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Contains articles and advice on a wide variety of salamander species. Answers and addresses questions on species husbandry, captive status, breeding, news and conservation issues concerning salamanders.

The Two Toed Amphiuma: a Giant Salamander that Bites Like a Watersnake!

Toe Toed Amphiuma

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Brian Gratwicke

Although salamanders are not defenseless, herp enthusiasts tend not to give their jaws the respect we accord snakes and other reptiles. Until, that is, they tangle with an angry Two Toed Amphiuma (Amphiuma means)! At a record length of 45.6 inches, this third longest of the world’s salamanders is a major predator in the waters it inhabits, and able to bite viciously in self-defense. It is also one of the most interesting and hardy amphibians one can keep, with several longevities approaching 30 years recorded. In fact, I chose one from among literally thousands of available animals to pose with for my staff photo at the Bronx Zoo (displayed to visitors as they enter the reptile house)…and it drew as much or more attention as the more typical large constrictors and young crocs!

 

I have a deep interest in salamanders, and am especially drawn to large, aquatic species (I hope to write about my visit to Japan to see the Japanese Giant Salamander and to N. California to see Pacific Giants soon). Amphiumas are so unique and yet given so little attention that I became carried away writing about their natural history. So as not to burden my readers with an overly-long article, I’ll cover their captive care in the near future.

 

Description

Greater Siren

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Mokele

At a record length of 45.6 inches, this largest of the 3 Amphiuma species is also the world’s third longest salamander, exceeded in length only by the Chinese and Japanese Giant Salamanders, (Andrias spp.) Another aquatic native of the USA, the Greater Siren (Siren laticauda), may reach 38 inches in length, but is slimmer in build and has external gills (please see photo).

 

The body is stout but elongated and eel-like, with 4 tiny, essentially useless limbs and a laterally compressed tail. The eyes are small, lidless and covered with skin. There is an external gill slit but adults breathe via the lungs and skin. The color is uniform gray to dark brown, with occasional albinos having been found.

 

The first Amphiuma I encountered in a pet store was being sold as a “Congo Eel”. This name is rarely used today, but I have a photo of an Amphiuma labelled as such at the Bronx Zoo’s reptile house on opening day, over 100 years ago.

 

Range

The Two Toed Amphiuma is found in the Southeastern United States, along the coastal plain from eastern Virginia through the southern tip of Florida (it is absent from the Keys) and west to southeastern Louisiana.

 

Three Toed Amphiuma

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by opencage

There are 2 other species in the genus. The 12-inch-long One Toed Amphiuma (A. pholeter) is restricted to the northwestern Florida Panhandle and adjacent southeastern Alabama. The Three-toed Amphiuma (A. triadactylum, please see photo), to 42 inches long, ranges from western Alabama to eastern Texas and north to Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee and southwestern Kentucky.

 

In the northeastern portion of its range, where the Two-toed Amphiuma shares its habitat with the Three-toed Amphiuma, the 2 species occasionally interbreed.

 

Habitat

Amphiumas favor shallow, heavily-vegetated, slow-moving or stagnant water bodies such as bayous, swamps, flooded meadows, drainage ditches, canals, and ponds. They are often associated with acidic waters. Although entirely aquatic, Amphiumas sometimes travel overland on wet nights. They are mainly nocturnal, and shelter by day in self-dug burrows, crayfish and muskrat tunnels, and beneath aquatic vegetation.

 

Typical habitat

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Keith Yahl

All three Amphiuma species can aestivate by burrowing into the mud when their aquatic habitats dry out. Two-toed Amphiumas have survived for 1 year in such a state, and anecdotal evidence indicates that they may be capable of lasting for 2 or more years without food or water. They hibernate during winter in the northern portions of their ranges.

 

Reproduction

Fertilization is internal. Gravid females construct nests by evacuating depressions below logs and other cover or within muskrat burrows. The nests may be in very shallow water or on moist land – in some cases as much as 20 feet from the water’s edge. The female coils about the eggs during the 4-5 month incubation period, protecting them from predators and desiccation. It is not known if incubating females leave the eggs to feed.

 

The 30-200 eggs, which are attached to each other in string-like fashion, are deposited in June/July in the northern part of the range and in Jan. /Feb. in the south. Inundation with water may trigger hatching.

 

The larvae average 2 inches in length upon hatching and have external gills. The gills are quickly resorbed, often within 2 weeks. The larvae apparently survive on their yolk during this period. Sexual maturity is reached in 3-4 years.

 

Diet and Predators

Two-toed Amphiumas consume nearly any smaller animal that can be overcome, including frogs, tadpoles, salamanders, small snakes and turtles, fish, insects, snails, crayfish and carrion. They hunt largely by smell, and appear to have chemo-receptive glands along the body – a food item touched by any portion of the body is instantly seized.

 

Mud Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by John Sullivan

The Mud Snake (Farancia obscura; please see photo), and the Rainbow Snake (F. erythrogramma), appear to prey largely upon Amphiumas. They are also hunted by herons, alligators, large turtles and otters. Amphiumas have found their way into human diets, long ago among people indigenous to the American Southeast and, it is reported, more recently as well.

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

Further Reading

Keeping the Greater Siren

Salamander Conservation Efforts

 

Do Newts and Salamanders Make Good Pets? Five Points to Consider

Crested Newt

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Rainer Theuer.

Despite my very wide interests (my career with animals has, quite literally, spanned ants to elephants!), I’ve always been partial to newts and salamanders. I focused on them from my earliest days working for the Bronx Zoo, and had the good fortune to author two books on their care and breeding. As pets and zoo specimens, they range from nearly impossible to keep to being among the longest lived of all captive herps (to age 50+, for the Fire and Japanese Giant Salamanders). The following points, drawn from a lifetime of working with these wonderful creatures in zoos, the field, and at home, are useful to consider before embarking on your amphibian-keeping venture.

 

Note: The terms “newt” and “salamander” do not always correspond with taxonomic relationships. All newts may be correctly called “salamanders”, but generally we consider newts to be those species that spend most of their time in water and salamanders to be more terrestrial. However, the term “salamander” is also used for many completely aquatic animals, such as the mudpuppy and hellbender…so call them what you wish!

 

As the care of different species varies greatly, please post below if you have specific questions, or would like a link to an article on a certain species.

 

Marbled Salamander

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Spacewater7

Newts and Salamanders are “Hands-Off” Pets

Fire Salamanders, Tiger Salamanders, Ribbed Newts and some others are often responsive to their owners, and will readily feed from the hand. However, they should be picked-up only when necessary, and then with wet hands. All amphibians have extremely delicate skin, and even microscopic tears will allow harmful bacteria to enter and cause havoc.

 

Also, all produce toxic secretions designed to repel predators. The toxins of several North American salamanders have caused temporary blindness when rubbed into handlers’ eyes, and the ingestion of California Newts (apparently some sort of college ritual) has resulted in fatalities. Severe irritations are to be expected if these toxins find their way onto broken skin or mucus membranes. Obviously, this is a special consideration for those with young children at home.

 

Well-cared-for newts and salamanders will reward you by exhibiting fascinating behaviors…but not if you disturb them with unnecessary handling!

 

Eastern Newt

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Brian Gratwicke

Clean Terrariums and Excellent Water Quality are Essential

Newts and salamanders absorb water through the skin, and along with that water comes any associated pollutants. The most common of these is ammonia, which is excreted with the waste products. Most newts and salamanders are as or even more sensitive to water quality than are tropical fishes, since they absorb water over a greater surface area.

 

Ammonia test kits, partial water changes and strong filtration are critical to success in keeping amphibians. Substrate needs the same attention as does water, as terrestrial species can be poisoned by ammonia-soaked moss or soil.

 

Newts and Salamanders Need a Varied Diet

No species will thrive long-term on a diet comprised solely of crickets. Earthworms can be used as a dietary staple for most newts and salamanders; it would be wise to locate a source and perhaps set up a colony before purchasing your pet (please see the article linked below). I’ve done well by relying upon wild-caught invertebrates during the warmer months. Moths, beetles, tree crickets, harvestmen, “smooth” caterpillars and a variety of others are accepted – usually far more enthusiastically than are crickets! Please see these articles for tips on collecting insects.

 

Useful invertebrates that you can buy include roaches, butterworms, calciworms, silkworms, and sow bugs.

 

t246151Newts are simpler to feed than are terrestrial species, as nearly all (i.e. Red-Spotted, Crested, Paddle-tailed, Ribbed) will accept Zoo Med Aquatic Newt Food and Reptomin. These foods can anchor the diet, with live blackworms (sold in many pet stores as tropical fish food), guppies, chopped earthworms and small crickets being offered on occasion.

 

Spotted Salamanders, Red Efts and other terrestrial species will accept live food only.

 

Many Newts and Salamanders are Heat Sensitive

Average household temperatures are too warm for the vast majority of newts and salamanders. Even those native to seasonally hot regions, such as the Spotted and Marbled Salamanders of the American Southeast or North Africa’s Fire Salamanders, live in cool micro-habitats (often below-ground). Sustained temperatures above 75 F (and, for many, above 70 F) weaken the immune system and increase susceptibility to bacterial and fungal skin infections. A cool basement is the ideal location for most species.

 

If you must keep your pets in a warm room, several of the more tolerant newts should be considered. Please post below for further information.

 

Northern Slimey Salamander

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Patrick Coin

The “It Doesn’t Do Anything” Factor

Ideally, the new amphibian owner will be interested in her or his pet for its own sake. But most of us also wish to see how it lives, what it does, and so on. Many amphibians are about as active as the infamous “pet rock”…and are nocturnal to boot!

 

If you favor an active pet, consider a diurnal newt that forages for rather than ambushes its food, and keep it in a large, naturalistic aquarium. Six Fire-Bellied Newts in a well-planted 20 gallon tank will provide you with infinitely more to observe than will an equal number of Marbled Salamanders housed in a terrarium of the same size.

 

Some nocturnal species may adjust to daytime schedules once they settle into their new homes. Tiger and Fire Salamanders are especially accommodating in this regard. Red night-viewing bulbs will greatly increase your ability to observe Slimy Salamanders and other strictly nocturnal species.

 

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

Earthworm Care and Breeding

Newt Care

Fire Salamander Care

I Found an Orange Salamander: Is it a Red Eft and Does it Make a Good Pet?

Red Eft

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Bruce Lucas

As the summer weather cools and kids return home from camp, questions concerning Red Eft care are among the most frequent I receive. Bold, brightly-colored, and often out by day, Red Efts are more commonly-collected by children than any other amphibian. And, being attractive and seemingly-benign, they are also less likely to be rejected outright by parents. However, efts are temperature sensitive and require a specialized diet. Unfortunately, they are poorly-suited to captivity, especially when inexperienced owners are involved. In the following article I’ll explain why, and will offer some alternative species and care tips to folks intent on trying to keep these beautiful salamanders.

 

Natural History: What is an Eft?

The term “Eft” refers to a temporary land stage in the life cycle of the Eastern Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens). This species’ huge range extends from southern Canada through most of the central and eastern USA to Texas and Florida; in North America, only the Tiger Salamander has a wider distribution. Four subspecies have been described.

 

Eastern Newt (Eft's Adult Phase)

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Raeky

The olive-green, red-spotted adult newts are aquatic, and at one time were a pet trade mainstay. Many states now prohibit collection, but where ownership is legal they make wonderful introductions to amphibian care (please see the article below).

 

In most populations, Eastern Newt larvae transform into orange to red-colored efts. The efts leave the natal pond and take-up residence in forested areas. The eft stage generally lasts from 2-3 years, but may extend to 7 years in the northern part of the range and in mountainous habitats. The eft stage is skipped in certain populations, with the larvae developing directly into aquatic adults. “Eft-skipping” was first documented on Long Island, NY, but has since been found among all subspecies, and across the range. It most often occurs where the land surrounding breeding ponds is sandy or otherwise inhospitable to moisture-loving amphibians.

 

Skin Toxins

Efts are well-protected by powerful skin toxins. This seems to account for their tendency to wander about on damp days, seemingly oblivious to the attentions of curious children (always wash after handling one, as their skin secretions can irritate mucus membranes, eyes and wounds). Several other species, including the Mud Salamander (Pseudotriton montanus) and the Red Salamander (P. ruber), are believed to mimic the Red Eft in order to discourage predators.

 

Springtail

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Tpe

Captive Diet

Wild-caught efts are not at all shy, and willingly forge by day. Judging by the questions I receive, however, it seems that many Red Eft owners are first-time salamander keepers, and are not prepared for the work involved in keeping these gaudy little gems. By the time most folks write in, their once-perky little pets are lethargic and emaciated.

 

Red Efts require a highly-varied diet comprised of tiny invertebrates, and will not accept the dry foods and pellets favored by adult newts. Those experienced in keeping Dart Poison Frogs and other small amphibians usually have no trouble with efts, as a number of frog foods suit them well. Flightless fruit flies, 10-day old crickets, springtails, bean beetle larvae and sow bugs can be purchased from online dealers, and are readily accepted. In order to add variety to the diet, termites, millipedes, tiny earthworms, beetles and other small leaf-litter invertebrates should also be collected when possible (please see the article linked below).

 

Heat Sensitivity

While different eft population vary in regard to temperature requirements, most fare poorly when kept at 72 F or warmer for any length of time. A cool basement or similar location is essential to their survival.

 

Look But Don’t Touch

Children are drawn to efts because they accept handling without protest. However, it’s important to realize that handling damages the skin’s protective mucus covering, leaving the animal exposed to attack by bacteria and other pathogens. As mentioned above, skin secretions can also irritate people. Furthermore, all amphibians can be assumed to harbor Salmonella bacteria. While infections are easily preventable if proper hygiene is maintained, children must be supervised carefully.

 

Fire Salamanders

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Überraschungsbilder

Eft Alternatives

 

Those seeking a land-dweller cannot do better than the Fire Salamander. These gorgeous creatures, captive bred in large numbers, are among the most responsive of all amphibians…and, with proper care, they may live to age 30, 40, or beyond! Please see the article linked below.

 

A wide array of semi-aquatic species, including Fire-Bellied, Paddle-Tailed and Ribbed Newts, are being bred in captivity and make hardy, long-lived pets. As mentioned earlier, the Red Eft’s adult phase is also a good choice, but captive-bred specimens are scarce. Please see the linked articles and post your comments below if you’d like more details on newt and salamander care.

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

Eastern Newt Care

 

Collecting Leaf Litter Invertebrates

 

Fire Salamander Care

2014 is Named “The Year of the Salamander”

 

Japanese Giant Salamanders

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by V31S70

Salamanders and newts, often overlooked by pet keepers, zoos and environmentalists alike, are getting some much-needed exposure this year.  Led by the Partnership for Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, a consortium of environmental groups has designated 2014 as the Year of the Salamander.  I’m very pleased, as past efforts, including the Year of the Snake and the Year of the Lizard, have done much to advance reptile conservation.

 

Even among my Bronx Zoo colleagues, I was considered somewhat strange when I began writing a book on newt and salamander natural history and captive care some 17 years ago.  But I have been very lucky, salamander-wise.  Perhaps because so few people were interested, many fascinating opportunities came my way.  Whether crossing the USA and Japan in search of my favorite species or caring for those in my home collection – several of which are now aged 25 to 35 – I’ve never tired of learning about them, and remain as passionate today as I was in childhood.

 

Salamander Central

Salamander enthusiasts based in the USA are quite fortunate, as more species live here than anywhere else on earth.  In fact, the southern Appalachian Mountains, a salamander hotspot, are home to 10% of the world’s known species.  And the sheer diversity of their sizes, lifestyles and behaviors is beyond belief – colorless cave-dwellers that never see the light of day, yard-long eel-like species armed with sharp teeth, tiny lichen-colored rock dwellers, colorful beauties, terrestrial giants large enough to raid mouse nests and so many more.

 

Fire Salamander

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Lior Fainshil

My zoo-keeper and hobbyist friends in other countries are astounded that those living in the epicenter of salamander diversity do not devote more of our efforts to these amazing creatures.  I’ve written about some of our species in other articles…please post below and I’ll send links.

 

Year of the Salamander Activities

The Year of the Salamander effort is spearheaded by Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC), and was preceded the Year of the Turtle, Snake and Lizard. This year, PARC will be joined by the Center for Conservation Biology, the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians, Amphibian Ark, and other notables.  In addition to field research and captive breeding programs, public education will be a major component of each group’s activities.

 

I’m happy to see that input from interested non-professionals will be solicited.  This is an all-too-rare step, despite the fact that professionals with financial resources cannot begin to address the conservation needs of the world’s threatened amphibians.

 

Olm

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Arne Hodalič

Salamander Populations Plummeting Worldwide

Frog extinctions have been very much in the spotlight in recent years.  Fueled by emerging diseases (please see below) that have exacerbated the threats posed by habitat loss and other long-standing concerns, frog declines have been documented around the globe.

 

Salamanders, which are usually harder to find and study (after all, none advertise their presence by croaking!), are likely in just as much trouble as frogs.  In fact, the IUCN classifies 49.8% of the world’s salamanders as threatened or endangered, as compared to 31.6% of the world’s frogs!  Considering that salamanders are so poorly studied, the conservation picture could actually be far bleaker than the IUCN’s frightening statistics indicate.  Hopefully, the Year of the Salamander effort will divert much needed interest and funds to salamander conservation.

 

Specific Threats

The future of the world’s salamanders and newts is put in jeopardy by many of the same problems that afflict frogs – habitat loss, road mortality during the breeding season, pollution, invasive species (especially fish) and others.  Unique threats also exist – for example, Tiger Salamanders, classified as endangered in some US states, are legally used as fish bait in others (please see article below)!

 

While the devastating effects of Chytrid and Ranavirus infections on frog populations are well known, related salamander studies are in short supply.  However, in 2013, a new strain of Chytrid was found to be killing Fire Salamanders in Europe…I fear that this is merely the tip of the iceberg.

 

Help and Input Needed

Please check out my salamander conservation articles, some of which are linked below, and share your thoughts and observations by posting in the comments section of this article.  A book I’ve written, which addresses both natural history and captive care, may also be useful to those interested in helping these amazing amphibians.  I’ll be sure to highlight your feedback here, and will get right back to you concerning any questions you may have.  Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.

 

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable.  I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Further Reading

Salamander larvae Still Being Used as Fish Bait in the USA

New Population of Endangered Axolotls Found…in Mexico City!

Twelve Rare US Amphibians in Need of Protection

 

 

 

 

The Best Live Foods for Pet Salamanders – Ensuring Dietary Variety

Hi, Frank Indiviglio here.  I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career of over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo. 

Although many salamanders will eagerly gobble-up crickets and mealworms, a diet restricted to these food items usually leads to nutritional disorders and reduced life-spans.  This holds true even if supplements are used.  A varied diet is essential if you are to have success in keeping salamanders long-term (my 32 year-old Red Salamander, 25 year-old Fire Salamanders and numerous others can attest to this!).  Following are some useful tips for those seeking to vary the diets of their terrestrial salamanders.  While most newts and aquatic species (Axolotls, Amphiumas) accept dry foods, they too will benefit from invertebrate meals.  Please post below for detailed information on individual salamander species.  As there is an endless supply of useful live foods for pet salamanders, please also post your ideas and observations.

Dusky Salamander

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Stanley Trauth

Earthworms, Red Wigglers, Nightcrawlers (Lumbricus terrestris and relatives)

If you need to rely upon a single food item as a dietary staple for your salamanders, it should be earthworms, not crickets. I cannot recall a single salamander species that does not fare well on an earthworm-rich diet.  Earthworms and their relatives reproduce rapidly when kept properly (please see article below) and can be stored for weeks under refrigeration.  Their nutritional profile can be improved by a diet of leaf litter, corn meal, fish flakes and calcium powder. Read More »

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