

pete

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Hello, I'd been pondering what to put in a vacant aquarium for awhile. Since CA banned all Ambystoma, I've been cut off from my usual caudate fix. I had been considering D. ensatus since it's legal (although quite difficult to find a legal place to collect.) Unfortunately, there is little knowledge available for captive Dicamptodons apart from this website, so I was hesitant to collect any initially. However, there has been some activity lately in this topic with a few individuals obtaining these salamanders, so I decided to go ahead and jump on the bandwagon. I finally found both a site and salamanders, and this weekend I caught myself, two larvae (13 cm and 15 cm). The site was a slow-moving stream in a Douglas fir/Redwood forest in the coastal ranges (A textbook location for Dicamptodon if I've ever seen one.) Below is a quick and sloppy photo I took of the larger one. I'll pester them more for photos once they settle in better. At this point I'm most concerned about ensuring that they begin to eat regularly and relax in their new home. Currently, they seem to prefer to hide in my mass of java moss more than the rocks that I've provided, and I'm fine to let them where they're comfortable at this point.

My first question is diet-related. So what are you guys feeding your larvae? I've tried worms, guppies, ghost shrimp, and there is bountiful snails to eat if interested in the tank. I have one that has already eaten a worm (a surprisingly large worm considering it's small size.) The other one seems a bit afraid of worms at this point, but is constantly trying for the guppies. They don't show any interest in the ghost shrimp. I didn't find much in the creek where I found them aside from water skippers and a few signal crayfish (which I suspect could have eaten the Dicamptodons had they the opportunity.)

My second question is related to metamorphosis. The information that I've been able to put together so far is that on average D. ensatus tend to morph in their second year when they're about 14 cm between the months of June and September. Although some wait around for another year and there is no hard rule for morphing with these guys. So I figure that I'm either due to morph soon, or I may end up with paedomorphic salamanders (which is fine with me, and I think I'd actually prefer aquatic ones.) With tigers I found it quite clear when they are going to transition to terrestrial phase (gill loss/changes in head morphology, pattern development, limb changes, air gulps). I feel that the Dicamptodon larvae, have quite small gills and quite well-developed limbs, and a bit of some pattern, but show little interest in the surface. So, is there any obvious sign or signs of impending metamorphosis that anyone has noticed or should I just keep an eye on their behaviors and tiny gills?

[Finally, if you are reading this and want a Dicamptodon, please don't PM me and ask for locations, that's part of the joy collecting. I won't ruin it for you. Larvae aren't hard to find either, if you can't find them, then I think you haven't really looked.]
 

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bewilderbeast

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Congratulations! welcome to the club... I find the larva to be very entertaining to keep with a lot of character. My tenebrosus larva started at about an inch (I would bet he was hatched last spring) and is already 3 and a quarter inches...

for a while I was feeding him live tubifex worms and brine shrimp which he ate with gusto... I switched to frozen "misis shrimp" (like brine shrimp only bigger) and he very quickly learned to take food from forceps... I have moved now to supllementing his diet with cut up earthworms... I have even see him do a little alligator death roll to bite chunks off a worm...

they are quite voracious little predators so if yours seem uninterested in food, it might be reason for concern. You might also want to keep them in seperate tanks or in a very large tank so that their are no disputes.

Mine has learned to beg... and has put on weight due to the fatty worm diet... I try to feed him 4 times a week... sometimes more, sometimes less... he seems very healthy... I might switch to just shrimp for a while to increase calcium and mineral intake and decrease the fatty junk-food earthworms...
 

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Ok, they've both eaten worms. The larger one is still a bit skittish, though. They are quite interesting to watch eat, which I would describe as explosive. Mine seem to very much prefer wriggly worm head halves and show little interest the inactive tail half. They are showing a real interest in the guppies, but are terrible at catching them. Most likely, because the full 40 gallon aquarium gives the fish an escape advantage. I don't see much of a problem between the two at this point. I think the 40 gal is plenty of space and has several hides, but I'll keep an eye out for problems.
 

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Yes... 40 gallons is probably more than adequate. As you stated their feeding behavior is "explosive" (mine will actually jump out of the water in anticipation of feeding time) . I imagine they could do a lot of damage to one another if they turned their aggression against each other during feedings...

Mine has become conditioned and was captured as a very young specimen so he knows that my presents mean food not danger... By your description of your animals, they are older? and probably display a healthy, wild attitude and not the conditioned state my little guy has grown into...

my adult ensatus is much more shy and reclusive... he stays in his cave until the lights are off and sits at the mouth of the cave waiting for prey to crawl past.... feeding is still explosive... but he is much more sensitive to my presence and doesn't like me to watch him hunt... worms dropped under his nose will not be eaten until I have averted my attentions.
 

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Ok, I've tried live tubiflex worms now. They seem to work quite well. My main concern at this point being that they keep their weight up while they transition to their new home (They have nice full bellies now). Ultimately, I plan to return to the African nightcrawler worms from my worm farm, which they've both eaten, but not so easily. After watching them eat the tubiflex, I think that they are quite shy and cautious eaters, which is probably why I'm have problems with the nightcrawlers. Hopefully, they'll warm up to my interloping overtime, but perhaps they're more malleable if you collect them at a younger age as you did. Also live, moving food seems to be a must at this point.

Surprisingly, they will not both eat from the same mass of worms at the same time. 3 times now I've placed a mass of tubiflex worms in the center of the aquarium and one will come to the clump to eat (so far it's always the larger of the two that shows up first). When the other comes to the mass of worms, the original one will chase off the newcomer. Today, the little one even returned and watched from a distance and only after the the larger one left the worms (~30 minutes later) did it approach the tubiflex worms. If they keep up this behavior, I'll try to shoot a video of it.

I continue to keep an eye on their interactions. I'm not too concerned about them biting each other, they seem to be very aware of the other salamander's presence. The seem react to each other before mouths are anywhere near one another, and are possibly somewhat territorial. At this point I'm thinking that if housing two together then it may require a large aquarium and numerous hides, because, although biting may not appear to be a problem, but stress from close quarters very likely is a problem. At least where I found them in the wild, they were not so far apart, but there was many stones to hide under. My setup is largely the same as you'd have to keep an axolotl very happy, but with many hides. They also still seem to like hiding in the java moss, too.
 

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Ok, I finally edited my movie clips together. Here's a short video of my new guys. I'm still working on the sound with Youtube, but it's still watchable. Their new copyright system is interesting. You can see the larger one appears to protect its tubiflex stash. My two larvae only appear to do this behavior during feeding, and I've found that the way around it by making two separate worm masses in different areas of the tank. They do watch each other and tend to avoid each other, but don't seem to defend their area unless worms are involved.

YouTube - Two Dicamptodon ensatus larvae
 

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I'd try giving them bloodworms or other insect larvae(even collected larvae from the same stream would be great).
 

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I just wanted to post some photos. First a correction on the initially reported lengths... One is 10 cm and the other is 12 cm. (You shouldn't trust your initial measurements made in a curved glass bottle...)

One difference that I have noticed is in their tail fins. The larger [last two photos] has a longer and more paddle-shaped tail. The smaller [first three photos] salamander's tail tapers more to a point (although the very tip is damaged a little.) I don't know if there is any significance. Possibly a sexual dimorphism, although I think it's likely too early to sex them. It could be that the smaller one is morphing also. However there has been little change since I got them. I'll keep you posted on developments.

As for food, these guys are readily accepting chopped earthworms that wriggle and guppies and appear to be quite well adapted to their new home.
 

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pete

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I just wanted to upload some pics of their set up. It's fully aquatic, and I have a sand substrate. However, I've found that they prefer masses of river rocks to crawl through, so I'd added piles of rocks for them to explore. Although they tend to not be too secretive and don't spend much time under them unless I spook them. I also have a large mass of java moss that they also rest on and "swim/dig" through.

I've also noticed that they like to sit on top of objects rather than under them. So I placed some branches in the aquarium to give them something to climb on, which they use frequently. I believe that this is how they "fish" for guppies. They sit motionless on objects and when a fish passes close enough they explode into action (It reminds me of a snapping turtle.) I've only seen it happen once, and it gave me quite a startle.

Finally, I've also noticed that their gills have become longer and more dense than when I initially captured them. I don't know why this is, but it gives me hope that they may remain paedomorphs.
 

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pete

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gill growth may be a reaction to water quality. their gills remain smaller in well oxygenated water.
I realize this, but I still have hope on them not morphing. The way I'm "choosing" to see it is fluffier gills is the opposite of gill reduction and metamorphosis.... I know it's overly optimistic, but let a man dream.... :happy:
 

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All right:happy:... didn't mean to be a buzzkillington... poor water quality and low oxygen can also lead to quicker morphing. I'd say given your fully aquatic set up, they won't morph unless the water levels drop and a land area is provided...

My tenebrosus likes to skulk under a rock ledge, it's cool to see yours basking in the middle of the tank and not hiding under rocks.
 

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Just a little update on these guys. They still appear to be doing well. The smaller Dicamptodon seems to have gone through a growth spurt and is now the larger (at 16 cm). It also seems to have put on some overall mass, gill growth, and pigmentation as well. This Dicamptodon has developed quite a voracious appetite and now dominates the aquarium. The other has grown a little, and has become a more finicky eater. I suspect that the tables have turned in the aquarium and he is now being bullied by the new larger one. I've been monitoring this, and if it continues I'll likely have to consider separating them. Here is a current pic of the "little" guy. It has a large belly as this photo was taken after it got its worm and then swiped the other's worm as well. I'm hoping to get the other eating a little more, so that it's growth rate will also pick up as well. If things continue the way they're going, I will surely have to separate them.
 

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bewilderbeast

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That is one fat puppy.

My D tenebrosus takes food from forceps, and tends to ignore food that I drop in the tank while chasing the forceps...

how often do you feed them/ how much... Mine will beg at the front of his tank when i sit in front of it and starts to climb out of the water onto rocks until i feed him...

I usually feed mine every 2 to 3 days.
 

pete

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Ideally, I was feeding them one worm a week (a smaller-sized African nightcrawler). I drop the worms in front of them and let them grab the worm themselves. The worms are a bit large for the salamanders, but they were holding them down and had nice bellies afterwards. After a week their stomachs would be back to normal.

I say "Ideally", because what has been happening lately, is that the African nightcrawlers will put up a good fight, which works on the more timid salamander. So what has been apparently occuring is the worm would escape the timid guys jaws and later get eaten by the more greedy salamander. This is what I think has lead to the current size issue.

What I have begun doing is chopping the worms in half, and giving the less active tail piece to the timid one and the head piece to the greedy guy. Then following up to make sure that the worms stay down, die, and digest like they're supposed to do. Hopefully that works, and I'll bias food a bit towards the timid guy with the hope that he buffs up.
 

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I am just adding this photo and video of one of my salamanders. This is the one that has had a growth spurt and exhibited a number of changes. The photo is an earlier shot compared to a current shot. Most obvious has been changes in its head shape. It is broader, with eyes bulging more and fluffier gills. He's also had some behavior changes including rarely hiding under objects and the emergence of a very aggressive appetite that I've tried to capture in the video.

YouTube - A hungry Dicamptodon
 

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Very cool video, I miss keeping these guys. I wonder if yours are developing into neotenic adults (with the changing head shape, growth increase etc). They look great!
 

pete

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A quick update: I've decided to separate the two for the time being. I've not been able to control the growth rate between the two. Not keeping the larger one well-fed or over-fed has resulted in aggression. The smaller has some tail-biting damage now (hopefully it continues regrowing the damaged region). The smaller has also become quite reclusive and stressed with a diminished appetite. A combination of these factors has exacerbated the size problems between the two. The smaller is now only 2/3 the size of the larger. We'll see what happens. Still no signs of metamorphosis.
 
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pete

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Sadly I just found the big one dead behind the vacuum. Since the separation, there have been no problems. The larger one, was likely a female. The smaller a male. There are clear differences in body and head shapes. I was hoping to document it, but after the male had fully completed morphing to an adult neotene.

The female must have jumped out a day ago. I suspect it was because of two factors. She'd grown a lot and was capable of doing it. Furthermore, it was the first very warm day here and the tanks got too warm in my new apt, so that may have provided a motivation.
 
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    They are about 2-3 inches long and I have them in a bare bottom tank
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    Thank you so much for the information and advice! They are eating again, they ate a lot today. I think it might have been stress from the move or digesting old food, I also noticed they ate some of the food left in the tank (I removed the rest). I’m going to keep the tank bare bottom.
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