There are seven (7) species of salamanders in the state of Wisconsin, including mole and Pacific giant salamanders, true salamanders and newts, lungless salamanders and aquatic, pedomorphic salamanders.
Salamanders are chordate animals in the class Amphibia. Most possess four legs (tetrapods) and all are ectothermic (cold-blooded). This means that they are not able to regulate their internal body temperature.
Their bodily temperature is based on their environment. As amphibians, salamanders live in a variety of habitats. Some live underground (are fossorial), some in freshwater sources (are aquatic) and yet others on land (are terrestrial).
Salamanders resemble lizards in their appearance. Most have slender bodies, blunt noses or snouts, moist skin which lacks scales, short limbs, four digits on the hind limbs, five digits on their forelimbs and long tails.
While these features apply to most animals in the family of salamanders, certain species are slightly different in form. Some have only forelimbs, less digits or warty skin. These amphibians are mostly found in the Holarctic realm.
Most commonly called newts, salamanders come in various lengths, from minute species to giant ones. They have the ability to regenerate damaged or lost limbs and some other parts of their bodies.
As a mechanism to protect themselves from predators, some salamanders contain a destructive toxin known as tetrodoxin. For this reason, they tend to move slowly and have brightly colored skin (although some have drab colors on their skin).
To learn more about them, check out the information on Wikipedia’s page about salamanders. They eat a variety of smaller animals, including pests (ants, crickets, flies, worms, mosquitoes, slugs and other insects) and crustaceans.
Larger salamanders may also eat smaller conspecifics (other individuals of the same species) or heterospecifics (other salamanders of different species). Their most common predators are raccoons, skunks, snakes and turtles.
While salamanders tend to have brightly colored dorsal skin (the skin on their backs) to alert terrestrial animals of their toxic presence, their ventral skin (the skin on their flip side, i.e their bellies) is light in color to avoid aquatic predators.
Read further to learn about the seven (7) species of salamanders in Wisconsin, their geographic location or range, habitat, physical characteristics, behavior and additional adaptations against predation, if any, at adulthood.
Table of Contents
Species of Salamanders in Wisconsin
1. Blue-spotted Salamander
- Family: Ambystomatidae (mole and Pacific giant salamanders)
- Scientific Name: Ambystoma laterale
- Other Names: N/A
- Adult Size: 7.6 to 14 cm (3 to 5.5 in)
- Lifespan: N/A
The blue-spotted salamander is a common species in the state of Wisconsin. It is also found in other US states such as Connecticut, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Vermont.
Although the salamander is native and endemic to North America, it is not found only in the US. In Canada, it lives in the provinces of Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island and Quebec.
It inhabits both deciduous and coniferous forests. However, salamanders of this species occur mostly in moist forests and woodlands which have sandy soil. It lives on land, above the ground, even in the warmer parts of the year.
Blue-spotted salamanders have slender bodies and resemble another mole salamander species, the Jefferson salamander. However, blue-spotted salamanders are typically smaller in size, have narrower snouts and are darker in color.
They have a long tail that makes up about 40% of their entire body length. This tail is broad and oval in shape at the base (the part directly connected to or extending from the body) but compressed towards the tip or tapering end.
These slim salamanders have four feet with relatively long digits. Their common name is as result of the bluish white spotting or flecking on the sides of their trunks and tails which is also sometimes visible on their backs.
Dorsally, a blue-spotted salamander is typically grayish black to bluish black in color. As stated above, its lower sides may also have large bluish white flecks or spots. The species’ ventral surface usually features some flecking and lighter than the dorsum in color, although it is mostly black.
Some sexual dimorphism exists in this species. This appears in their size and the appearance of their tails. On average, the males tend to be a little smaller in size than the females, and they have a longer, more flattened tail.
Females are larger in size, with shorter tails in comparison to the length of their bodies. The species breeds in the spring as they start to migrate to breeding ponds and pools in warm evenings, especially in high humidity.
Blue-spotted salamanders are primarily nocturnal. They stay undercover and out of direct sunlight in the daytime to avoid being detected. In the summer and autumn, they are mostly found in damp forests and they move about to look for food in the nighttime.
Most salamander species are poisonous and so is this one. It has granular glands, which are most concentrated on its tail. These glands produce a milky and toxic liquid and secrete this poison when the animal is threatened.
It holds its tail up and curved over its body when it is startled. Predators that attack its tail get the sticky poison in their mouths. In addition to the toxins this species produces, it is small and its size enables the salamander to hide well from potential attackers.
The blue-spotted salamander is now threatened due to the loss of wetlands and the destruction of forests. There is no evidence, however, of decline in its populations as of yet. It is more tolerant to human disturbances than other salamander species.
2. Eastern Newt
- Family: Salamandridae (true salamanders and newts)
- Scientific Name: Notophthalmus viridescens
- Other Names: Broken-striped newt, central newt, Peninsula newt, red-spotted newt
- Adult Size: 6.5 to 12.7 cm (2.6 to 5 in)
- Lifespan: 12 to 15 years in the wild
Eastern newts are salamanders widely distributed in North America, in the USA and Canada. They are a common species of salamanders in Wisconsin.
Individuals can be found in Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ohio, Quebec, Rhode Island, Wisconsin and other states or provinces.
For their habitats, these salamanders prefer living in ponds and lakes around thick, submerged vegetation, still, rather undisturbed streams, swamps, woodlands (forests) and ditches (canals, trenches).
Newts of this species go through four stages of development: egg, aquatic larva, red eft and adult. They are terrestrial as red efts and aquatic at the adult stage. Thus, terrestrial and aquatic eastern newts have different physical characteristics.
While red efts may be any shade of color from red-orange to reddish brown, they turn green, olive green, dark brown or yellowish brown dorsally at the adult stage. An adult’s back is usually also spotted in two rows with red or orange dots.
Ventrally, the eastern newt is yellow in color. Red efts are typically smaller in size and have granular skin but aquatic adults are larger in size and have very smooth, moist skin. This species shows sexual dimorphism in the mating season.
Males tend to have brighter spots than females as a medium of advertisement. Their spots are also redder, their hind limbs enlarged, their vents swollen and their tails ridged. Black horny scales also develop on their inner thighs and toes.
These salamanders show both diurnal and nocturnal activity. They secrete toxins, hence their bright warning color at the juvenile stage (red eft), and so are not the most suitable for keeping as pets, especially for children.
3. Eastern Red-backed Salamander
- Family: Plethodontidae (lungless salamanders)
- Scientific Name: Plethodon cinereus
- Other Names: Northern redback salamander, northern red-backed salamander, red-backed salamander
- Adult Size: 5.7 to 12.7 cm (2.24 to 5 in)
- Lifespan: 25 years in captivity on average; about 9.8 to 32 years in the wild, like other plethodontids
Eastern red-backed salamanders are found in the North American countries of Canada and the United States. Within Canada, they are found in the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island and Quebec.
In the United States, they live in Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
These salamanders are quite common in Wisconsin. They are terrestrial, living mostly in deciduous forests throughout the geographic range they are found in. They may be found in leaf litter, under rocks, beneath logs, or in small burrows.
Eastern red-backed salamanders love to and must live in a moist environment, because as a plethodontid species, they do not have lungs and so require their skin to be moist to aid respiration. Soil pH also affects them; they are negatively affected by highly acidic soils.
They have long, quite slender bodies. Dorsally, their bodies are slightly flattened, but on the sides, it is well rounded. The tails are nearly circular from their base to their tip. They can regenerate and are usually a uniform dark gray color.
Each hind limb of a salamander of this species has four digits on it, and each fore limb has four digits. Some slight webbing may be seen on the five digits of the animal’s hind legs. It has a mfairly large mouth but small tongue, with the angle of the jaw behind the eye.
Two different color phases exist in this species. A “redback” phase features the salamander with a gray or black body and a red or orange stripe running down its back, from its neck even till its tail.
The stripe may also be light gray, dull yellow, pink or brick red in color, likely with small black flecks. A second “leadback” phase features individuals that lack the middorsal stripe, have lighter heads and legs.
In both phases, the dorsal surface is entirely black or grey in color. The salamander’s belly is mottled in both white and gray. The sides are dark gray or black, becoming lighter and mottled toward the belly.
Not much differences exist between males and females as both sexes look alike in this species. However, males are on average slightly smaller than females in size. They can also be better distinguished from females in the breeding season.
In this period, they have enlarged premaxillary teeth, swollen snouts and proportionally longer legs. They also have black testes. The red-backed salamander shows tail autotomy (is able to drop all or part of its tail when trying to escape from a predator and grow a new, lighter colored one afterwards).
4. Eastern Tiger Salamander
- Family: Ambystomatidae
- Scientific Name: Ambystoma tigrinum
- Other Names: Tiger salamander
- Adult Size: 17 to 33 cm (6.7 to 13 in)
- Lifespan: up to 16 years in the wild, 10.3 to 25 years in captivity
Eastern tiger salamanders are found in Canada, Mexico and the US. In the United States, they occur in Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, New York, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.
Habitats of choice for them are lowland deciduous forests, coniferous forests, open fields, bushy regions, alpine and subalpine meadows, grasslands, semideserts and deserts with sandy soil. They are rarely seen in streams but are still common in the state of Wisconsin.
The eastern tiger salamander is the largest terrestrial or land dwelling salamander in North America. It is also the species in this region with the largest distribution or widest range. It is less dependent on the forests than most members of its genus.
It possesses a stout, thick body, small, round eyes and a wide head. Its dorsal skin is typically dark brown to grayish black and it has yellow (or less commonly tan or olive green) blotches, spots or patterns on it.
Patterning, spotting or blotch shape, size and position are not set or fixed. They may be used to identify the salamander by origin. Its ventral skin is typically lighter in color, usually yellowish or olive, with irregular pale blotches on it.
Sexual differences exist in the morphology of this species. The males are on average longer or larger than females. Their tails are also more compressed, their hindlegs stockier and longer, and their vent area swollen in breeding seasons.
Eastern tiger salamanders are nocturnal and fossorial, digging into the ground and making their own burrows rather than living in those made by other animals. They are terricolous and have adaptations for swimming also. They are also deft predators.
5. Four-toed Salamander
- Family: Plethodontidae
- Scientific Name: Hemidactylium scutatum
- Other Names: N/A
- Adult Size: 5 to 10.2 cm (1.97 to 4.02 in)
- Lifespan: 5.5 years on average while in captivity
Another species of salamanders in Wisconsin is the four-toed salamander. Its geographic range includes the southeastern part of Canada (like Nova Scotia), the Gulf of Mexico and, towards the west, US states like Florida, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Virginia and Wisconsin.
It requires suitable breeding marshlands, swamplands or wetlands within or adjacent to mature forests. It prefers mesic (having or characterized by moderate or a well-balanced supply of moisture) forests with dense canopy.
The essence of this canopy is to cover the salamander and preserve its body moisture as it is a plethodontid or lungless species. The animal may be found beneath woody debris, in vernal pools, ponds, bogs, shallow marshes, or other bodies of water which do have fish in them.
Dorsally, the color of this species is usually a rusty brown color or grayish brown color, with black and bluish speckles on the surface. The sides of this salamander are typically grayish in color.
Four-toed salamanders have four digits on their hind legs, with long tails with make up about 57% of the entire lengths of their bodies. There is some level of sexual dimorphism evident in this species.
The females have rounded snouts or noses, have smaller teeth and are about 15% longer than their male conspecifics. On the other hand, their sexually active conspecifics have more squared or abridged snouts, enlarged premaxillary teeth and shorter bodies.
These salamanders have a number of mechanisms put in place against predation. Firstly, if they are threatened, attacked or molested by humans or predators they curl up, hide their heads under their tails and stay very still.
They may at times take up some aggressive or intimidating posture by lifting their head high and swaying their tails. Yet another defense mechanism is the the mild, distasteful toxin that they secrete from their skin and spray while swaying their tails.
Four-toed salamanders also show tail autotomy. When under attack, in a bid to distract their predators, individuals of this species can voluntarily detach their tails, and the detached tail continues to wiggle, possibly giving the animal a chance to escape.
Their toxins are completely harmless to humans. However, this is considered a species of special concern in the state of Wisconsin.
- Family: Proteidae (aquatic, pedomorphic salamanders)
- Scientific Name: Necturus maculosus
- Other Names: Mudpuppy
- Adult Size: 20.3 to 43.2 cm (8 to 17 in)
- Lifespan: 11 years on average in the wild, up to 30 years in captivity
The common mudpuppy is a species of salamanders widely found in the eastern part of North America. Individuals live in states and provinces of the United States and Canada such as Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Manitoba, New York, Ontario, Pennsylvania, Quebec, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
Mudpuppies are entirely aquatic, with two subspecies with different coloration and geographic distributions. They live in several permanent aquatic habitats like bays, muddy canals, streams (both fast and sluggish), reservoirs and lakes.
Salamanders of this species have four digits on each of their limbs, bushy external gills, and a laterally compressed tail. They have a dark stripe on the side of their head that passes through the eye and may run the side of their bodies.
Dorsally, their skin may be colored in any shade from rusty brown to gray and even black. Bluish black spots tend to be scattered on their skin. Ventrally, the skin is usually brightly colored, in such colors like brown, gray, white or yellow, and sometimes there are dark spots on this ventral surface.
The subspecies more frequently known as the common mudpuppy has more of a rusty brown to grey dorsal color. Its underside is usually gray in color and may be unspotted, sparsely spotted or densely spotted.
The other subspecies, known as the Red River mudpuppy, Louisiana mudpuppy or waterdog, has a yellowish brown to tan dorsal color and dark dorsal stripes occasionally. Its venter is light colored and spotless in the middle but the sides have large dark blotches running along them.
Mudpuppies are nocturnal, actively foraging at nighttime and retreating to burrows or under large logs of wood, rocks and other objects for cover in the daytime. They do not face many threats to their population except pollution and are not toxic.
7. Spotted Salamander
- Family: Ambystomatidae
- Scientific Name: Ambystoma maculatum
- Other Names: Yellow-spotted salamander
- Adult Size: 15 to 25 cm (5.8 to 9.8 in)
- Lifespan: 20 to 30 years in the wild (if they survive before transforming and leaving their ponds; only about 10% do); about 25 years in captivity
The spotted salamander is a common species in eastern US and Canada. It is found in Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Minnesota, New Brunswick, North Carolina, Nova Scotia, Ohio, Ontario, Quebec, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Wisconsin.
It occurs along rivers in bottomland deciduous forests, or in upland mixed or deciduous forests if ponds for breeding are available. It also inhabits lakes, ponds and temporary pools if no fish live in them.
This species has a stout body, broad and rounded snout and a head swollen at the sides behind its jaw. It is relatively large in size, with strong, large legs. The digits on its legs may be four or five in number.
On its dorsal surface, the spotted salamander has dark coloration, as it is usually black, purplish black, dark gray or dark brown. It has a mid dorsal line and two rows of large spots on each side of the line.
The spots may be yellow, orange or some other related bright color. They run from each side of the head to the tail, ranging from twenty four (24) to forty five (45) in number. There are individuals with unspotted bodies but such are less common.
On its venter and underneath its limbs, an individual which belongs to this species is usually a pale slate gray color. It may have bright orange markings on its head. Females are likely larger than males, especially in the breeding season.
They are nocturnal, natatorial and terricolous salamanders. To protect themselves from predators, they have poison glands in the skin on their tails and backs. When threatened, they produce sticky white toxins from these skin glands.
Spotted salamanders may bite, make sounds, lash with their tails and butt with their heads when threatened by predators. The eggs are protected by thick, firm jelly when they are laid but predators still eat them in large numbers.
How many salamanders are in Wisconsin?
There are seven (7) species of salamanders in Wisconsin. They are the blue-spotted salamander, eastern newt, eastern red-backed salamander, eastern tiger salamander, four-toed salamander, (common) mudpuppy and spotted salamander.
Where can you find salamanders in Wisconsin?
In Wisconsin, just like elsewhere, salamanders can be found in, near or along brooks, creeks, ponds and other moist locations such as under rocks.
Are there poisonous salamanders in Wisconsin?
There are poisonous salamanders in Wisconsin. Out of the seven (7) explained above, the four poisonous species are the blue-spotted salamanders, eastern newts, four-toed salamanders and spotted salamanders.
There are seven (7) species of salamanders in Wisconsin which are named and described in the article above. This number mostly consists of plethodontid (lungless) salamanders but is also inclusive of other families.
The state of Tennessee is within a biome known as Eastern Deciduous Forest. Just as the name suggests, the state and other regions within this biome predominantly consist of temperate deciduous forests.
Salamanders are valuable to the entire ecosystem and man as well because they control the populations of insects and arthropods. They eat these insects and pests while serving in turn as food for larger animals.
In most species of salamanders, fertilization occurs internally while the embryos develop externally. For mating or breeding to occur, males have to rub parts of their bodies against the females or butt, nudge, rub or slap them.
These gestures or behaviors then make the female more ready and responsive to reproductive activities. Males have a pack of sperm, known as a spermatophore, which they keep on the ground, in a pool or among debris.
An interested female inserts the sperm pack into her cloaca and it fertilizes her eggs. She then places these fertilized eggs under rocks, among sticks or with leaves. Females in some species protect their eggs until they hatch.
Salamanders are occasionally used as fishing bait. They can also serve as pets because they live fairly long and are not all poisonous. You can take note of the species listed as toxic above to avoid keeping them as pests or remember to wash your hands thoroughly after touching them.
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