General Topics

Salamanders in Missouri

Want to learn more about salamanders in Missouri? You’re at the right place here! 


While salamanders and lizards do share common features, salamanders are not simply aquatic lizards. Salamanders belong to the amphibean class and lizards belong in the reptile class. It is believed that amphibeans came to be because some freshwater fish came up to land during the late Devonian Period. Salamanders are amphibians, which basically implies the following: they have moist skins; they do not possess claws nor scales; they are ectothermic or “cold blooded” animals. One interseting fact about salamanders is that they are “voiceless”. (which is why you probably never hear it croak or ribbit). Many salamanders also undergo metamorphosis. The most common animal that goes through metamorphosis is a frog. A frog begins as an aquatic tadpole then transforms into a land breathing adult frog. Many salamander behaves the same way. They started with aquatic young with finned tails and gills. Then through metamorphosis the salamander young turns into an adult salamander that lives on land. Unlike other amphibians such as frogs or toads, the eggs of salamanders hatch into aquatic larvae with gill structures. Most salamanders live under rocks or fallen logs and leaves. They require a wet, moist and dark environment. That is why it is crucial to leave the logs and rocks in the forests as they are because those are home to these salamanders. Salamanders are fragile creatures as they absorb toxin from the environment into their skins easily. Conservation of salamanders is thus extremely important since the salamanders are in some way, environmental indicators. Salamanders are fascinating creatures, so protecting these animals is important. For more information on protection of salamanders, please visit the link below on the research portion.

Common Features of Salamander

Cloaca: Orifice past the hind legs of a salamander

Costal grooves: the deep spaces between the ribs for blood vessels and nerves

Dorsum: dorsal or back side of the salamander.

Fore Limb – Usually possess 4 toes

Hind-Limb – Usually possess 5 toes

Muscular tail – Used for swimming

Parotoid glands: Skin glands on neck, back and shoulder which secretes neurotoxin for defense mechanism.

Spermatophore: A protein capsult containing spermatozoa produced during mating between salamanders

Categorization of Salamander:

Taxonomy of Salamanders:

Similar to the taxonomy of identifying trees, one can identify a specific species of salamanders by the shapes and sizes of their head and tails, the presence of gills and costal grooves (the groove between the ribs). One interesting fact about salamander’s taxonomy is that salamanders are often identified as whether they have eel-like bodies or not.

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Amphibia
Order: Caudata
Family Cryptobranchidae (Giant Salamanders):

Permanently Aquatic Salamanders

Genus: Andrias

Species under this genus include the Chinese and Japanese giant salamanders. Japan salamander is the biggest salamander in the world. However, because these two species do not appear in Missouri, it will not be discussed in this context.

Genus: Cryptobranchus
Species: Alleganiensis (Hellbender)

Fortunately, Missouri is the only state that contains the two subspecies of hellbenders under this genus – the eastern hellbender (c.a allengiesis) and the Ozark hellbender (Ozark Hellbender)! Hellbenders possess a flat head, a flattened tail and limbs with flaps of skin attached – all which can assist it in water resistance. They live under flat rocks in rivers and often move by walking on the river floor. They usually feed on crayfish and occasionally other aquatic animals too. Hellbenders are the only salamanders in Missouri that fertilize egg externally. Because hellbenders are harmless and non-venomous amphibeans which cannot adapt to sudden changes in environment, it has been labelled as state endangered by Missouri Department of Conservation.

Source: Brian Gratwicke on

Family Sirenidae (Sirens and Lesser Sirens):

Permanently aquatic salamdner with external gills and eel-like body with only forelimbs

Genus: Pseudobranchus

Includes dwarf siren which is not available in Missouri.

Genus: Siren

Includes greater siren and lesser siren. Greater siren (Siren Lacertina) is known as the longest salamander in the United States but is not availble in Missouri.

Species: Siren intermedia nettingi (Western Lesser Siren)

This species is characterzied by eel-like body with lack of hind limb and three pairs of reddish or brownish external gills. Costal grooves range from 31 to 38. The only way to identify its sex is that males are larger than females. They live in sluggish bodies of water and feed on crayfish and small fish. They make a clicking sound when approached by another and makes a “yelp” when captured (This does not mean you should catch it). The body of the lesser siren is covered in mucus which prevents it from drying out.

Source: Fredlyfish4 on

Family Salamandridae (Newts):

The Only Salamanders with rough and bumpy skins

Species: Notophthalmus viridescens louisianensis (Central Newt)

This salamander is an aquatic salamander without costal grooves or gills. Covered with black dots, it possesses a brown back and a orange belly. During breeding season, the male can be distinguished with high fins and enlarged hind limbs. During breeding season, a male would swim after a female, attach itself to the female and fan its tail toward the female. This is to assist sexually stimulating odor secreted from the male’s cloaca to reach to the female. If the female fans her tail, inducing the male to swim about, and then touch the male’s tail with her head, the male can then complete the courtship by laying a spermatophore. Borned salamanders live two to three years on land then lives the rest of its lives as aquatic adults. One can usually find the species in a woodland ponds and swamps.

Source: Greg Schechter from San Francisco, USA  on

Family Ambystomatidae (Mole Salamanders):

Spend most of their time underground. Majority of Missouri species breed in early spring. Outside of the breeding season, adults spend most of their time in soil, under logs and under rocks.

Species: Ambystoma annulatum Cope (Ringed Salamander)

This species is an elongated salamander usually with 15 costal grooves. As the name suggests, the generally black salamander has white or yellow rings around it, although the rings never fully enclose the body. The species live under logs and rocks and seldom comes out into the air. During courtship, 2 to 25 males can court each female. Each female will lay about 3 to 37 eggs. Up to 99 percent of larvae will be lost prior to hatching or transformation. If there is an extended breeding season, larvae can become cannibalistic.

Species: Ambystoma maculatum (Spotted Salamander)

This species possess a black body with two irregular rows of rounded yellow spots. Although they generally spend time under logs and rocks, they will come out at night to search of worms, insects, spiders and land snails. This species engage in breeding migrations with the possible help of sense of smell. During courtship, two or more salamanders will go through mating dance. Males would nudge and swim around the females. Eventually, the females would pick up one of the male’s spermatophore and stores it in a chamber on top of her cloaca.

Source: Brian Gratwicke on

Species: Ambystoma opacum (Marbled Salamander)

This species possess a black body with silvery and white saddle shaped marking on its body. It usually has 11 to 12 costal grooves. This salamanders sat under logs and rocks except autumn breeding season. Courtship takes place on land near ponds and the eggs are laid in depressions under logs.

Source: Brian Gratwicked on

Species: Ambystoma talpoideum (Mole Salamanders)

The salamander possesses a large head and small and usually gray or brown body with gray flecks all over. The species rarely go above ground until breeding season. During breeding season, usually between December and February, courtships occur in the water. One female can produce about 200 to over 500 eggs. The eggs are attached to submerged twigs and leaves in clumps containing 4 to 20 eggs. This species is especially of conservation concern because they require natural swamps and lowland forests to survive.

Source: Greg Schechter from San Francisco, USA on

Species: Ambystoma texanum (Small-mouthed Salamander)

The salamander has a small head and mouth, black or dark brown body sometimes with flecks of grey. It has 14 to 15 costal grooves. The salamander lives in a wide variety of habitats such as hillsides, swamps, woodlands and even farmlands. This species diverge into two groups when breeding. One lays eggs in stream while other lays eggs in still water. During courtship, a male will nudge a female then move a short distance away from the female. The female will then pick up he spermatophore and breed.

Species: Ambystoma tigrinum tigrinum (Eastern Tiger Salamander)

This salamander has a black or dark brown body with yellow or olive blotches over the head, body and tail. There are 11 to 14 costal grooves. Males have longer tails than females. The salamander spends most time under logs and rocks and are only active only night. Courtship happens between February and April. During courtship, males and females rub together. Eventually the male moves away from the female and the female follows by keeping her head close to the male’s cloaca. Once the male deposits spermatophore on the pond bottom, the female quickly picks up with her cloaca and the eggs are fertilized as they pass through the cloaca.The larvae looks similar to a mudpuppy but is not actually one.

Source: Peter Paplanus at

Family Plethodontidae (Lungless Salamanders):

This family lacks lungs and most lack gills. They get oxygen from the mucous membrane on the skin. A distinct characteristic is the presence of a groove running from each nostril to the lip. Many also has projections that extend the groove below the upper lip called cirri.

Species: Eurycea longicauda (Long tailed Salamander)

This salamander possesses a long tail and is usually yellow but can vary from greenish yellow to orange yellow. Dark brown and black spots can be seen on the body. Vertical bars can be seen on the tail. This salamander is noctural but may emerge during the day after a heavy rain. The salamander can twist off its tail if it is grasped by a predator. Courtship and breeding occur between November and early March. Another subspecies aside from the long tailed salamander is the dark-sided salamander which has large amounts of dark pigment along the sides of the body.

Species: Eurycea lucifuga Rafinesque (Cave Salamander)

This salamander possesses a long tail, a normally bright orange body (but can range from yellow brown to orange-red), and dark or brown spots covering the body. It has 13 to 14 costal grooves. Females are larger than males but males have larger cirri. The salamanders generally live in caves but can also live in wooded areas. For the ones living in caves, they usually live in the twilight zone (dimly lit area beyond a cave entrance).

Source: Bryan Lo

Species: Eurycea multiplicata griseogaster Moore and Hughes(Gray-bellied Salamander)

This salamander is generally yellowish tan to dark brown or gray. The dorsal stripe may be golden to brown and is bordered by dark brown lines. It has 19 to 21 costal grooves.There may be small white flecks along the sides and the tail. The salamander is most likely encountered in the twilight zone of a cave. Neotony, or retention of young features, is common in this salamander.

Species: Hemidactylium scutatum (Four-toed Salamander)

This salamander possesses features of a thick, round tail, four toes on fore and hind limbs, and short snouts. The color is generally yellowish tan to brown with many faint black spots. The sides of the body are grayish brown with black spots. There are 12 to 14 costal grooves. Males are smaller and have longer tails than females. This salamander lives in the moss along heavily forested creeks. The salamander breeds in winter as sperm is stored in a chamber called spermatheca inside the female cloaca. The female will consume the spoiled eggs and will show no defense mechanism to predators of the eggs.

Source: Biojoe56 (talk) on

Species: Plethodon albagula Grobman (Western Slimy Salamander)

This salamander has a black body with a long rounded tail with many silver flecks over the body. There are 16 costal grooves. The male has a light-colored swelling under the chin during breeding season that is not seen in female. This is the largest plethodontid salamander in Missouri. It commonly lives under rocks or logs. It may go underground during dry summer weathers. The skin glands will secrete a sticky glue-like substance that is hard to remove once stuck. Females wil remain with eggs during incubation period.

Species: Plethodon angusticlavius Grobman (Ozark Zigzag Salamander)

The salamander has a lobed mid-dorsal stripe present on dark gray or brownish gray body. There are 17 to 19 costal grooves for this salamander. The species can be found under rocks or leaf litters or near caves. Courtship and breeding may occur during the autumn, winter and early spring. The female remain with the eggs until they hatch.

Source:  Jacopo Werther on

Species: Plethodon serratus Grobman (Southern Red-blacked Salamander)

The salamander has a red or orange mid-dorsal stripe with saw toothed edges on a brownish gray body. To not get confused with the species above. The size of this species range from length from 81 to 105 mm while the zigzag salamander ranges from 60 to 98 mm. Also, the dorsal stripe of the zigzag salamander is usually very thin. The salamander lives under rocks, leaf litters and rotten logs. Its breeding season is autumn and the females also remain with eggs until hatched.

Species: Typhlotriton spelaeus Stejneger (Grotto Salamander)

This species appear from beige to pink. They are partially or completely blind. It therefore has small eyes on a rather wide head. There are 16 to 19 costal grooves. Males have cirri while females do not. This is the only species of blind salamanders in Missouri. They live in total darkness and require caves with streams. They live in caves with a large number of bats. The eggs of this species are often found on stones near water.

Family Proteidae (Mudpuppies):

Totally aquatic and have permanent gills.

Genus Proteus:

only occur in isolated population in northeastern Italy

Genus Necturus:
Species: Necturus maculosus maculosus (Common Mudpuppy)

This type of salamander has a gray-brown back and a pale gray belly. There are red gills present behind the head. The gills vary in size depending on the oxygen level of the environment. There are four toes on both the fore and hind limbs. The eyes are small and don’t have eyelids. The mudpuppy lives in streams and is inactive at day. Mudpuppies are harmless to human and to natural fish population.

Source: National Park Service on

Relavent Research about Salamanders

According to United States Geological Survey, there remains a potential danger for the salamanders in United States to go extinct. The danger is the potential presence of Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) fungus. While the fungus has yet to enter United States, the fungus has caused a massive die-off of salamanders in Europe. Why does salamander matter in the first place? First, salamander is a crucial part of the food web as they consume small insects and become food for larger animals. In addition, because the permeable skin of salamanders is one important indicator the environmental condition because the skin absorbs toxic directly. To protect the salamanders, it is crucial to have policy of preventing the Bsal fungus from entering the US. For a map of how Bgal fungus will impact salamanders and more information about the issue, please visit:

Salamanders have known to have regenerative abilities. Cut off a salamander’s tail and one can observe the tail growing back in no time. According to Thomas P. Lozito, assistant professor in Pitt’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery on ScienceDaily, salamanders can also regenerate tissues such as brain, heart, parts of eyes, limb and tail. Lizards, on the other hand, can also regenerate tails, but the tail will be shorter than the original one. The difference turns out to be that salamanders’ neural stem cell can transform into types including neurons but a lizard’s stem cell could only turn into glial cell. Further understanding the process will allow human to potentially develop organ and tissue regeneration. For more information, please visit:

Salamanders Encountered

Cave Salamander:

For the trip to the Tyson Center, I have encountered one type of salamanders at the trip. We met the first salamander in the cave around our camp site around 9 pm. The salamander has an orange and slender body with black dots all across from the head to the tail. According to field guides, the salamander we found in the cave, unsarcastically, is called cave salamander (Eurycea lucifuga). Although the salamander does appear to have dots all over, the belly of the salamander is without spots. Because young salamanders tend to be more yellow and have a short tail, the cave salamander we observe in the cave would most likely be full grown adult salamanders. Female salamanders in general are larger than male salamanders. According to the field guide, male salamanders have a more swollen cloaca, which is a visible cavity where the urinary and intestinal canals come out from the body. This rule does not apply to every species of the salamander families, and it is only prominent during breeding times for the salamanders. Because the photograph I took did not capture the bottom of the salamander, I could not conclude the sex of the salamander. Interacting with the salamander would be a bad decision because the ecosystem in a cave is fragile. For picture, see Cave Salamander in category above.


Johnson, Tom R. The Amphibeans and Reptiles of Missouri. Jefferson: Missouri Department of Conservation, 2006. Print.

Conant, Roger, Collins, Josept T. Reptiles and Amphibean. Houghton Mifflin. 1991. Print.

Lubeck, Marisa. “Saving Salamanders: Vital to Ecosystem Health.” United States Geological Survey. 12 December 2017. Web.

“Salamander.” Animal Spot. 2018. Web.

University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences. “When it comes to regrowing tails, neural stem cells are the key.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 August 2018.

“Salamander Facts.” Missouri Department of Conservation. 2018. Web.

For more information, please check out here:


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