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Spotted Salamander

Spotted Salamander

Ambystoma maculatum

Status: Not Listed

Classification: Amphibian

Description

An adult spotted salamander is dark brown or black with yellow or orange spots on its back and sides, and its belly is gray. This amphibian has a broad head and smooth skin with vertical grooves on both sides of its torso. Glands on their backs and tails release a sticky toxic liquid when the animal is threatened.

A spotted salamander's appearance differs depending on its life cycle stage. In its larval stage, the spotted salamander lives in the water and has external gills. The back is closer to a dull greenish color, and it has a mottled tail and a pale belly. When they hatch, larvae are approximately half an inch (1.25 centimeters) long. Spotted salamanders grow to be 6 to 10 inches (15 to 25 centimeters) long, with females tending to be larger than males.

Range

Spotted salamanders can be found in the eastern United States along the Atlantic coast and throughout the southeastern states, with the exception of Florida. Their range extends west as far as Texas and north into eastern parts of Canada. They live in hardwood and mixed forests close to stagnant water sources like swamps, ponds, and vernal pools (temporary or seasonal pools of water). Their predators include skunks, raccoons, turtles, and snakes.

Diet

As larvae, spotted salamanders eat insects, small crustaceans, and other aquatic invertebrates. Adults have a sticky tongue to catch earthworms, snails, spiders, centipedes, and other invertebrates they find on the forest floor.

Life History

Spotted salamanders progress through several life stages: egg, larva, juvenile, and adult. Their eggs are laid underwater, so when the larvae hatch they have external gills for breathing in their aquatic environment, a broad tail to help them swim, and weak legs. The larvae feed in the water while they grow into juveniles. Juvenile and adult salamanders live on land and have lungs and strong legs. Spotted salamanders migrate to breeding ponds in late winter and early spring once temperatures begin to warm up and rain showers arrive.

Adult spotted salamanders live about 20 years, but some have been recorded to live as long as 30 years. Due to predators and disease, most spotted salamanders die before they reach the land-dwelling juvenile stage. Larvae in vernal pools will die if the water dries up before they grow into juveniles.

Conservation

The spotted salamander population is considered stable, though some subpopulations are declining due to habitat loss. The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates there are more than a million spotted salamanders in North America.

Fun Fact

Spotted salamander eggs sometimes contain green algae. The algae will consume the carbon dioxide that salamander embryos produce and turn it into oxygen that the embryos can use.

Sources

Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology

NatureServe Explorer

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

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