Are you intrigued by the diverse world of herpetology? Explore the types of salamanders spread across the globe, each having unique adaptations. From the aquatic lifestyle of the Chinese Giant Salamander to the highly toxic Eastern Newt, these amphibians thrive in various environments.
Read on to learn about many species, their intriguing habitats, distinctive diets, and fantastic adaptations.
Salamanders, with an impressive count of 816 known species, belong to the class Amphibia, the clade Caudata, and the order Urodela. This order presents a fascinating study of biodiversity, broadening into ten distinct family groups further classified into three suborders3, namely Cryptobranchoidea, Salamandroidea, and Sirenoidea.
The Cryptobranchoidea, often referred to as the Giant salamanders, constitute a sizeable and intriguing part of this order. These long-lived and large-sized amphibians primarily inhabit freshwater habitats and present a few of the most primitive characteristics amongst sirenians.
Next up, the Salamandroidea, or Advanced salamanders, are more contemporary in their traits. These terrestrial or semi-aquatic species weigh heavily towards the Northern Hemisphere, and their unique skin function allows respiration, making them quite the phenomenon in salamander circles.
Lastly, the Sirenoidea, commonly known as Sirens, are a small group consisting entirely of aquatic newts. These eel-like amphibians may lack hind limbs but make up for it with their elongated bodies and distinctly patterned skin.
In upcoming sections, we'll identify and explain a selection of species from each family, diving deeper into their habitats, diets, and behaviors.
Related Read: Salamander Facts.
25 Types of Salamander Species
1. Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis)
The Hellbender is the largest aquatic salamander in North America. This species has adapted to the fast-flowing rocky rivers and streams in the Eastern United States, which it navigates easily due to its unique body shape. Its flattened body can reach up to 29 inches long.
The Hellbender hides under rocks during the day and comes out to hunt for food at night. Its diet mainly consists of crayfish, but can also eat small fish, insects, and other salamanders.
Moreover, its blotchy brown skin provides excellent camouflage against the riverbed. It is covered in a slimy mucus that acts as a respiratory organ, allowing the salamander to absorb oxygen directly from the water.
2. Chinese Giant Salamander (Andrias davidianus)
The Chinese Giant Salamander is the world's largest amphibian, found in the streams and lakes of China. It can stretch up to almost 6 feet in length, second only to the largest amphibian which is discussed in the next section.
They are active at night and feed on insects, frogs, crabs, and fish. Sometimes, they resort to cannibalism. Since they have poor eyesight, they have a built-in vibrational sensor called the lateral line system that helps them locate prey and avoid danger.
Interestingly, they make sounds resembling a baby crying, so locals in China call them "baby fish.” Despite this endearing name and their huge size, Chinese Giant Salamanders have the IUCN Critically Endangered status due to habitat destruction and overhunting7.
3. South China Giant Salamander (Andrias sligoi)
The South China giant salamander, mainly found in the Pearl River basin south of the Nanling Mountains, stakes claim to two impressive titles: it's not only the largest species of salamander but also the biggest amphibian worldwide.
A particular specimen, previously thought to be a Chinese giant salamander and spanning nearly 6 feet, has been scientifically identified as a member of this species.
Alarmingly, South China Giant Salamanders are critically endangered8. Excessive harvesting for culinary purposes, coupled with significant habitat loss, has led to dramatic declines in the population of Andrias species, a group to which they belong, throughout China.
4. Japanese Giant Salamander (Andrias japonicus)
The Japanese Giant Salamander lives in Japan's mountainous landscapes. Its crinkled and coarse skin helps it blend in with the rocks in its watery habitat. Like other salamanders in the Andrias genus, it is large, reaching up to 5 feet.
These types of salamanders are nocturnal creatures that rely on their sense of smell and touch to hunt for fish, insects, worms, and small mammals. During the breeding season, males become aggressive and fiercely guard their nesting sites, which can hold up to 500 eggs.
5. Persian Mountain Salamander (Paradactylodon persicus)
The Persian Mountain Salamander inhabits the temperate rainforests at the southwestern rim of Iran's Caspian Sea. It has a rectangular head and rounded tail, typically longer than the rest of its body.
These Asiatic salamanders sport a dark hue speckled with irregular yellow spots. These salamanders present carnivorous traits throughout their lives, feasting on arthropods and other small animals within their shared environment.
6. Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum)
Tiger Salamanders are mole salamanders that can reach up to 14 inches long. It has dark skin with bright yellow or olive-colored blotches and is found in various habitats across North America.
Native tiger salamanders are reported in the northern and eastern U.S. and are regarded as relict populations. Conversely, the west coast hosts non-native species, resulting from using larval salamanders as fishing bait4, causing hybridization.
They spend their days concealed in burrows, under rocks or logs, emerging only at night. Their diet includes invertebrates such as worms, insects, slugs, and sometimes even small mammals, reptiles, or amphibians.
During the spring mating season, males deposit a spermatophore on the ground, which females use to fertilize their eggs. Most salamander species use this reproductive method. Afterward, the fertilized eggs attach to vegetation in shallow bodies of water, and the larvae transform into terrestrial adults over the next few months.
7. Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)
The Spotted Salamander, also called Yellow-spotted Salamander, lives in the forests of eastern North America. Their yellow or orange spots warn predators of their toxicity and help them blend in with the forest floor.
Moreover, they are active at night, eating insects and other invertebrates, which helps keep pest populations in check. They mostly live underground and will come out to eat or breed.
8. Marbled Salamander (Ambystoma opacum)
The Marbled Salamander is a visually appealing species inhabiting the deciduous forests in the eastern United States. This species demonstrates sexual dimorphism - females typically showcase light grey bands, while males present strikingly white ones.
They live near bodies of water, frequently burrowing under rocks or logs. When threatened, they curl their tails to expose their bright underside, secreting a mild toxin. Other defense mechanisms include the coiling of bodies and the lashing of tails.
9. Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum)
Axolotls are critically endangered salamanders living in the lakes and canals around Xochimilco in Mexico. Unlike most salamanders, they are neotenic, which means they spend their entire lives in larval form.
Axolotls have a distinctive silhouette, broad heads, lidless eyes, finned tails, and external gills. Wild axolotls sport dark tones, while leucistic varieties have a pale or golden coloration.
10. California Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma californiense)
The California Tiger Salamander is endemic to California's grasslands and vernal pools. It is one of the largest species in its family, growing to 7-8 inches.
Since they are mole salamanders, they spend most of their lives in burrows and migrate to temporary pools during the rainy season to lay their eggs. The larvae remain underwater for a few months until they transform into land-dwelling adults.
Their diet consists of small invertebrates, and they have a unique defense mechanism when threatened. They also regulate the insect population in their ecosystem.
11. Pacific Giant Salamander (Dicamptodon tenebrosus)
The Pacific Giant Salamander, a large species endemic to the Pacific Northwest in North America, can grow up to 13.4 inches. It typically has dark brown to black backs, adorned by light brown spots or marbling, and lighter underbellies.
This salamander prefers semi-aquatic habitats, favoring small-to-mid-sized streams and riverside forests.
Pacific Giant Salamanders get vocal if disturbed, emitting a distinct "bark." Adopting a defensive pose, it arches its body, thrashes its tail, and when the need arises, repels predators by secreting a noxious substance. Adults can also head-butt and bite.
12. Red-backed Salamander (Plethodon cinereus)
The Red-backed Salamander mostly lives on land, mainly on the forest floors of eastern North America. It has a bright red or orange stripe on its body that helps it blend in with the leaf litter. Another morph called Lead Salamanders shows no red pigmentations. Both have speckled undersides.
Interestingly, it is a part of the Plethodontidae family, which comprises lungless salamanders. Their respiration method is breathing through their skin and mouth.
These terrestrial salamanders primarily feed on insects such as centipedes, spiders, and snails.
13. Northern Slimy Salamander (Plethodon glutinosus)
The Northern Slimy Salamander is also known as the Viscid Salamander, Grey-spotted Salamander, or Sticky Salamander. It lives in the leaf-strewn forests in the Northeastern United States. It has a long, slim body with dark hues and silver or white specks on its skin.
This lungless salamander primarily feeds on ants and beetles. Since it is a terrestrial species, it skips the aquatic larval stage of development. It prefers to live alone and only interacts during the mating season.
Northern slimy salamanders secrete adhesive-bound substances, impeding attackers' movement and biting capacity. They also respond to threats with body flips, tail lashes, and vocalizations.
14. Southern Slimy Salamander (Plethodon grobmani)
The Southern Slimy Salamander lives in the southeastern United States, from southern South Carolina to central Florida. The salamander is named after Arnold B. Grobmani, a zoologist who studied these creatures.
It is black or brown, covered with white or silver spots, and feeds primarily on small invertebrates. Similar to its northern cousins, its unique defense mechanism involves secreting a sticky substance when threatened.
15. Eastern Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens)
The Eastern Newt, living in eastern North America, inhabits small lakes, ponds, streams, and adjoining wet forests. It is also called the Red-spotted Newt.
It has a unique three-stage life cycle; it begins as aquatic larvae, transforms into land-dwelling juveniles known as 'efts,' and eventually returns to the water as mature adults. During the eft stage, their skin turns bright orange-red, which warns predators about the toxic chemicals in their skin.
The eastern newt secretes tetrodotoxin, providing a chemical defense against predatory fishes and invertebrates. However, bullfrogs are unaffected by the toxin and readily consume the creature. Therefore, newts still sustain high predation levels2 in fish-containing habitats due to bullfrogs.
16. Common Mud Salamander (Pseudotriton montanus)
The Common Mud Salamander lives in the eastern United States. Its skin is covered in tiny black spots that contrast with its uniform color of red or rustic brown.
The nocturnal salamander prefers areas with slow-moving or still water, such as marshes, swamps, and woodland ponds. The female salamander lays her eggs in underwater nests during the fall, which hatch into aquatic larvae that transform into adult salamanders.
Mud salamanders may fend off predators with body curling, extending rear limbs, and raising their tails. Its coloration, defensive posture, and ability to produce a milder toxic substance might be strategic mimicry of the toxic Eastern Newt1.
17. Red Salamander (Pseudotriton ruber)
The Red Salamander lives in the slow-moving waters, tranquil springs, swamps, and damp woodland terrains of the eastern United States.
These lungless salamanders, varying in color from bright red to orange-brown, darken and lose their distinct patterns with age. Unlike mud salamanders, they have more and larger dorsal spots, a gold-tinted iris with a horizontal bar, and a more pointed snout.
18. Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra)
Fire Salamanders have black skin and bright yellow or orange markings, which deter predators. They live in the forests of Central and Southern Europe, where they spend their days hiding in logs, rocks, or burrows.
Its main toxin, samandarin, triggers severe muscle convulsions, hypertension, and hyperventilation in vertebrates. Further analysis of its skin secretions revealed another alkaloid called samandarone5.
19. Alpine Salamander (Salamandra atra)
The Alpine Salamander lives in the European Alps and is distinguishable by its jet-black body. It has adapted to the region's rugged peaks and lush forests, with altitudes ranging from 2,300 to 6,600 feet.
Interestingly, Alpine salamanders follow the viviparous reproductive method6, which allows them to give birth to live young. This is a trait uncommon in other amphibians.
20. Northern Dusky Salamander (Desmognathus fuscus)
The Northern Dusky Salamander, a resident of eastern North America from New Brunswick to South Carolina, adapts its living environments depending on its geographic location.
In the north, it thrives in rocky woodland streams, seepage, and springs, while in the south, it gravitates toward upland stream sloughs, floodplains, and muddy areas.
The lungless salamander sports an upper body hue shifting from reddish-brown to gray or olive and a white or gray underside sprinkled with dark spots. Variously colored stripes embellish its body and tail.
Its diet depends on what's available, reflecting its nature as a feeding generalist. Despite being prone to predation, its ability for tail autonomy offers some level of protection, compensating for its lack of chemical defense mechanisms.
21. Holbrook's Southern Dusky Salamander (Desmognathus auriculatus)
The Holbrook's Southern Dusky Salamander is endemic to the southeastern United States. Thriving in swampy areas with tannic waters near ponds, streams, or river flood plains, these creatures follow a largely nocturnal lifestyle.
These lungless salamanders have stout bodies, relatively larger back legs, and a row of white spots lining each side of their bodies. Their color varies, ranging from dark brown to black, often accompanied by white-flecked undersides and lighter patches running down their backs.
Since they look so similar to Northern and Spotted Duskies, you can only tell them apart by where they live.
22. Southern Torrent Salamander (Rhyacotriton variegatus)
The Southern Torrent Salamander, being a native of the Pacific Northwest, lives in high-oxygen, slow-flowing aquatic environments like mountain brooks and seeps for survival. With the lowest desiccation tolerance among North American salamanders, it struggles with extreme temperatures and low moisture levels.
Adorned with brown shades and darker spots on the dorsal side, it presents a slightly yellowish hue on the ventral side. Metallic flecks further highlight its forward-facing, large, dark eyes.
Amphipods and springtails make up their main diet. This pattern is consistent throughout their life stages, including the larval stage. On the other hand, natural threats to Southern Torrent Salamanders include the Pacific giant salamanders, garter snakes, and salmonid fishes.
23. Montseny Brook Newt (Calotriton arnoldi)
The Montseny Brook Newt is native to the Montseny Massif in Northeast Spain. They primarily inhabit cold, fast-moving rivers with low nutrient levels, indicating they are strictly aquatic in nature. It was distinctively recognized as its own species, separate from the Pyrenean brook salamander, in 2005.
Displaying a chocolate-colored back, this species has a flattened head, and its body is oval-shaped with minimal dorsoventral compression. If they feel threatened, these newts secret a white, sticky, highly odorous substance, likely intended to deter predators.
Regrettably, the Montseny Brook newt is critically endangered, with fewer than 1,500 in the wild. Their survival is primarily challenged by the desiccation of their mountain stream habitats.
24. Greater Siren (Siren lacertina)
As the largest among the Siren family, the Greater Siren, found in North America's southeastern coastal plains, can measure up to 38 inches. It demonstrates paedomorphism, retaining external gills their entire life and lacking hindlimbs, pelvic girdle, and eyelids while sporting an unfused pectoral girdle.
Greater sirens are nocturnal hunters, preferring invertebrates such as insects, crustaceans, molluscs, and small fish, thus taking a midlevel predator role in the aquatic food web. .
25. Reticulated Siren (Siren reticulata)
The Reticulated Siren, known locally as the Leopard Eel, is a species of aquatic salamander endemic to the southeastern United States. Recently recognized in 2018, it marks one of the most significant finds in the country for the past century.
This new Siren species competes with Hellbenders for the title of the largest amphibian in North America, measuring up to 24 inches long. The greenish-grey scaled body is reminiscent of an eel with prominent external gills and a pair of small front legs. Its sides and belly are lighter yellowish-green, offering a pleasing contrast.
Conservation Status of Salamanders
Boasting a total of 816 species of salamanders, this group of animals faces serious threats to their welfare. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reports alarming figures: three species are tragically extinct, 133 are critically endangered, 184 are endangered, and 109 are vulnerable.
Species we've lost include Jalpa False Brook Salamander, Yunnan Lake Newt, and Ainsworth's Salamander, with their last known appearances from the 1960s to 70s.
The common biodiversity threats against these amphibians include habitat degradation, invasive species, and climate change. Nonetheless, we must remember each one of us can be part of the solution. With increased awareness and action, we collectively act for their preservation.