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Tending to hide in leaf litter, under fallen wood, and in tunnels, spotted salamanders are most likely to be found only by those truly looking for them. Spotted salamanders are not currently considered endangered or threatened, but timber harvesting, development, and increasing numbers of roads near breeding habitat put pressure on local populations. To keep spotted salamanders flourishing, we need to protect habitat and minimize forest fragmentation, particularly in woods with freshwater ponds or vernal pools.

Another human-caused threat—acid rain—is harming their embryos. Ninety percent of spotted salamander larvae die of natural causes before transforming into adults, usually as a result of a pond or vernal pool drying up, predation, or disease. Those surviving to adulthood typically live twenty years, and some live as long as thirty years. Among the creatures that eat spotted salamander eggs and hatchlings are adult newts, wood frog tadpoles, and crayfish. Fish, wading birds, other salamanders, and snakes also prey upon hatchlings, while turtles, snakes, skunks, and raccoons prey upon the adults.

Spotted salamanders lay their eggs under water in winter or early spring. When the larvae hatch, they have feathery gills, two weak front legs, and a broad tail, so they can swim about to feed. After transforming into their juvenile form, they have lungs and four strong legs for getting around on land. In larvae and aquatic salamanders, the tail is laterally flattened, has dorsal and ventral fins, and undulates from side to side to propel the animal through the water.

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In the families Ambystomatidae and Salamandridae, the male's tail, which is larger than that of the female, is used during the amplexus embrace to propel the mating couple to a secluded location. In terrestrial species, the tail moves to counterbalance the animal as it runs, while in the arboreal salamander and other tree-climbing species, it is prehensile. The tail is also used by certain plethodontid salamanders that can jump, to help launch themselves into the air. It also functions as a defense against predation, when it may be lashed at the attacker or autotomised when grabbed.

Unlike frogs, an adult salamander is able to regenerate limbs and its tail when these are lost. The skin of salamanders, in common with other amphibians, is thin, permeable to water, serves as a respiratory membrane, and is well-supplied with glands. It has highly cornified outer layers, renewed periodically through a skin shedding process controlled by hormones from the pituitary and thyroid glands. During moulting, the skin initially breaks around the mouth, and the animal moves forwards through the gap to shed the skin.

When the front limbs have been worked clear, a series of body ripples pushes the skin towards the rear. The hind limbs are extracted and push the skin farther back, before it is eventually freed by friction as the salamander moves forward with the tail pressed against the ground.

Glands in the skin discharge mucus which keeps the skin moist, an important factor in skin respiration and thermoregulation. The sticky layer helps protect against bacterial infections and molds, reduces friction when swimming, and makes the animal slippery and more difficult for predators to catch. Granular glands scattered on the upper surface, particularly the head, back, and tail, produce repellent or toxic secretions.

The rough-skinned newt Taricha granulosa produces the neurotoxin tetrodotoxin , the most toxic nonprotein substance known. Handling the newts does no harm, but ingestion of even a minute fragment of skin is deadly. In feeding trials, fish, frogs, reptiles, birds, and mammals were all found to be susceptible.

Mature adults of some salamander species have "nuptial" glandular tissue in their cloacae, at the base of their tails, on their heads or under their chins. Some females release chemical substances , possibly from the ventral cloacal gland, to attract males, but males do not seem to use pheromones for this purpose. They may function to speed up the mating process, reducing the risk of its being disrupted by a predator or rival male.

Olfaction in salamanders plays a role in territory maintenance, the recognition of predators, and courtship rituals, but is probably secondary to sight during prey selection and feeding. Salamanders have two types of sensory areas that respond to the chemistry of the environment. Olfactory epithelium in the nasal cavity picks up airborne and aquatic odors, while adjoining vomeronasal organs detect nonvolatile chemical cues, such as tastes in the mouth.

In plethodonts, the sensory epithelium of the vomeronasal organs extends to the nasolabial grooves , which stretch from the nostrils to the corners of the mouth. These extended areas seem to be associated with the identification of prey items, the recognition of conspecifics , and the identification of individuals. The eyes of most salamanders are adapted primarily for vision at night. In some permanently aquatic species, they are reduced in size and have a simplified retinal structure, and in cave dwellers such as the Georgia blind salamander , they are absent or covered with a layer of skin.

In amphibious species, the eyes are a compromise and are nearsighted in air and farsighted in water. Fully terrestrial species such as the fire salamander have a flatter lens which can focus over a much wider range of distances. All salamanders lack middle ear cavity, eardrum and eustachian tube , but have an opercularis system like frogs, and are still able to detect airborne sound. An opercularis muscle connects the latter to the pectoral girdle, and is kept under tension when the animal is alert. These may serve to warn the animal of an approaching predator.

Salamanders are usually considered to have no voice and do not use sound for communication in the way that frogs do; however, in mating system they communicate by pheromone signaling; some species can make quiet ticking or popping noises, perhaps by the opening and closing of valves in the nose. The California giant salamander can produce a bark or rattle, and a few species can squeak by contracting muscles in the throat.

The arboreal salamander can squeak using a different mechanism; it retracts its eyes into its head, forcing air out of its mouth.

Spotted Salamander | Wildlife Land Trust

The ensatina salamander occasionally makes a hissing sound, while the sirens sometimes produce quiet clicks, and can resort to faint shrieks if attacked. Vocalization in salamanders has been little studied and the purpose of these sounds is presumed to be the startling of predators. Respiration differs among the different species of salamanders, and can involve gills, lungs, skin, and the membranes of mouth and throat. Larval salamanders breathe primarily by means of gills , which are usually external and feathery in appearance.

Water is drawn in through the mouth and flows out through the gill slits. Some neotenic species such as the mudpuppy Necturus maculosus retain their gills throughout their lives, but most species lose them at metamorphosis. The embryos of some terrestrial lungless salamanders, such as Ensatina , that undergo direct development, have large gills that lie close to the egg's surface. When present in adult salamanders, lungs vary greatly among different species in size and structure.

In aquatic, cold-water species like the southern torrent salamander Rhyacotriton variegatus , the lungs are very small with smooth walls, while species living in warm water with little dissolved oxygen, such as the lesser siren Siren intermedia , have large lungs with convoluted surfaces. In the terrestrial lungless salamanders family Plethodontidae , no lungs or gills are present, and gas exchange mostly takes place through the skin, supplemented by the tissues lining the mouth. To facilitate this, these salamanders have a dense network of blood vessels just under the skin and in the mouth.

In the Amphiumas , metamorphosis is incomplete, and they retain one pair of gill slits as adults, with fully functioning internal lungs. In most cases, these are external gills, visible as tufts on either side of the head. Some terrestrial salamanders have lungs used in respiration, although these are simple and sac-like, unlike the more complex organs found in mammals.

Many species, such as the olm , have both lungs and gills as adults. In the Necturus , external gills begin to form as a means of combating hypoxia in the egg as egg yolk is converted into metabolically active tissue. Unlike amphibians with internalized gills which typically rely on the changing of pressures within the buccal and pharyngeal cavities to ensure diffusion of oxygen onto the gill curtain, neotenic salamanders such as Necturus use specified musculature, such as the levatores arcuum, to move external gills to keep the respiratory surfaces constantly in contact with new oxygenated water.

Salamanders are opportunistic predators. They are generally not restricted to specific foods, but feed on almost any organism of a reasonable size. Tiger salamander tadpoles in ephemeral pools sometimes resort to eating each other, and are seemingly able to target unrelated individuals. Most species of salamander have small teeth in both their upper and lower jaws. Unlike frogs , even the larvae of salamanders possess these teeth. The crown , which has two cusps bicuspid , is attached to a pedicel by collagenous fibers.

The joint formed between the bicuspid and the pedicel is partially flexible, as it can bend inward, but not outward. When struggling prey is advanced into the salamander's mouth, the teeth tips relax and bend in the same direction, encouraging movement toward the throat, and resisting the prey's escape. All types of teeth are resorbed and replaced at intervals throughout the animal's life. A terrestrial salamander catches its prey by flicking out its sticky tongue in an action that takes less than half a second.

In some species, the tongue is attached anteriorly to the floor of the mouth, while in others, it is mounted on a pedicel.

It is rendered sticky by secretions of mucus from glands in its tip and on the roof of the mouth. Its mouth then gapes widely, the lower jaw remains stationary, and the tongue bulges and changes shape as it shoots forward.


The protruded tongue has a central depression, and the rim of this collapses inward as the target is struck, trapping the prey in a mucus-laden trough. Here it is held while the animal's neck is flexed, the tongue retracted and jaws closed. Large or resistant prey is retained by the teeth while repeated protrusions and retractions of the tongue draw it in. Swallowing involves alternate contraction and relaxation of muscles in the throat, assisted by depression of the eyeballs into the roof of the mouth.

Muscles surrounding the hyoid bone contract to store elastic energy in springy connective tissue, and actually "shoot" the hyoid bone out of the mouth, thus elongating the tongue. An aquatic salamander lacks muscles in the tongue, and captures its prey in an entirely different manner.

At Least Five New Giant Salamander Species Identified

It grabs the food item, grasps it with its teeth, and adopts a kind of inertial feeding. This involves tossing its head about, drawing water sharply in and out of its mouth, and snapping its jaws, all of which tend to tear and macerate the prey, which is then swallowed. Though frequently feeding on slow-moving animals like snails , shrimps and worms , sirenids are unique among salamanders for having developed speciations towards herbivory, such as beak-like jaw ends and extensive intestines.

They feed on algae and other soft-plants in the wild, and easily eat offered lettuce. Salamanders have thin skins and soft bodies, and move rather slowly, and at first sight might appear to be vulnerable to opportunistic predation. However, they have several effective lines of defense. Mucus coating on damp skin makes them difficult to grasp, and the slimy coating may have an offensive taste or be toxic. When attacked by a predator, a salamander may position itself to make the main poison glands face the aggressor.

Often, these are on the tail, which may be waggled or turned up and arched over the animal's back. The sacrifice of the tail may be a worthwhile strategy, if the salamander escapes with its life and the predator learns to avoid that species of salamander in future. Skin secretions of the tiger salamander Ambystoma tigrinum fed to rats have been shown to produce aversion to the flavor, and the rats avoided the presentational medium when it was offered to them again.

The Iberian ribbed newt Pleurodeles waltl has another method of deterring aggressors. This action causes the ribs to puncture the body wall, each rib protruding through an orange wart arranged in a lateral row. This may provide an aposematic signal that makes the spines more visible. When the danger has passed, the ribs retract and the skin heals. Although many salamanders have cryptic colors so as to be unnoticeable, others signal their toxicity by their vivid coloring.

Yellow, orange, and red are the colors generally used, often with black for greater contrast. Sometimes, the animal postures if attacked, revealing a flash of warning hue on its underside. The red eft, the brightly colored terrestrial juvenile form of the eastern newt Notophthalmus viridescens , is highly poisonous.

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It is avoided by birds and snakes, and can survive for up to 30 minutes after being swallowed later being regurgitated. Predators that previously fed on it have been shown to avoid it after encountering red efts, an example of Batesian mimicry. In California, the palatable yellow-eyed salamander Ensatina eschscholtzii closely resembles the toxic California newt Taricha torosa and the rough-skinned newt Taricha granulosa , whereas in other parts of its range, it is cryptically colored. Some salamander species use tail autotomy to escape predators.

The tail drops off and wriggles around for a while after an attack, and the salamander either runs away or stays still enough not to be noticed while the predator is distracted. The tail regrows with time, and salamanders routinely regenerate other complex tissues, including the lens or retina of the eye. Our editors will review what you've submitted, and if it meets our criteria, we'll add it to the article.

Salamander vs. Bugs

Please note that our editors may make some formatting changes or correct spelling or grammatical errors, and may also contact you if any clarifications are needed. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Learn More in these related Britannica articles: It includes salamanders and newts.

The relatively small and inconspicuous salamanders are important members of north temperate and some tropical ecosystems, in which they are locally abundant and play important roles. Amphibian , class Amphibia , any member of the group of vertebrate animals characterized by their ability to exploit both aquatic and terrestrial habitats.

The limbs of urodeles are quite weak and tend to be carried forward passively with the undulations of the body. As the primary propulsive force is provided by the muscles of the…. Salamander s trained to come for food at the sound of a tone responded only at low frequencies, up to hertz in one specimen and to hertz in three others. Some salamanders, however, retain the eggs within their body and give birth to live young. Courtship displays in frogs are almost entirely vocal, although in salamanders they may involve tactile, visual, and chemical stimuli.

In the European newt Triturus , for example, in which mating takes place…. Annotated classification In Caudata: Annotated classification In vertebrate: Annotated classification characteristics In amphibian In vertebrate: The tetrapods hearing ability In sound reception: Auditory sensitivity of amphibians mating behaviour In reproductive behaviour: Amphibians muscle system In muscle: Tetrapod musculature respiratory system In respiratory system: Articles from Britannica Encyclopedias for elementary and high school students.

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