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Northwestern salamander a nocturnal creature that will butt heads, toss poison

The Northwestern salamander ( Ambystoma gracile) is large, with a short, rounded head and glands along its body that secrete a mild poison it can spread by lashing its tail.

They are common west of the Cascades, living in moist grasslands and forests near freshwater. You might not see one because they spend much of their time underground and under rotting logs, generally coming to the surface only at night.

Northwest salamanders can grow to nearly 10 inches in length. They may be dark brown, gray or black, and sometimes show flecks of cream or yellow. They have a thick poison glands behind their eyes, thick glands on their tail, and ridges along the sides of their body.

In the lowlands, they breed in early spring, attaching firm masses of eggs about the size of an orange to underwater plants. The larvae take about a year to mature.

If disturbed, they can make a ticking sound, assume a defensive posture, butt heads, and emit and toss their sticky white poison.

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