Kinds of Salamanders
There are about 55 genera of salamanders and more than 300 species, grouped into the following 8 families:
Asiatic land salamanders. These are among the most primitive salamanders. They are found only in eastern Asia.
Giant salamanders. Included in this family are the giant salamander (Megalobatrachus japonicus) of Japan and the hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) of North America. The hellbender, which inhabits rivers and streams, can reach a length of more than 25 inches (64 cm).
Mole salamanders. Members of this family are found throughout North America. Included in this family are the marbled salamander of the eastern half of the United States and the axolotl. The marbled salamander (Ambystoma opacum) is black with white or grayish markings; it grows to about 5 inches (13 cm).
Fire salamanders and newts. The fire salamanders arc found in Europe and arc of the genus Salamandra.
Amphiumas. There are only two species, found in the southeastern United States. One species (Amphiuma means) grows up to 36 inches (90 cm), the other (A. tridactylum) to about 40 inches (1 m).
Lungless salamanders. It is the largest family, with 180 species. All but two species are found in the Western Hemisphere; the two exceptions are European. Members of this family are from 1 1/2 to 8 1/2 inches (4 to 22 cm) long. Included in this family is the red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus).The red salamander has no lungs, but breathes through its skin and mouth tissue.
Olm and mud puppies. The olm (Proteus anguinus), found in Croatia and Montenegro, is a white salamander that reaches a length of about 12 inches (30 cm).
Sirens. The three species in this family are also permanently larval forms. They are the only salamanders without hind limbs. All three are aquatic and are found in the eastern United States.
Salamanders are quiet creatures. They don’t have a mating call. So when a male salamander finds a female he wants to mate with, he does a dance. The male salamander waves his tail back and forth in front of the female, and he sends chemical signals her way. If she likes him, she joins the dance.
The two salamanders walk or swim around each other. Sometimes they bump heads, too. Some kinds of male salamanders also hug the females. Eventually, the male deposits a bundle of sperm nearby and shows the female where it is. She takes the sperm, puts it in her body, and it fertilizes her eggs.
It depends on the type of salamander! Salamanders that live mostly on land just lay their eggs and leave them to their fate. But dusky salamanders and other aquatic salamanders guard their eggs until they hatch.
Usually, the mother aquatic salamander protects the eggs. Among the Japanese giant salamanders, however, the father stays with the eggs.
Not only does the father salamander protect his eggs from predators; he tries to help them grow! He fans them with his tail to create bubbles in the water so the eggs have an oxygen-rich nursery in which to develop.
Like frogs and toads, salamanders must keep an active lookout for predators. They are good at seeing movement. Some can sense movement through their skin. These animals have a good sense of smell, too.
Most salamanders protect themselves by hiding from predators. Some brightly colored salamanders use their coloration to announce that their skin is poisonous. The California slender salamander takes a different approach. It may coil up and spring away.
Terrestrial salamanders, the salamanders that live on land, travel far from home after they grow to adulthood. Some have been known to travel several miles from the pond or stream where they hatched.
During breeding season, these salamanders make the long trip back to water to lay their own eggs. Braving predators, harsh weather, and varied terrain, they make their way home. Using their keen sense of smell, they find the exact spot where they were hatched and continue the family tradition.
Some salamanders make the trip every breeding season. Others make the difficult trip home only every other year. And when some kinds of adult newts return to the water, they stay there for good.
Salamanders make up the order Caudata.