What type of animal is this?
A salamander! You might have mistaken it for a lizard, but lizards are very different from salamanders. Salamanders have moist skin, while lizards have dry scales on their skin. Furthermore, lizards live their entire life on land. Salamanders must reproduce in water.
Salamanders are characterized by slender bodies, short legs, and long tails. They are most closely related to the caecilians, little-known legless amphibians (Figure below). Salamanders live in or near water or on moist ground, often in a swamp. Some species live in water most of their life, some live their entire adult life on land, and some live in both habitats. Salamanders are carnivorous, eating only other animals, not plants. They will eat almost any smaller animal. Finally, salamanders have the ability to grow back lost limbs, as well as other body parts. This process is known as regeneration.
The marbled salamander (left) shows the typical salamander body plan: slender body, short legs, long tail, and moist skin. Caecilian (right) are a type of legless amphibian most closely related to salamanders.
How Do Salamanders Breathe?
Different salamanders breathe in different ways. In those that have gills, breathing occurs through the gills as water passes over the gill slits. Species that live on land have lungs that are used in breathing, much like breathing in mammals. Other land-living salamanders do not have lungs or gills. Instead, they "breathe," or exchange gases, through their skin. This requires blood vessels that exchange gases to be spread throughout the skin.
How Big Are Salamanders?
Salamanders are found in most moist or arid habitats in the northern hemisphere. They are generally small. However, some can reach a foot or more, as in the mudpuppy of North America. In Japan and China, the giant salamander reaches 6 feet and weighs up to 66 pounds (Figure below).
The Pacific giant salamander can reach up to 6 feet in length and weigh up to 66 pounds.
Classification of Salamanders
Salamanders belong to a group of approximately 500 species of amphibians. The order Urodela, containing salamanders and newts, is divided into three suborders:
- Giant salamanders (including the hellbender and Asiatic salamanders).
- Advanced salamanders (including lungless salamanders, mudpuppies, and newts).
carnivorous: Feeds on other animals.
regeneration: Growing back missing body parts.
- Salamanders live in or near water or on moist ground, often in a swamp.
- Salamanders can breathe with the help of gills, lungs, or their skin surface.
Use the resources below to answer the questions that follow.
- Where does the spotted salamander live?
- How does the spotted salamander discourage predators?
- What led to the giant salamanders (Andrias japonicus) being threatened with extinction?
- What effect have dams had on giant salamanders?
- Can you think of other organisms that have been similarly affected by dams?
- How does the habitat of the giant salamander differ from the habitat of the spotted salamander?
- What difference in these habitats may help explain the large size of the giant salamander?
- Where do salamanders live?
- How do salamanders breathe?