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
Very helpful I’m sure for many herp lovers.I was hoping they would have atleast toward how they might be bred .Overall a good read.
Thanks for the kind words. Please let me know if you need more on breeding. Much depends on the animals’ origin within the range – i.e. how long and to what temperature to chill, and if a drop/rise in water levels might be useful.
Very interesting article! Having had my mudpuppy for four years now, I must say they are fascinating creatures. Very fun to watch and hogs when it comes feeding time! I had the intentions of breeding my mudpuppy later in life when I had the money for a larger enough tank and other essentials. Now that I am in college, (sophmore year) I have had to rely on my parents to help care for it at home while I’m away. Over breaks I come home to do important water changes, but I have never had a serious ammonia arise while I was away. The tank is somewhat heavily planted with sword plants and java ferns and has a rock hideout and a couple pieces of driftwood, so she has plenty of cover. I feed her nightcrawlers and occasionally feeder fish (she eats up fish one by one over time). She lives in a 29 gallon tank and I use a small but effective filter that creates a small current in the tank as if she is living in a stream. I definately want to get a new, bigger filter that will produce an even stronger current and will be easier to clean during water changes, so if you know any great ones, I would greatly apreciate any input.
I enjoyed reading some of your articles and found them very helpful. I will definately have to subscribe!
Thanks for the kind words, much appreciated.
Glad you are so interested in these creatures; they are rarely bred in captivity and most species seem to be in decline. Not many people work with them, so any observations you might have time to post would be most appreciated.
Most species are quite sensitive to water quality, so I usually recommend frequent water changes. However, live plants are a great asset and can make a real difference. I you’re not using it, Ammo carb (zeolite), which absorbs ammonia, would be useful in your filter.
Good luck in your studies, enjoy and please keep me posted, Best, Frank
Thanks for the suggestion! I will definately try to get some zeolite to help control any rising ammonia levels.
One thing I’ve observed in many of the salamander species I’ve cared for over the past few years is they have a great sense of smell. I’ve seen my mudpuppy locate nightcrawlers that dug their way deep under the substrate of the tank, after a previous feeding, and dig them right up. I’ve also seen a couple of ringed salamanders I had for about three and a half years come out of hiding the minute I dropped worms in their terrerium to eat. The salamanders were completely hidden away, but I believe they were able to smell the worms within seconds of dropping them in their enclosure. In both cases I concluded that salamanders must have an accute sense of smell. I had to let the ringed salamanders go once I moved into college though. There was no way I or my parents could care for them while I was away and they had a strict local earthworm diet. (they wouldn’t eat store bought worms or insects)
My mudpuppy also normally forages at night, but about once or twice during the day I have seen it roam about the aquarium in a normal manner. None of my other salamanders really came out during the daytime. It will also follow anyone around the tank sometimes, expecting to be fed, but I feed it weekly, because it is quite plump and I don’t want to overfeed it.
Those are the only outstanding observations I’ve ever seen in my mudpuppy.
Thanks again for the help!
Thanks for the feedback. The ringed salamander is another in need of study – good choice! Yes, they can locate food via scent. Certain terrestrial species also have naso-labial grooves near the mouth that allow them to “sense” chemicals and scents in the substrate. Female red-backed salamanders use these to analyze fecal piles left by males, judging fitness in the process (complicated little beasts!). Mudpuppies and other aquatic species have a lateral line as well – similar to that of most fishes, it senses water movement; there are also other chemo and perhaps taste sensors within the skin; hellbenders and perhaps others also have light sensors, which seem to warn the animal if a foot or tail is not contained beneath a shelter.
Enjoy, best, Frank
Hope all is well! Can mud puppies be kept on a substrate of fine rocks or is silt best? I’m thinking about ease of cleaning with what you wrote about the importance of water quality.
All good thanks..hope you and yours are well.
Silt is impractical in most cases, and yes, water quality tops all as a consideration.
I’ve kept them on larger stones; some do fine on gravel, but others swallow it and wind up with impactions. A bare bottomed tank, perhaps with a few large “river rock” type stones to help them as they move about, is the safest option..please keep me posted, enjoy, Frank
Avid fisherman here from WI and this year has yielded several mud puppies through the ice from a couple lakes south and northern wi. Have seen them over 12″ Thought I would share.
Thank you John….I’ve always read of them feeding throughout the winter, under ice, but have not had any first hand reports..much appreciated. When you have a chance: do you recall at what depths they were taken?
Best regards, Frank
Less than 10ft
Interesting..thanks very much, John. Happy fishing, Frank