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5 Cool Salamanders in Iowa

There are 5 native salamanders in Iowa that you may find when traversing its wilderness. The state is the only one in the US. that has the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers on both borders.

There are plenty of areas that make a perfect home for salamanders to live. Altogether the state has 17 species of amphibians living in it, which also include toads and frogs. 

Here you will not only learn about the 5 types of salamanders that live in Iowa but also useful things about them. The range, appearance, and behavior of a salamander can be used to identify a species. While some salamanders may be very common, others are very rare and not seen often. Let’s get into the 5 salamanders in Iowa, and what you should know about each of them. 

Table of Contents

Salamanders in Iowa 

1. Tiger Salamander 

Eastern tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) found in woods on ground close up
Eastern tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) found in woods on ground close up
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Ambystomatidae
  • Scientific Name: Ambystoma tigrinum
  • Other Names: n/a
  • Adult Size: 7 to 13 inches (17.78 to 33 cm)
  • Lifespan: 15 years
  • Average Price Range: $40

Tiger salamanders are the largest salamanders in Iowa. These species live in woodlands, marshes, fields, and urban habitats. A native species to Iowa, the tiger salamander is found all over the state. They are terrestrial, and most of their life is spent in burrows, making them hard to find.

Tiger salamanders are much bigger than any other salamander you may find in Iowa. They have black, to dark brown coloring Yellowish markings cover their back, sides, and tails.

Winter and early spring is the breeding season for this species. Tiger salamanders are aquatic breeders, and they return to their birthplace to mate. Females lay up to 25 to 30 eggs, and she attaches them to vegetation.

Tiger salamanders feed on insects, frogs, lizards, and even other salamanders. They have a stable population in their range but may be affected by diseases like chytridiomycosis, or ranaviruses. Tiger salamanders are eaten by animals like snakes, bobcats, and birds like owls.

2. Blue-spotted Salamander

Blue-spotted Salamander (Ambystoma laterale) on a large yellow leaf
Blue-spotted Salamander (Ambystoma laterale) on a large yellow leaf
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Ambystomatidae
  • Scientific Name: Ambystoma laterale
  • Other Names: n/a
  • Adult Size: 3 to 5 inches (7.62 to 12.7 cm)
  • Lifespan: n/a
  • Average Price Range: $25

The blue-spotted salamander is an endangered species in Iowa. They are only found in Black Hawk County, and north of Cedar Rapids in Linn County. This species’ overall range covers parts of the northeastern United States and eastern Canada. Blue-spotted salamanders live in woodlands next to vernal pools. They hide under debris like rocks, logs, and leaf litter when not active.

This species is medium-sized and covered in blue and white spots on its back, sides, and tail. They have an elongated body, with a tail that makes up around 40% of their bodies. Blue-spotted salamanders have around 12 to 14 costal grooves on them. Compared to their dark backs blue-spotted salamanders have pale bellies.

The breeding season for this salamander occurs in the spring season, and they mate in vernal pools. Females can lay up to 500 eggs yearly, and each takes around a month to hatch. Larvae are aquatic, and by summer they complete metamorphosis to become terrestrial.

Blue-spotted salamanders while endangered in Iowa, in their overall range they are a species that has a stable population. This species feed on insects, worms, and other invertebrates small enough to eat.

3. Smallmouth Salamander 

Smallmouth Salamander (Ambystoma texanum) on stone
Smallmouth Salamander (Ambystoma texanum) on stone
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Ambystomatidae
  • Scientific Name: Ambystoma texanum
  • Other Names: Texas salamander
  • Adult Size: 4.3 to 7 inches (10.9 to 17.78 cm)
  • Lifespan: 15 years
  • Average Price Range: $15

The smallmouth salamander is endemic to Iowa and is found mainly in the southern region of the state. This species lives in moist wooded habitats next to ponds, and floodplains. Smallmouth salamanders live overall range that covers the central and southern regions of the United States.

Medium in size, smallmouth salamanders have dark coloring, with gray, or silver flecks on their body. They have small heads and long tails. Their stomachs are black and are covered in tiny flecks. Their bodies have between 14 to 15 costal grooves.

Smallmouth salamanders mate in spring and congregate near permanent bodies of water. They are able to lay up to 700 eggs, placing them in clumps of around 30 eggs at a time. Larvae are small and fully completely metamorphosis at the end of summer.

This species is active mainly at night, and they spend this time feeding on small invertebrates. To defend itself this species will wave its tail around, and it relies on the toxins it emits. Smallmouth salamanders are a shy species, avoiding other salamanders they live with that may feed on them.

4. Common Mudpuppy

Common MudPuppy (Necturus maculosus) held in two hands
Common MudPuppy (Necturus maculosus) held in two hands – source
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Proteidae
  • Scientific Name: Necturus maculosus
  • Other Names: Waterdogs
  • Adult Size: 8 to 19 inches (20.3 to 48.2 cm)
  • Lifespan: 15 to 30 years
  • Average Price Range: $10 to $20

Mudpuppies in Iowa are rare salamanders, and they are considered a threatened species in the state. This species unlike other salamanders in the state is fully aquatic. Rivers and streams are the types of habitats they live in, sometimes places like natural lakes.

They hide under debris in the water like logs or large rocks. In Iowa, common mudpuppies are found mainly in the extreme far eastern portion of the state.

Common mudpuppies have brown, gray, or black coloring. They have spots covering them, and in rare cases they are albino. The color of their skin depends on the water, and water that is clear either skin gets darker. On the side of their head are external gills with a pinkish color. Mudpuppies’ gills increase in size in waters that are stagnant.

Mudpuppies use their small rows of teeth in their mouth to feed on a variety of animals like crayfish, other amphibians, small fish, and other invertebrates they may find.

Spending their lives in the water they must be wary of predators like turtles, water snakes, and larger fish that can eat them. Breeding for this species occurs in fall, and they lay up to 20 to 200 eggs.

5. Central Newt

Hand full of Central Newts (Notophthalmus viridescens louisianensis)
Hand full of Central Newts (Notophthalmus viridescens louisianensis) – source
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Salamandridae
  • Scientific Name: Notophthalmus viridescens louisianensis
  • Other Names: n/a
  • Adult Size: 2.25 to 5.5 inches (5.7 to 13.97 cm)
  • Lifespan: 12 to 15 years
  • Average Price Range: n/a

Central newts live in the far eastern regions of Iowa. They are a subspecies of the Eastern Newt. Central newts range in the United States covers the southeastern region of the US, and they are also found in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan in the north.

Central newts live in midlands, and next to small lakes. They are born in the water, and transform into an eft, staying on land for up to 3 years. Adult newts are aqutic, and some newts may remain aquatic their whole lives.

Central newts have brown or green coloring and are covered in black dots. They may also have red dots on their side. Their stomachs are yellowish, or orange. Compared to other salamanders their skin may have a rougher-looking appearance.

Central newts secrete a toxin substance that is dangerous for predators to eat. They feed on animals like mollusks, crustaceans, leeches, tadpoles, and insects. This species is rare and considered throated in Iowa, likely affected by pollution of the waters they live in.


Where are salamanders found in Iowa?

Salamanders are not seen often because of their secretive nature, as they spend most of their lives underground, and in water. Salamanders are most common in moist woodland habitats, near streams, rivers, marshes, or similar freshwater.

Salamanders in Iowa are seen most on rainy nights, and many come out during their breeding season to water pools. Each species has its own preference for when it prefers to be active, and where it lives.

Are the salamanders in Iowa Dangerous?

Salamanders are not dangerous to humans, but they do secrete toxins from glands that get on tier skin. You should always wash your hands before, and after handling a salamander to prevent toxins from yourself from getting sick. The strength of salamander toxins depends on the species, and some species can be extremely poisonous.

What is the largest salamander in Iowa?

The tiger salamander is the largest salamander that lives in Iowa and is also the most abundant species. Tiger salamanders are named after the tiger markings that appear over their body. They grow up between 6 to 8.5 inches and have an average weight of 126 g (4.4 oz).

Wrapping up

There is a lot to learn about the 5 salamander species that live in Iowa, and they are all native to the state. Salamanders and other amphibians have experienced a population decline due to pollution, climate change, and the destruction of their habitats. As time passes more and more salamanders may become endangered, as they are all at risk of depopulation.

Some of the salamanders in Iowa make good pets, while others are rare and hard to find. Taking a salamander from the wild is never a good idea as it can be a rare species and are part of a greater population. Salamanders also can have diseases or parasites if caught in the wild and die quicker than captive bred. Iowa is located in the Midwestern region of the United States, and there is plenty of wildlife like salamanders to find.

Other nearby states

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