Life science faculty discovers new salamander species in Arizona

MESA, Arizona – May 14, 2019 – Mesa Community College faculty member, Dr. Andrew Baldwin, has discovered a non-native to Arizona species of salamander near the Tonto Creek State Fish Hatchery in Payson.

Baldwin’s findings were published in the Herpetological Review in March 2019 by the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, of which he is a longtime member.

Ensatina eschscholtzii klauberi or large-blotched Ensatina, is a well-known native species from the mountains of southern California but is not native to Arizona. Baldwin discovered the species on a trip to the fish hatchery in 2003. It took 16 years of investigation and research for him to determine that 20 years prior, someone intentionally and illegally introduced the Ensatina to Arizona.

“The discovery was an important one as there is only one species of salamander native to Arizona, the tiger salamander, but it has always been suspected that there could, and should, be others due to suitable habitats that exist in the state,” says Baldwin. “When I found a few specimens of this different species in 2003, the questions became was this a native/natural population? How widespread is this population? What is the most similar (genetically) population to this one I just found? The salamander world is a small one, so word spread that I found this. They remained undiscovered all that time.”

As a herpetologist, Baldwin has been flipping rocks and logs since he was 6 years old, looking for what treasures might be living beneath them. He has been teaching biology at MCC since 2003, and since 2011, serves as the chair of the Life Science Department. Baldwin has a doctorate in quantitative biology from the University of Texas at Arlington, where he conducted a National Science Foundation-funded project studying evolutionary patterns in salamanders.

What happens to the salamander now? Probably nothing, says Baldwin.

“Although this is officially a non-native species in Arizona, the large-blotched Ensatinaare is protected in California and they’ve existed in Arizona for decades now undetected, so they’re probably not hurting anything," he explained. "They would also be nearly impossible to eradicate at this point as they are incredibly secretive, living underground most of their lives.”

Baldwin’s discovery and research creates an opportunity to study genetic, evolution and natural history questions about the Arizona salamander population.

“We know exactly when and where the founding population was released and from where in California they were from,” he says. “We know where they were collected, how many were released and how long they have been there. These are all known quantities that we usually do not know about wild populations. I am grateful to the many colleagues at both MCC and the Arizona Game and Fish Department for assisting with the discovery.”

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Media Contact: Dawn Zimmer,, 480-461-7892

Mesa Community College is nationally recognized as an Aspen Prize Top 150 U.S. Community College and is known for service learning, career and technical programs, civic engagement and innovative approaches to education. The college serves as a resource for career readiness, transfer education, workforce development and lifelong learning. Host to more than 30,000 students annually, MCC offers degree and certificate programs online, at its two campuses, the Mesa Downtown Center and additional locations. Through the implementation of Guided Pathways with Integrated Support Services, MCC is transforming ways it champions student success, college completion, university transfer and career attainment for all students. MCC is a Hispanic Serving Institution. The diverse student body includes more than 400 international students representing over 60 countries. Award-winning faculty are dedicated to student success, providing the education and training to empower MCC students to compete locally and globally. Located in the East Valley of Phoenix, Arizona, MCC is one of the 10 colleges in the Maricopa County Community College District. Learn more at

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Publication Date: 
Tuesday, May 14, 2019