Please see Part 1 of this article to learn more about the natural history of the Mudpuppy or Waterdog (Necturus maculosus), one of the world’s largest salamanders.
A primary consideration in keeping Mudpuppies is their sensitivity to light – they will be stressed and difficult to observe in a brightly lit aquarium. Hiding places are essential, even for most well-habituated individuals. Large mats of floating live or artificial plants can be used to cut down on the amount of light that reaches the bottom of the aquarium.
Mudpuppies, being entirely aquatic, are best kept in large aquariums equipped with powerful filters – they fare poorly when crowded, and water quality is of paramount importance. I favor 30 gallon aquariums for single adults. In common with other aquatic amphibians, their waste products are very toxic – regular water changes are, therefore, essential. Water should be de-chlorinated before being added to the aquarium.
While they have lungs and can rise to the surface for air, Mudpuppies prefer well-aerated tanks in which they can remain on the bottom and utilize their gills. They are not comfortable leaving their shelters and swimming to the surface.
The northern races are generally found in cool – water temperatures of 65-72 F (lower if feasible) are ideal.
These carnivorous salamanders consume nearly any creature that can be swallowed, but many show strong preferences for certain foods. Some populations are said to live chiefly on crayfish, and I have observed most to be extremely fond of this food item. I generally use small, de-clawed crayfishes or newly-shed (soft) individuals.
Other useful foods include earthworms (a great favorite), blackworms, minnows, goldfishes and shiners. If available, hellgrammites, dragonfly larvae and other aquatic insects should be offered. The tadpoles of most native frogs are taken as well (please see photo), but I discourage using other amphibians as food for a variety of reasons (please write in if you need further info).
I have been told by reliable sources that Mudpuppies will consume trout chow and Reptomin, even learning to swim to the surface at feeding time.
Captive breeding, while far from routine, is possible. Mudpuppies become sexually mature at 4-6 years of age. The eggs are laid individually in a cavity below a rock or log and take 6-10 weeks to develop. The female guards the eggs during the entire incubation period.
The larvae are nearly 1 inch long upon hatching and will accept chopped blackworms and earthworms. They are highly cannibalistic and should be separated or kept in large tanks with ample cover and a constant supply of food.
Four related species, also known as Mudpuppies or Waterdogs, inhabit the USA, and are occasionally available from private breeders. Most are declining in numbers and may not be legally collected.
The Gulf Coast Waterdog, Necturus beyeri, reaches 8.8 inches and is restricted in range to fast-moving streams in eastern Texas and central/western Louisiana. The Dwarf Waterdog, Necturus punctatus, tops out at 4 ½ to 6 ½ inches long, and lives on the Coastal Plain (southern Virginia to south-central Georgia). The Neuse River Waterdog, Necturus lewisi (please see photo), is restricted to the Neuse and Tar Rivers in North Carolina, while the Alabama Waterdog, Necturus alabamensis, occurs from central Georgia through the Florida Panhandle.
This Earlham College article contains great photos and detailed info on Mudpuppy habits and conservation.
Neuse River waterdog image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Jack Dermid