Salamander: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell

folder_openAmphibia, Caudata
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Salamanders are fascinating amphibians that have captured the attention of many nature enthusiasts. They belong to the order Urodela within the class Amphibia, which includes salamanders, newts, and sirens. Salamanders are unique in many ways, such as their incredible ability to regenerate lost limbs and some species even have the ability to breathe through their skin.

As you delve into the world of salamanders, you’ll discover that they are highly diverse, with over 740 different species found across the globe. Some are brightly colored, while others blend in perfectly with their surroundings. They inhabit various environments such as forests, mountains, and even the unique habitat of Shenandoah National Park, home to the rare and endangered Shenandoah Salamander.

To better understand these captivating creatures, it’s important to explore their biology, ecosystem role, and conservation efforts. So, prepare to embark on a journey through the fascinating world of salamanders, as we uncover everything you need to know about these remarkable amphibians.

Salamander Overview

Characteristics

Salamanders are fascinating amphibians with unique characteristics. They have moist, smooth skin which is often brightly colored. Their bodies are divided into a head, body, and long tail. Salamanders possess four limbs that are adapted for climbing or walking, depending on the species. Here’s a brief overview of salamander traits:

  • Skin: Moist and smooth, often with unique patterns
  • Head: Distinct from body, with large eyes and nostrils
  • Body: Long and slender, housing essential organs
  • Tail: Lengthy, used for balance and movement
  • Limbs: Four in total, adapted for various terrains

Species

There is a great diversity of salamander species in the world, with each possessing its own set of unique features. For example, the Red Salamander found in Virginia is known for its striking red coloration, while the California Tiger Salamander has a distinct black and white pattern.

To better understand the diversity of salamander species, let’s take a look at a comparison table of two well-known species:

Species Size Color Habitat
Red Salamander (Pseudotriton ruber) 4-6 inches Bright red with black markings Forests, streams
California Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma californiense) 7-8 inches Black with white or pale yellow spots Grasslands, ponds

Remember, these are just two examples of the numerous salamander species that exist. Each species has its own unique size, color, and habitat preferences, showcasing the incredible diversity of this amphibian group.

Geographical Distribution

Endemic Regions

Salamanders are widely distributed across the world, with many species being endemic to specific regions. For example, the California Tiger Salamander can be found only in California. In the US, the highest concentration of salamander species resides in the Appalachian Mountains.

On the other hand, some species like the red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus) are more widely distributed, inhabiting the eastern United States. Although these species can be found in various locations, they are still sensitive to environmental conditions, such as temperature and moisture levels.

Habitat Types

Salamanders inhabit diverse habitat types, including:

  • Aquatic habitats: Some salamanders, like the axolotl, are fully aquatic and require water for their entire lives. These species can be found in lakes, rivers, and ponds.
  • Terrestrial habitats: Other salamanders, like the California Tiger Salamander mentioned earlier, live primarily on land, though they still need a moist environment. These species can be found in forests, grasslands, or near bodies of water.
  • Arboreal salamanders: Some species are adapted to living in trees, such as the climbing salamander, which uses its specialized feet and tails for climbing. These species can be found in forests with dense canopies.

In general, salamanders require a damp environment to maintain the moisture in their skin, and they are sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity. Therefore, their distribution is influenced by the local climate and ecology of their habitat.

Behavior and Lifestyle

Salamanders are fascinating creatures with unique characteristics and behaviors. Their secretive and often underground lifestyle makes them difficult to appreciate for many people, but they’re some of the most beautiful and interesting animals you will ever encounter.

For starters, you’ll discover that salamanders are lungless, meaning they “breathe” through their skin. This fact requires them to maintain skin moisture, affecting their body size and the environment they choose to live in. For example, the endangered Shenandoah Salamander, found only in Shenandoah National Park, is restricted to moist, cool habitats.

These creatures have diverse traits which may include:

  • Carnivorous diet
  • Nocturnal behavior
  • Vibrant colors and patterns

When considering salamanders as exotic pets, it’s essential to know their requirements, such as proper humidity and temperature levels. Furthermore, you should keep in mind that some species are protected or have specific regulations due to their conservation status.

It’s crucial to understand the characteristics of the salamander species you’re interested in, both to properly care for them as pets, and to appreciate their unique beauty and behaviors in their natural environment. So go ahead and delve into the fascinating world of salamanders, and you’ll undoubtedly gain a new appreciation for these remarkable creatures.

Feeding and Diet

Salamanders have a varied diet depending on their size and habitat. Generally, they enjoy feasting on small invertebrates like insects, worms, and snails. Here are some commonly consumed prey items:

  • Insects: ants, beetles, flies, and more
  • Worms: earthworms, grubs, etc.
  • Snails and slugs
  • Smaller salamanders

Larger species of salamanders may even prey on fish, smaller amphibians, and other vertebrates. To catch their food, salamanders mostly use their quick reflexes and sticky tongue to snatch up unsuspecting prey.

Some factors that influence their diet include their habitat, season, and availability of food sources. In the wild, salamanders may face predators such as birds, snakes, and mammals, so it’s crucial for them to be stealthy in their feeding habits. In captivity, it’s essential to provide your salamander with a well-rounded diet that includes a variety of live food items to ensure proper nutrition.

Here’s a brief comparison table of common prey items:

Prey Item Commonly Consumed by Nutritional Benefits
Insects Most salamander species Protein, Calcium
Worms Most salamander species Protein, Fiber
Snails Some salamander species Protein, Calcium
Smaller Salamanders Larger salamander species Protein

It’s important to clean your salamander’s enclosure regularly to discourage the growth of harmful bacteria, especially after feeding them. Following these steps and understanding their feeding and diet requirements will help maintain the health and happiness of your salamander.

Reproduction

Mating Season

Salamander mating season varies depending on the species, with some breeding in spring and others in fall. For example, the Red Salamander typically mates from October to December. Regardless of the species, salamanders become more active during their mating seasons, searching for suitable mates and breeding sites.

Reproductive Behaviour

Salamanders have fascinating reproductive behaviors, involving various types of courtship rituals. In some species, the male lures the female towards him by swaying his tail and emitting pheromones. Once the female approaches, they may perform a dance before the male deposits a packet of sperm called a spermatophore, which the female picks up with her cloaca to fertilize her eggs internally.

Eggs and Offspring

Different salamander species lay their eggs in various environments. Some lay their eggs in water, while others place them on moist land, under rocks, or in moss. For example, the Spring Salamander lays its eggs in crevices near springs or streams. The number of eggs laid ranges from a few eggs to several hundred, depending on the species.

Once the eggs hatch, the larvae develop in the environment where they were laid. If they are in water, they possess gills and feed on aquatic organisms. On the other hand, those in moist land skip the larval stage and look like small versions of adults. The juveniles eventually become mature adults, ready to reproduce and continue the cycle.

While reproducing, salamanders play a crucial role in their ecosystem, contributing to population control and acting as a food source for larger predators. It is essential to protect their habitats and support conservation efforts to preserve these fascinating creatures.

Captivity Care

Housing

When setting up a habitat for your salamander, it’s essential to consider their natural environment. They need a damp and cool place mimicking their habitat in the wild. For housing, you’ll need:

  • A glass or plastic tank with a secure lid
  • A substrate like coconut coir or damp sphagnum moss
  • Hiding spots like rocks, logs, and artificial caves

It’s important to also provide a shallow water dish for salamanders that aren’t fully aquatic. For those that are, you’ll need a tank with both water and land areas with a filter for clean water. Use caution with lighting, as salamanders don’t require it and may even be stressed by it.

Handling and Cleanliness

Salamanders should be handled minimally since they have sensitive skin. Here’s how to maintain cleanliness:

  • Remove waste, leftover food, and dead leaves from the habitat regularly
  • Replace water in the dish or filter system as necessary
  • Clean the enclosure with mild soap and water every few weeks, avoiding harsh chemicals

Feeding in Captivity

Feeding your salamander a balanced diet will keep them happy and healthy. They are carnivorous and prefer live prey, such as:

  • Earthworms
  • Crickets
  • Mealworms
  • Amphipod crustaceans

Feeding frequency depends on your salamander’s age and species, but generally, feed juveniles daily and adults every 2-3 days. Always provide fresh water. This care will ensure your salamander thrives in captivity.

Species Profiles

Spotted Salamander

The Spotted Salamander is a fascinating creature known for its beautiful black and yellow spots. You can typically find them in parts of North America, including the eastern United States.

  • Size: These salamanders can grow up to 7-9 inches in length
  • Habitat: They often live in deciduous forests near moist environments such as ponds or streams

Giant Salamanders

Giant Salamanders are the largest amphibians in the world, found in parts of Asia and North America. They are divided into two main families:

  1. Chinese Giant Salamander: The largest of all salamanders, reaching lengths of up to 6 feet
  2. Japanese Giant Salamander: Slightly smaller, growing up to 5 feet in length

Giant Salamanders have unique skin folds and large, flat heads with small eyes. Interestingly, they do not have a larval stage and hatch directly into mini-adults.

Asian Salamanders

Asian Salamanders cover a wide range of species native to various parts of Asia. Among them is the California Tiger Salamander, known for its striking coloration – a black back and sides with white or pale yellow spots. These salamanders can grow up to 8 inches for males and 7 inches for females.

Axolotl

The Axolotl, sometimes referred to as the “Mexican Walking Fish,” is actually an aquatic salamander. They have distinctive features, including external gills and a perpetual state of neoteny, where they retain their larval characteristics throughout life. Here are some key points about Axolotls:

  • Size: Axolotls can grow up to 12 inches in length
  • Habitat: They are native to Mexico’s Lake Xochimilco and Lake Chalco
  • Regeneration: Remarkably, Axolotls have the ability to regenerate lost body parts, including limbs and even parts of their heart
Feature Spotted Salamander Giant Salamanders Asian Salamanders Axolotl
Size 7-9 inches Up to 6 feet 7-8 inches Up to 12 inches
Habitat Deciduous forests Rivers, lakes Various habitats Lakes
Unique Characteristics Yellow spots Large, flat heads Striking colors External gills, regeneration

Conservation

Salamanders play a vital role in maintaining ecosystem health, which is why their conservation is significantly important. According to the USGS, amphibians like salamanders are the world’s most endangered vertebrates.

You should be aware of the factors affecting salamander populations. One major threat to salamanders is the harmful fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal). In response to this threat, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed 201 species of salamanders as injurious wildlife under the Lacey Act to protect native populations from Bsal.

To contribute to salamander conservation, consider the following actions:

  • Create native habitats: Planting native flora can help attract native insects, providing food sources for salamanders. The OSU Extension Service offers suggestions for specific plants and other helpful tips.
  • Learn about endangered species: Familiarize yourself with the endangered salamander species in your region to better understand their specific habitat and conservation needs.
  • Support conservation efforts: Contribute to organizations and initiatives working to protect salamander populations and their habitats.

By following these friendly suggestions, you can lend your efforts to maintaining the balance of our ecosystem and safeguarding the future of salamanders.

Fun Facts

Salamanders are fascinating creatures with several unique features and characteristics. Here are a few fun facts you might like to know:

  • Salamanders are not reptiles, but amphibians. They are more closely related to frogs than to lizards. Their moist skin helps them “breathe” through their skin, similar to how frogs do1.
  • Some salamanders possess teeth! However, their teeth are small and used for grasping prey rather than chewing2.
  • Not all salamanders are poisonous, but some species do carry toxins as a defense mechanism to protect themselves from predators3.
  • Speaking of defenses, many salamanders can regenerate lost body parts, such as limbs, tail, and even portions of their spinal cord4.
  • In your journey to find a pet salamander, always purchase from a reputable breeder to ensure a healthy and happy pet.
  • Salamanders undergo metamorphosis, similar to frogs. They begin their lives as fully aquatic larvae and later transform into terrestrial or semi-aquatic adults5.
  • The weight of a salamander can vary greatly depending on the species. Some small species weigh only a few grams, while larger species, like the Chinese giant salamander, can weigh up to 110 pounds6!

Here’s a small comparison table between salamanders and frogs:

Feature Salamander Frog
Body shape Lizard-like Short, wide
Skin Moist, sensitive Moist, more resilient
Legs Four equal-sized legs Hind legs usually larger and jump-oriented
Teeth Yes (small, for grasping) Upper jaw only, for grasping

Salamanders are truly intriguing animals that can captivate the attention of pet owners, researchers, and museum visitors alike. By learning more about their unique features, behaviors, and care requirements, you can better appreciate these fascinating amphibians.

Footnotes

  1. https://mdc.mo.gov/wildlife/wildlife-facts/amphibian-and-reptile-facts/salamander-facts

  2. https://salamanderfoundation.com/the-facts/

  3. https://inkfish.fieldofscience.com/2013/01/salamanders-slimy-skin-fends-off.html

  4. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/06/190625083728.htm

  5. https://dwr.virginia.gov/wildlife/salamanders/

  6. https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/chinese-giant-salamander

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Salamander

 

another for you archives
Location: el dorado county, california
May 5, 2011 8:34 pm
i see these little guys quite often, was wondering on the species,
Signature: adric

Salamander

Dear adric,
This is some species of Salamander, an amphibian.  We couldn’t match the markings on your specimen to any of the individuals pictured on the Identifying California Salamanders website, however it seems most like the Pacific Newts in the genus
Taricha.  Your location in El Dorado County indicates the likeliest species is the Sierra Newt, Taricha sierrae, however, the mottling on your specimen is quite different from all the images on that website.  Perhaps one of our readers will be able to confirm or correct us while we are at work today.  The coloration on the individual in this video is the closest to your specimen that we were able to locate in a short period of time.

Ed. Note:  Correction
Ryan wrote in with a comment indicating that is is probably
Ensatina eschscholtzii platensis.  Here is a page from CaliforniaHerps.com that supports Ryan’s comment and where it is indicated:  “Ensatina live in relatively cool moist places on land, and stay underground during hot and dry periods where they are able to tolerate considerable dehydration. They are most active on rainy or wet nights when temperatures are moderate. High-altitude populations are also inactive during severe winter cold.”

Letter 2 – Salamandar

 

Subject:  Amphibian?
Geographic location of the bug:  West Michigan, Holland
Date: 10/07/2017
Time: 09:07 PM EDT
Came on my stoop during a rainstorm
How you want your letter signed: Brian

Red-Backed Salamandar

Dear Brian,
This is definitely a Salamandar, an Amphibian.  We looked at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Salamandar page, and your individual looks most like the Red-Backed Salamandar,
Plethodon cinereus.  According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources:  “A thin bodied little salamander that occurs in two common color phases. The ‘redback’ phase has a reddish or orange stripe down the back and tail, bordered by darker sides. The ‘leadback’ phase lacks the stripe, and has a dark colored back, sometimes speckled with faint light spots. In both the belly is mottled with a white and gray ‘salt and pepper’ pattern. Adults are 2.3 to 5 inches (5.8 to 12.7 cm) long.”  The site also states:  “Found state wide in woodlands, especially deciduous woods with thick leaf litter and many decaying logs or stumps. Food is mostly small insects and other invertebrates.”

 

Letter 3 – Slender Salamander

 

found in thousand oaks, ca
Hi!
This is our friend Ned, we found him under a rock in our backyard. At first we thought he was a worm, then noticed his eyes and tried to ID him as a snake… then we went and looked again and noticed he had feet. Could you help us ID him? Thanks!
John & Nicole

Hi Nicole and John,
We knew this was a Salamander, since we find them in our own Mt Washington, Los Angeles garden. We discover individuals in our own garden when we move firewood that has been in contact with the ground for long periods of time. We did a bit more researdh and have discovered on a website that the Slender Salamanders in the genus Batrachoseps are a California specialty, occasionally straying into Oregon and Baja California Mexico. The taxonomy is quite confusing, and there are about 20 species. Your letter and image have inspired us to create an Amphibian page on our site, and we will photograph our own darker Slender Salamanders the next time we encounter one.

Letter 4 – Three Garden Slender Salamanders found in Mount Washington

 

Subject:  California Slender Salamanders
Location:  Mount Washington, Los Angeles, California
February 14, 2016
We decided to do some late afternoon gardening, and we occasionally overturn a log in the garden just to see what we can find.  We keep rotting logs in the yard for habitat, and we have also constructed our garden walls from broken concrete.  Decisions like that are important for providing habitat for native species.  Well, under the first log was a cute little California Slender Salamander in the genus
Batrachoseps, most likely the Garden Slender Salamander, Batrachoseps major major, which is found in Southern California.  According to California Herps Identifying Salamanders page:  “This is the small worm-like salamander commonly found in gardens and yards in coastal southern California. It is often seen under surface objects, especially in moist and shaded areas, but it may also be found under cover in open areas including coastal chaparral. This is a small, thin salamander, which might look like a worm on first sight, before the tiny limbs are noticed. Often they will be found coiled up under a surface object. When disturbed, they may spring up and writhe on the ground, wagging their tail, which sometimes is let loose as a distraction. It is also easily detached when a salamander is handled. Many of these salamanders will be found with an incompletely re-grown tail.  This is one of two small, slender salamander occuring in Southern California in the areas shown on the map below, but the second species is less commonly encountered and is found in the mountains. There are many other species of slender salamanders occuring throughout the state which all look so much alike that they are nearly impossible to identify without using a range map.” Upon overturning a neighboring log, we found two more Garden Slender Salamanders. All were about three inches long. We carefully replaced the logs after taking a few images.

Garden Slender Salamander
Garden Slender Salamander
Garden Slender Salamanders
Garden Slender Salamanders

Letter 5 – Tiger Salamander

 

salamander
HI
I saw that you were starting an amphibian page, maybe you would like to add this one to your collection. It is a tiger salamander from our acreage just North of Gibbons, Alberta. I must say that I really enjoy your site.
Lynn

Hi Lynn,
We sort of started the amphibian page for selfish reasons. We get Slender Salamanders in our own garden and it was an excuse make the public aware of them. We really aren’t trying to branch out too much, but the interconnectivity of all life on the planet is a concern of ours. Thanks for adding your Tiger Salamander to our fledgling Amphibian page.

Letter 6 – Probably Salamander Eggs

 

eggs
i found these eggs inside a trashcan full of aluminum.. so i know its not fish or frog eggs, there was water in the can, leopard slugs and centepedes under the can but i have no clue what they could be. its been about 40 degrees F lately (eastcoast, chessepeake bay), iam assuming its some sort of insect, i was thinking a dragonfly but i cant find anything, and there arent any around here this time of the year. maybe you can help
Charles

Hi Charles,
These are most definitely not insect eggs. We suspect perhaps Salamander Eggs.

Authors

  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts
Tags: Salamanders

Related Posts

6 Comments. Leave new

  • Not a newt, but an Esatina, probably subspecies Ensatina eschscholtzii platensis.

    Reply
  • Rene Zambrano
    October 30, 2016 9:45 pm

    Wow! I have not seen ant salamanders up here in Mount Washington since I was a child. Barely any snakes anymore either. In the past year or two, I keep thinking that I might have caught a glimpse of a salamander here and there, but haven’t been able to find any.

    Reply
    • Hi Renee,
      Daniel’s yard faces north and is near Elyria Canyon Park. He only sees Salamanders during winter months, and generally after there have been some significant rains. Since there is a habitat friendly garden with wood and rocks, populations of these wonderful creatures may be on the rise, at least in one garden.

      Reply
  • That’s great to know! After so many years on the hill, I have seen a number of species of birds and other creatures dwindle as others have increased. It is very interesting to make note of.

    Reply
  • Jason Richards
    May 16, 2020 1:17 pm

    Just found the same salamander, same coloration and markings in our yard in Lewiston, California ( Klamath Mountains). I’m just an old National Park Ranger, not a herp person; however, it does not look like any of the pictures of ensatina. First salamanders we’ve seen in the six years we’ve lived here.

    Reply

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