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What is a Salamander?

Salamanders are amphibians. They are the second largest of the three amphibian groups :

  • frogs and toad - the largest group
  • salamanders - second largest group
  • caecillians - third largest group
  • Salamanders look like lizards. They have a long body, a long tail and four legs. Salamanders walk over the ground and creep along the bottoms of waters. They swim using the tail that acts as an oar. They have five toes on their hind legs and four toes on the fore or front legs. Most salamanders have smooth and slick skin. They need to keep their skin moist or they could die. Therefore, they are found mainly in cool and shady places like under rocks, logs, under fallen leaves, in damp burrows and some in the water.

    Newt or Salamander?

    A newt is a salamander but a salamander may not be a newt. This is because the word "salamader" refers to the entire group of a type of amphibians that have tails as an adult and since the newt has this characteristic, it comes under the salamander group. The siren also comes under this group.

    There are approximately 350 species of salamanders. Some salamanders spend their entire lives in the water. These salamanders have bodies that are different from the standard or normal salamanders. Examples of these salamanders are as follows :

    • Mud-Puppy

    • The Mud-Puppy has a chunky body with four toes on each foot.

    • Hellbender

    • The Hellbender has a thick body, a broad and flat head.

    • Amphiuma

    • The Amphiuma is kind of snake like looking with tiny legs.

    • Siren

    • The Siren looks like an eel with no hind legs. Sirens are salamanders that have lungs and gills at the same time.

    Largest Salamander

    The largest salamander is the Chinese Giant Salamander that grows to more than 5ft or 2 meters long. The live in the streams of Japan and China. The smallest salamander is probably Thorius arboreus.

    In the United States, Salamanders live in the Northern Hemisphere. The Valdina Farms salamder lives exclusively and only in a single water-filled sinkhole on a Texas farm. The Red-Cheeked Salamanders live only within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, North Carolina. The Roanoke Salamanders live in the mountain caves of Western Virginia. The Georgia Blind Salamander is only found in a few underground pools, streams and wells of South Eastern Georgia and Florida. These cave dwellers lost the use of their eyes or sight. The Tiger Salamander can be found in most parts of the United States, Mexico and Canada.

    Salamanders have bad hearing. In fact, they can barely hear due to the lack of an eardrum. However, they have can see very well except for those dwelling in dark places. They also have the ability of picking up vibrations through the legs. They sense these vibrations that are carried through water.

    Life-Cycle and Mating

    Salamanders perform a dance during the mating process. When the dance is over, the male goes to the bottom of the water to deposit tiny cone-shaped capsules called spermatophores. The female collects them in her cloacas. The eggs are fertilized as they are released.

    Life-cycle of the California Tiger Salamander

    Life-cycle and mating of the Red Eft

    How does a Salamander defend itself?

    When a Salamander is in danger, it sacrifices its tail. The detached tail keeps wriggling to distract the enemy while it escapes. Losing a tail is not a problem as it can always grow a new tail, just like the lizards. Most salamanders have glands that secrete a poisonous or foul-tasting fluid on the back of the neck or tail. Brightly colored ones have poisonous skins. Then, there is the Ribbed Newt Pleurodeles Waltl that has needle-like rib tips. If attacked, it squeezes its muscles and the needle-like rib tips pierce through its skin to stab the enemy.

    What do Salamanders eat?

    The type of food salamanders eat depend on the age. Very young ones live on micro-organisms called "infuus" in the pond. As it grows, it starts eating small animals like daphnids and later mosquito larvae. Then it starts feeding on maggots, rainworms, fruit flies, mysis, buffaloworms, earthworms, slugs, snails and crickets. Larger ones will eat mice, fish and crayfish.

    Salamander enemies

    Predators like the skunks, turtles, chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons, opposums and snakes prey on the salamanders. Their eggs and larvae are also eaten by fish, crayfish, turtles, birds and frogs. However, their worst enemy are humans. Humans pollute and destroy their habitats.

    Are Skinks Salamanders?

    Skinks are not salamanders. People get confused because they look almost the same. Skinks are lizards while salamanders are amphibians. If you take a closer look at the skink, you will notice they have visible scales and dry skin. The salamander do not have scales and they are often wet and slimy.

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    A collection of salamander lessonplans, resources and ideas for teachers and parents

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