Wild Things: Seldom Seen Salamanders

Salamanders are quite the elusive creature, but your chance of seeing them is best in the springtime as they move to their breeding pools. They sort of look like slimy lizards and are most active at night and after a rainfall. Salamanders typically live under logs or dead leaves, and their diet includes beetles, centipedes, slugs, worms and other invertebrates.

There are five types of salamander native to DuPage County — the blue-spotted salamander (Ambystoma laterale), tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum), spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum), eastern newt (Notophthalmus v. louisianensis) and mudpuppy (Necturus maculosus).

Salamanders belong to the order Caudata and have two stages: aquatic tadpole and terrestrial adult. Adult salamanders spend most of their time on land underground and return to the water only to breed. Salamanders require water for laying eggs for and for their larval stage. As tadpoles in the water, salamanders have external gills to breathe, giving them the appearance of a  lion’s mane or feathery boa. Some salamanders, like mudpuppies, spend their lives in the water and keep their feather boas, but most return to land and lose their external gills. 

“They’re more common than you would think, but they stay hidden really well,” said District naturalist Abby Dean. The largest terrestrial salamander in DuPage County is the tiger salamander, which can grow up to one foot. Tiger salamanders are on public display at the District’s Fullersburg Woods Nature Education Center in Oak Brook and Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn.

The largest salamander in Illinois is the hellbender, which can grow up to two feet long, but it is only in southern Illinois and is an aquatic amphibian.

Salamanders are more vulnerable to pollution because they require a clean water source and breathe through their skin, Dean said.

Dean talks more about salamanders on Wild Things on WDCB Radio (90.9 FM).  


Links to additional information on salamanders:

Salamanders, Newts and Mudpuppies 

Signs and Sounds of Spring 

Spotted salamander

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