Salamanders are amphibians which are nocturnal and (unlike the noisy frogs) they are quiet. They have slender bodies, long tails, and front and hind legs that are nearly equal in size. Some salamanders have tails that break off. When a predator grabs it by the tail, the tail just snaps off and continues to wiggle. This gives the predator a tasty morsel to distract him while the salamander runs away and grows a new tail. Salamanders are not lizards, as people often think they are. Lizards are reptiles, not amphibians. Lizards also have scaly skin, claws, and external ear openings. Salamanders have none of those things.
WHERE DO THEY LIVE?
Like the frogs, most salamanders have a larval stage in the water and an adult stage which may be spent in water or on land. They are carnivorous in both stages of life. Like frogs, most salamanders lay their eggs in water. The larvae which hatch in the water have gills for breathing. The gills are lost when the salamander changes into an adult. Some salamanders lay their eggs in moist places on land and their young bypass the aquatic stage. Salamanders live in North and South America and the temperate zones of Europe, Asia, and North Africa. There are 8 different families of salamanders. Seven of those families live in North America. Three of those families are found only in North America: Sirens, Mole Salamanders, and Amphiumas.
HOW BIG CAN THEY BE?
Most salamanders are just a few inches or less, but the largest salamanders are in the Giant Salamander family which live only in the water and may be more than 5 feet (1.5 m) long! They eat crayfish, snails, and worms. They may live almost 30 years in captivity, but probably less in the wild.
DO YOU HEAR A SIREN?
Sirens are a special type of salamander found only in North America. They remain in the larval stage with long bodies, gills, no hind legs, and tiny front legs. They are often mistaken for eels. They live in the water and forage at night, eating tiny invertebrates like snails and insect larvae. If the water dries up they estivate in the mud protected by a mucus cocoon secreted by glands in their skin. If you catch one, it may make yelping sounds, giving rise to the name “siren.”
DO WATERDOGS BITE?
Other families of salamanders have the interesting names Mudpuppies and Waterdogs. Like the Sirens they remain permanently in the larval stage with gills. Unlike the Sirens they have hind feet as well as front feet. Eggs are laid on stones or logs in stream bottoms and are guarded by the females until they hatch. They eat crayfish, snails, and insects. They are eaten by large fish. Sometimes fishermen catch them on their lines and are afraid that they might be poisonous or dangerous. Some people believe these mysterious creatures can bark like a dog, but that is not true. They can bite, but their bite is not serious. I guess you would have to say that a Waterdog's bite is worse than its bark.
AMPHIUMA CAN BITE
Amphiuma is another family of salamanders that look like eels and live in the water. They have 4 useless, tiny limbs. They are nocturnal and carnivorous. The female lays a long, bead-like string of eggs in a muddy depression in shallow water and guards them until they hatch. Amphiumas are slippery and difficult to handle and have a nasty disposition and can give a serious bite. They are considered a nuisance by fisherman who sometimes snag them. They will eat almost anything that swims. They rarely leave the water, but can travel short distances overland during rainstorms.
MOLES BURROW IN THE GROUND
Mole Salamanders live in burrows underground. They are carnivorous in both the larva and adult stages. They live in North America from Alaska and Labrador to the Mexican Plateau and may live for 20 years.
DON'T THROW A FIT JUST BECAUSE I TOUCHED YOU!
The largest family of salamanders are known as Lungless Salamanders. Because they don't have lungs they breathe through their skin. Most of them live on land and some species climb high into the trees. One Lungless Salamander species is the Arboreal Salamander. These creatures have been found 60 feet (18.3 m) up in a tree, but they may hide in caves or damp basements in the dry season. They forage for insects in trees and on the ground at night and may squeek like a mouse and bite if picked up. If you touch another Lungless Salamander species called the Garden Slender it may go into violent contortions flipping into the air perhaps causing its tail to break off.
WHAT ARE NEWTS?
Newts are a family of salamanders with skin that is rough-textured instead of smooth like the skin of other salamanders. They live in streams, lakes, ponds, ditches, and swamps, but will find shelter on land when the water dries up. Newts eat worms, insects, small crustaceans and molluscs, as well as amphibian eggs and larvae. Newts have a protective poisonous substance secreted through the skin to keep predators away. When threatened, a newt may make a warning posture by arching its back and raising its head and tail. Some newts have a brightly-colored belly that is exposed by this posture to warn predators of its poisonous skin. They may live 15 years or more in the wild.