SREL Reprint #2125





Courtship Behavior and Plasma Levels of Androgens and Corticosterone in Male Marbled Salamanders, Ambystoma opacum (Ambystomatidae)

Lynne D. Houck,1 Mary T. Mendonca,2 Tracy K. Lynch,3 and David E. Scott3

1Department of Ecology and Evolution,
University of Chicago, 940 E. 57th Street, Chicago, Illinois 60637

2Department of Zoology and Wildlife,
Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama 36849

3Savannah River Ecology Laboratory,
Drawer E, Aiken, South Carolina 29802


We measured plasma levels of testosterone, dihydrotes- response (three species of toads in the genus Bufo) and tosterone (DHT), and corticosterone for male marbled salamanders (Ambystoma opacum) collected during the breeding season. Our goal was to ascertain whether steroid levels changed in response to particular reproductive behaviors or laboratory confinement. Six groups of salamanders were examined: (a) MIGRATING, males migrating toward the pond basin during the breeding season; (b) LABORATORY, males kept under confined conditions in the laboratory for 10 days; (c) LAB-FIELD, laboratory males that were later released into seminatural enclosures in the field; (d) COURTING, males from male-female pairs in which the male actively courted the female (and deposited at least one spermatophore); (e) SOLO, males that were individually isolated from conspecifics; and (f) MALE-MALE, males that were placed together in pairs, and in which one male actively courted the other male. In three groups (COURTING, SOLO, and MALE-MALE), salamanders were placed in containers for observation and each male was observed for at least 2 hr prior to a plasma sample being taken. Circulating levels of testosterone, DHT, and corticosterone did not differ significantly for males in these groups. The similarity of androgen levels among the three groups indicated a lack of behaviorally evoked change under experimental conditions designed to reveal a behaviorandrogen response. Male A. opacum differ taxonomically from other amphibians showing a behavior-androgen response (three species of toads in the genus Bufo) and also lack amplexus and male-male combat during competition for mates. The effect of confinement were indicated by levels of testosterone and DHT in LABORATORY males that in the following groups: MIGRATING, LAB-FIELD, and MALE-MALE. We inferred that LABFIELD males, following their release to seminatural enclosures, were able to regain plasma androgem levels typical of migrating males. This increase is one of very few demonstrations for amphibians of an increase in androgen levels upon release from laboratory confinement. Levels of corticosterone did not differ significantly between males that were active in the field and males that were kept in the laboratory. The similarity of corticosterone levels among these groups differs from the typical pattern of elevated corticosterone and depressed androgen levels in captive amphibians. Maximal corticosterone levels in breeding male A. opacum may act differently than in other species in which chronic elevations inhibit the pituitary-gonadal axis.

SREL Reprint #2125

Houck, L.D., M.T. Mendonca, T.K. Lynch, and D.E. Scott. 1996. Courtship behavior and plasma levels of androgens and corticosterone in male marbled salamanders, Ambystoma opacum (Ambystomatidae). General and Comparative Endocrinology 104:243-252.

To request a reprint


SREL Home UGA Home