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Nature Notebook – Salamanders

Michigan is home to ten different species of salamander and the variety within those ten species is quite fascinating.

Salamanders are a type of amphibian, along with frogs and toads. The word amphibian comes from Greek roots that mean “double life,” because most amphibian species begin life from an egg as aquatic larvae with gills (like a tadpole) and transform into animals capable of living on the land, usually with lungs. This is true for Michigan’s frog and toad species, but only about half of our salamander species.

Two species of salamander in particular, the mudpuppy and the western lesser siren, spend their whole life in water and never develop lungs. Both species are neotenic, meaning they retain their larval features, like their external gills and tail fins, into adulthood.

Other species, under certain conditions, that are normally terrestrial can actually remain in the water when sexually mature and reproduce as mature “larvae.”

There are even two species of salamander that live and reproduce entirely on land, and without lungs! They require moist habitat, since they “breathe” entirely through their skin.