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Salamander Identification Guide

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1 Salamander Identification Guide
Citizen Monitoring of Wisconsin’s Salamanders by Wisconsin Audubon Chapters Randy Korb, Project Director Training Guides by Mary Linton

2 This guide will help you identify Wisconsin’s salamanders
This guide will help you identify Wisconsin’s salamanders. Two other guides are also available: a guide to Wisconsin’s frogs, toads, and treefrogs, and a guide to the Protocols for the citizen salamander monitoring project. The guides are in PowerPoint, a presentation software made by Microsoft. You move through the guide by clicking your mouse or touchpad until you see “THE END”. There are many other good resources available, and we will list some good sources at the end of this guide.

3 Purpose of this Project
Wisconsin has a long-term and successful monitoring program for frogs, toads and tree frogs, the members of the Class Amphibia that have males that call during mating . They use the calls of these amphibians to verify their presence in habitats all over the state. Salamanders, the other large group of the Class Amphibia, don’t make mating calls, so cannot be monitored simply. This project seeks to begin a systematic monitoring of salamanders that will add to what is already known about their populations in Wisconsin. In specific, your efforts will help verify distributions of salamanders and fill the large gaps of knowledge in areas where salamander surveys have not been conducted. The data you collect will help preserve and protect Wisconsin’s salamanders.

4 Amphibians come in two types
those without tails those with tails These belong to the Order Caudata which includes Salamanders, Newts and Mudpuppies The juvenile stage is called a Larva Missouri State Biology These belong to the Order Anura which includes Frogs, Toads and Tree Frogs The juvenile stage is called a Tadpole Clyde Peeling

5 Wisconsin’s 6 salamander species exhibit the full range of Amphibian life cycles:
Mole salamanders in the Family Ambystomatidae: breed in water, larvae are aquatic and adults are terrestrial. 3 species. Newts in the Family Salamandridae: breed in water, adults are aquatic, there are 2 sub adult stages – first an aquatic larva and then a terrestrial juvenile called an eft. 1 species. Lungless Salamanders in the family Plethodontidae: 2 species in Wisconsin – both with terrestrial adults, but one also has terrestrial larvae, while the other has aquatic larvae. Mudpuppies in the Family Proteidae: All life stages are aquatic. 1 species

6 During this initial season of salamander monitoring we will focus
on those species that can be collected in a minnow trap. The salamanders most of us will find will have adults that breed in water, aquatic larvae, or aquatic adults.

7 Here are important characteristics for identifying adults
of Wisconsin’s 5 salamander species ohiohistorycentral,.org 1. Adults have external gills for breathing? None here, but The mudpuppy has deep red gills

8 2. Is the body robust or is it slender? Robust here but
ohiohistorycentral,.org 2. Is the body robust or is it slender? Robust here but Redbacks are slender

9 Are there vertical grooves on the body – called Coastal Grooves?
Newts have no coastal grooves ohiohistorycentral,.org Plenty here but 3. Are there vertical grooves on the body – called Coastal Grooves?

10 Family Ambystomatidae Mole Salamanders

11 A Typical Mole Salamander Life Cycle
Mole salamanders are among the first amphibians to breed in the spring. They rise from their underground overwintering sites and head to their breeding ponds – typically an ephemeral pond, or one that fills in late fall or early spring, then dries in late summer or fall. Mole salamanders can successfully breed here because ephemeral ponds lack vertebrate predators. Surviving eggs hatch into larvae that stay in the pond until ready to metamorphose – turn into new, small terrestrial salamanders. Note the 4 legs , external gills, and body – definitely no tadpole. The larvae leave the pond at the end of summer and eventually become adults After a dance and mating, eggs are laid in the pond. The eggs are covered with one or more gelatinous layers and are laid in small or large clumps.

12 Tiger Salamander – Ambystoma tigrinum Very hefty. Sturdy legs make tiger salamanders better than other sala- manders at land travel. Black background with variable yellow marks on head, body and tail. Five hind toes Our largest land salamander – 7 to13 inches in length and stocky. They have deep coastal grooves and live in rodent burrows as adults. Adults and larvae are voracious predators. Adults have even been known to eat rodents. Tiger salamander adults live in woods, grass- lands and farmer’s pastures. That’s why they are often found in basement window wells. Tigers breed in ephemeral ponds, permanent ponds, even farm ponds.

13 Spotted Salamander – Ambystoma maculatum
Not as stocky as Tigers, but still robust. Black background with 2 irregular rows of yellow spots running down head and body. Head spots may be orange. Another groovy species Five toes on hind foot Our second-largest salamander - 4 to 8 inches. Adults like closed canopy woods with lots of brush. Spotted salamanders breed in ephemeral ponds. Eggs are laid in a solid gelatinous mass attached to twigs or vegetation. The eggs may have a greenish tinge due to an alga that lives in the gelatinous coating.

14 Blue-spotted Salamander – Ambystoma laterale
The third groovy species Still not slender Dark body flecked with many blue or white spots. Five toes on hind feet The smallest Ambystoma salamander – 3 to 6 inches in length. Blue-spots can secrete a milky white substance when handled, making them very slippery. Take time to get a good hold. The adults live in wooded areas and breed in ephemeral ponds.

15 As you can tell by the previous slide, Blue-spot color patterns do vary. Part of this variation
is due to the fact that blue-spots have hybridized with other Ambystoma species. These hybrids are ancient lines of salamanders that are entirely female and produce offspring from unfertilized eggs. The hybrids can be found wherever blue-spots are found and there is no way to distinguish them in the field. They can only be told apart by examining their chromosomes. So, if a salamander looks like a blue-spot, record it as a blue-spot.

16 Family Salamandridae Newts

17 The central newt life cycle is more complicated than that of the Mole salamanders
The adults are usually found in water (1), but can easily survive on land (1). In fact, they hibernate on land and migrate from pond to pond. The 2nd juvenile stage is the terrestrial Eft (5). This Is the only stage you won’t catch in a minnow trap. Newts do breed in water. Could be in Spring or Fall. The eggs (2) are laid on submerged vegetation In the spring. The aquatic larva (3) hatches and grows through summer until it is ready metamorphose (4).

18 Central Newt – a subspecies of the Eastern Newt
Notophthalmus viridescens louisianensis No coastal grooves Light-colored body flecked with dark spots. Rare large spots with light interior. Note whitish belly Still robust Five toes on hind feet (really!) Eft, terrestrial juvenile Aquatic larva The central newt is a small salamander – 2 to 4 inches in length. Its skin is rough and well covered with toxic skin glands. The terrestrial adult tends to be darker than the aquatic adult above. They breed in ponds with good vegetation, so often found in permanent ponds.

19 OK. If you know the four we have covered so far,
you will be in great shape for your sampling season. But here are the rest, just in case!

20 Family Plethodontidae Lungless Salamanders

21 Four-toed Salamander – Hemidactylium scutatum
Greeenish- Brown back with black mottling Slender 4 toes on hind foot White belly Also called the bog salamander because it nests in the sphagnum on the surface of bogs. When the larvae hatch, they wriggle through the moss to the water, grow, then return to the forests as adults. This is a small salamander – 3 to 4 inches – and very hard to find. Adults mate on land – only the small larva is truly aquatic. Notice the crimp at the start of the tail. They can jettison their tail if being attacked from behind. If anyone finds one of these we will have a party.

22 Red-backed Salamander – Plethodon cinereus
5 toes on hind foot Slender Red strip on back Sides and belly brown-gray with white specks Red-backs actually exhibit some color variation. The ones with no red stripe on the back are sometimes called lead-backs. This is a completely terrestrial salamander – females nest with, and protect their eggs. When the eggs hatch, the tiny larvae have gill buds for a short time, Then lose the bids and look like tiny adults. Red-backs live in rich woodlands with rotting downed logs where they live and nest. Obviously, these salamanders will not appear in our minnow traps.

23 Family Proteidae Mudpuppies

24 Mudpuppy – Necturus maculosus
All stages of life cycle are found in lakes and rivers. Bright red gills 4 toes on the hind feet Mudpuppies exhibit something called Neotony, or the condition of becoming an adult In the same form as the larva. In this case a large larva – at inches in length the Mudpuppy is our largest salamander. Some people consider mudpuppies “trash” critters. They are not poisonous, and in fact are great aquatic citizens. They are the host to the Salamander mussel, an endangered species in Wisconsin.

25 How about salamander larvae?
Blue-spotted Salamander It’s very hard to tell the Ambystoma salamander larvae apart when they are young. Spotted Salamander They look very different from Central Newt larvae. If you collect a larva with 5 toes on hind feet, lots of speckles except on the throat, and no dark line through the eye, call it an Ambystoma larva. Tiger Salamander

26 Remember the aquatic larva of the Central Newt? If you find a SMALL larva with no coastal grooves (or they are faint), no membranous fin that runs up over the back, and a dark line through the eye, record it as a Central Newt larva,

27 Larvae of the species you are unlikely to encounter:
Mudpuppy larvae are found in lakes and rivers. They have 4 toes on the hind feet, are striped, have a dorsal fin only on the tail, and lovely red gills. 4-toed salamander larvae also only have 4 toes on the hind feet, a dorsal fin over the tail and body, and a dark line through the eye (really). They are found in bog ponds. ….

28 Wisconsin’s salamanders are not evenly distributed across the state.
You can discover what has previously been found in your area by checking the Wisconsin Herp Atlas. It can be found on-line at: Why not take some time to check the atlas out now? ----- first click on the hotlink above. ------when the Herp Atlas home page appears, click on “Species Accounts”, then on a species from the list on the left margin. Make special note of the species not strongly represented in your area.

29 Feel free to review this presentation as often as you wish.
Here are some other great resources: Books Amphibians of Wisconsin by Rebecca Christoffel, Robert Hay and Michelle Wolfgram. can be viewed or purchased on-line at: A Field Guide to Amphibian Larvae and Eggs of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa by Jeffrey R. Parmalee, Melinda G. Knutson, and James E. Lyon can be ordered from the US Geological Survey ( or or contact the author at Amphibians and Reptiles of the Great Lakes Region by James H. Harding. -available from Amazon, or ordered from your favorite local bookstore. Websites: EEK (Environmental Education for Kids) by the Wisconsin DNR [

30 The End

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