Salamander, a tailed amphibian. Salamanders are cold-blooded animals (their temperature changes with that of their surroundings). They have soft skin that is usually moist and must have a humid if not wet environment. Most species are found on land; a few are strictly aquatic. Like other amphibians, salamanders are never found in seawater. Land salamanders are often found under stones and logs. Salamanders are found in North America, Asia, Europe, North Africa, and northern South America.

The salamanderThe salamander is a tailed amphibian with soft, moist skin.

Salamanders of most species have four limbs; members of a few species have only two. Most salamanders are from 3 to 8 inches (7.5 to 20 cm) long. The largest species, the giant salamander, grows to about 5 1/2 feet (1.7 m); the smallest is a Mexican species that measures 1 1/2 inches (4 cm). Some species are brightly colored; others are quite dull.

Salamanders are active mainly at night. They feed primarily on insects, spiders, and worms. All salamanders respire to some extent through their skin. Some may also respire through gills, lungs, or the lining of their mouths. Almost all salamanders lay eggs.

Salamanders are often used in laboratory experiments. In some parts of the world, certain species are eaten. Salamanders are sometimes kept as pets. In ancient times it was believed that salamanders could withstand fire and live in flames.

Are Salamanders Fierce?

Salamanders are extremely timid creatures. They do tend to startle people, however. It can be scary to move a pile of leaves or a log and suddenly find a salamander living there.

The habit of hiding in such dark places helped salamanders earn their name. In the Middle Ages, people in Europe sometimes would see salamanders scurry out from piles of logs that were set on fire for heating or cooking. They thought the animals were living in the fire itself. So they called them salamanders, from a Greek word for a mythical lizard that lived in fire.

In fact, salamanders much prefer water. They need to keep their skin moist, and they try to keep their eggs moist, too. They like damp, dark places because the insects they like to eat live there. Salamanders have spots on their skin to help them hide from predators.

Who Keeps That Tadpole Tail?

Like frogs and toads, salamanders are amphibians. Unlike frogs and toads, they keep their tails all their lives.

Salamanders grow up the same way frogs and toads do. They hatch from eggs and emerge as salamander larvae that look a lot like tadpoles. Then they go through metamorphosis. But as adults, they look very different from frogs and toads.

Salamanders look more like lizards than other amphibians. However, they are not dry and scaly as lizards are, and they don’t have claws.

Most salamanders lose their gills, grow lungs, and live on land. But some, such as mudpuppies, hellbenders, and congo eels, never become land dwellers. Many of them keep their gills. Some of them never develop lungs.

What Happened to That Salamander’s Tail?

Some kinds of salamanders have an amazing adaptation called autotomy (aw TOT uh mee). If something or someone snags the tail of one of these salamanders, the salamander can make the tail fall off. The salamander can then scoot to safety without its snagged tail.

That is not all that a salamander can do. After a salamander loses its tail, it can regenerate (ree JEN uhr ayt), or regrow, a new one. Some salamanders can regenerate legs, too. Some can even regenerate parts of their spinal cord, organs, and eyes.

At first, the new tail or leg or other body part looks pale in comparison to the rest of the salamander. Eventually, the color matches perfectly.