Unless otherwise noted, information contained in each edition of the Kansas School Naturalist reflects the knowledge of the subject as of the original date of publication.

KSN - Vol 16, No 4 - Salamanders in Kansas and VicinityVolume 16, Number 4 - May 1970

Salamanders in Kansas and Vicinity


Published by: The Kansas State Teachers College of Emporia

Prepared and Issued by: The Department of Biology,
with the cooperation of the Division of Education

Editor: Robert J. Boles

Editorial Committee: Ina M. Borman, Robert F. Clarke, Gilbert A. Leisman, David F. Parmelee, Carl W. Prophet

Exofficio: Dr. Edwin B. Kurtz, Head, Dept. of Biology

Online edition by: Terri Weast

The Kansas School Naturalist is sent upon request, free of charge, to Kansas teachers, school board members and administrators, librarians, conservationists, youth leaders, and other adults interested in nature education. Back numbers are sent free as long as supply lasts, except Vol. 5, No.3, Poisonous Snakes of Kansas. Copies of this issue may be obtained for 25 cents each postpaid. Send orders to The Kansas School Naturalist, Department of Biology, Kansas State Teachers College, Emporia, Kansas, 66801.

The Kansas School Naturalist is published in October, December, February, and April of each year by The Kansas State Teachers College, 1200 Commercial Street, Emporia, Kansas, 66801. Second-class postage paid at Emporia, Kansas.

"Statement required by the Act of October, 1962: Section 4369, Title 39, United States Code, showing Ownership, Management and Circulation." The Kansas School Naturalist is published in October, December, February, andApril. Editorial Office and Publication Office at 1200 Commercial Street, Emporia, Kansas, 66801. The Naturalist is edited and published by the Kansas State Teachers College, Emporia, Kansas. Editor, John Breukelman, Department of Biology.

Salamanders in Kansas and Vicinity

by Robert F. Clarke

This book let is intended to serve as an introduction to a form of life that is relatively unknown to most persons. These creatures depend upon a continuously moist environment for their existence. Since most of Kansas does not provide the type of habitat suitable for the majority of salamander types, only a few kinds are found within the borders of the state. The numbers of individuals and kinds increase significantly within
a short distance of the state, particularly to the southeast. Therefore, a line was arbitrarily drawn around a map of Kansas 100 miles from the border, and the species of salamanders whose ranges enter this area are described in this booklet.

What is a Salamander?

Salamanders belong to the order Urodela (Caudata) of the class Amphibia. This class includes frogs, toads, sirens, and the tropical caecilians. Members of this order possess a backbone, are covered with a moist skin, and have four legs and a tail. Although they may superficially resemble lizards, salamanders lack scales and do not have claws on their toes. Eggs are laid in water or in a moist location. The eggs do not have a shell and the embryo is not provided with the special membranes characteristic of wholly terrestrial vertebrate forms. Salamanders possess ribs, a cha racteristic not shared with the frogs and toads. Respiration is accomplished in a variety of ways: through the skin, by lungs, gills, or a combination of these. Also, in some types the larval stage is aquatic and breathes with gills, whereas the adult is terrestrial and utilizes lungs. In one family, Plelhodonlidae, the adults of the land-dwelling forms have neither gills nor lungs) Some groups of salamanders never leave the water and retain gills all of their lives.

Salamanders are frten kept by aquarists or in schools, where they are easy to maintain. They have been an excellent source of experimental material for scientists studying embryology, transplantation, and regeneration of tissue.

In all, there are some seven or eight families, composed of about 60 genera and over 200 species and subspecies.

Where Salamanders Occur

Most salamanders are terrestrial and are round in a variety or moist situations: under boards or logs in forests or moist grassland, under rocks along stream s, in forest litter, in sphagnum bogs, and even in basements. Some kinds are arboreal and are found in trees. Aquatic ones may be found in rivers and streams, and aquatic larvae may occur in streams, lakes, ponds, or sloughs. Blind cave salamanders are found in total darkness in streams far back in caves; other nonblind types are seen in the twilight zone. Some rather rare blind salamanders have been taken from deep wells in underground streams. Salamanders are not found in the marine environment.

World-wide distribution of salamanders is mainly in the Holarctic Region which includes North America, Europe, most of Asia, and a bit of northern Africa; only a few species reach into northern South America. They are found well to the north, however, in North America occurring in the southern half of Canada and southeastern Alaska.


The "life cycle" of a salamander consists of the various stages through which an individual must pass during its lifetime. Normally, these stages are (1) eggs, (2) larva, (3) subadult, and (4) adult.

Eggs are laid by the females in water or in moist terrestrial situations, on the underside of rocks, roof of cavities, attached to stems, and other objects depending lIpon the species. The eggs are tiny darkly pigmented spheres enclosed in tran spa rent jelly-like spherical envelopes.

Larvae develop from the eggs and may quickly rupture the envelopes and escape, or spend some time within the sacs, emerging as subadults. In the larval stage of most salamanders, all four legs are present, as well as a tail fin, and external gills.

Subadults are the transformed larvae which have taken on the body appearance of adulls but are not yet capable of reproducing. In some forms, the larval stage, subadult, and adult look alike, but in many the subaduit stage no longer has the external gills and has taken on the distinctive pattern and coloration of its species. Most subadults look like small adults, but some are quite different in appearance.

Adults are the reproductive stage. Males and females appear quite similar to our casual observation. This is the stage illustrated later in this booklet and is the stage most often found.

There are several distinct types of life cycles represented by the salamanders.

  1. Typical. Because this life cycle is the one usually thought of when one thinks of amphibians, it is termed "typical." In this cycle the eggs are laid in water. The eggs hatch into aquatic larvae, which spend considerable time living in the water. Then gills are lost and transformation is made to a terrestrial subadult. Growth, occurs and eventually the salamander reaches adulthood, returning to the water only to breed; then returning back to land. Utilizing this cycle are: all of the Ambysloma salamanders, Dark-sided, Cave, and Gray-bellied Salamanders.

  2. Aquatic. These are the salamanders that "never grow up." That is, they never transform to land-living adults. The adult form is quite like the larval form, with, except for the Hellbender. retention of external gills and finned tail. Salamanders exhibiting this cycle are Hellbender, Mudpuppy, and Oklahoma Salamander.

  3. Terrestrial. These salamanders do not spend any complete phase of their life cycles in the water, although some may be found at the water's edge under rocks and may readily enter the water. Eggs are laid in moist cavities under or within rotting logs or similar places. The larvae hatch with external gills, but do not leave the egg membrane for several days. Fluid within the egg membrane serves as a tiny aquarium. The gills may be retained by the young for a short while after they leave the membrane, but are soon lost and the sub-adult then resembles the adult.

  4. Exceptions. Two exceptions to the life cycles given above exist in the salamanders of our area. These are the Newt and Grotto Salamander.

    Newt's eggs are laid in water, where the larvae spend their period of time. At transformation the gills and tail fin are lost and the subaduit emerges onto land with a rough reddish or orange skin. Two or three years are spent on land before adulthood is attained. When this occurs, the newt returns to the water to spend its adult life, now with smooth green skin. Gills do not reappear, however.

    Grotto Salamanders are cave dwellers. Eggs are laid in water and the larval stage is aquatic. Upon transformation, the gills are lost and the eyes become only pigment spots. The adult lives in and along the streams and pools deep within caves, whereas the larvae are found in streams outside of the cave.

  5. Neoteny. This is a general term given to cover those salamander types that do not transform, retaining gills and remaining in the water, but becoming sexually mature. The Tiger Salamander larvae most commonly exhibit neoteny, and it is not uncommon to find these in Kansas farm ponds.

Reproduction. Unlike the frogs and toads, salamanders do not utilize mating calls, but, nonetheless, breeding ponds may have hundreds of individuals at a time.

Most male salamanders perform courtship displays, which vary from rubbing the body or chin on the female to rather elaborate "dances" before the intended mate. The courtship display is followed by the male depositing a packet of sperm, called a spermatophore, which the female picks up with her cloaca, a pocket inside of the anal opening. The fertilized eggs are later deposited by the female, the number and site determined by the species. The lone exception to the above is the Hellbender, which exhibits the more primitive form of external fertilization, the eggs laid by the female provided with sperm by the male after deposition by the female. This usually occurs in the fall.

KSN - Vol 16, No 4 - Salamanders in Kansas and Vicinity

Salamanders in Kansas and Vicinity

There are seventeen species of salamanders, representing five families, that occur in the range indicated on the map on this page. The five families are:

  1. Cryptobranchidae, represented by only one species in our area, the Hellbender. This is a primitive family that occurs in eastern United States and eastern Asia. The largest of all salamanders belong to this family. No gills are present in the aquatic adults, which are dark flattened creatures with a loose fold of skin along each side of the body. (p. 7)

  2. Proteidae, also represented in our area by a single species, the Mudpuppy. The family is found in eastern United States and Europe. Aquatic adults have prominent red reathery gills, are large, and have four toes on each foot. (p. 7)

  3. Salamandridae, only the Newt represents this family in our area. The family, though, has species along the west coast and in the eastern half of the United States and is common in Europe. There is quite a bit of variation among the species, but most forms have aquatic adults that do not retain gills. (p. 10)

  4. Ambystomidae (Ambystomatidae), a North American family that has species from Canada and Alaska to southern Mexico. These are moderately-sized, thick bodied, strong legged salamanders that have terrestrial adults. Costal grooves (vertical indentations on the sides between the legs)
    are quite obvious. Five species of one genus, Ambystoma, are included here. (pp . 8-9)

  5. Plethodontidae, a family made up of more species than any other salamander family. They are predominantly North American, but extend southward into the tropics. None of the members of this family has lungs, breathing of the terrestrial forms taking place through the skin and the mouth lining. A characteristic of the family is the possession of naso-labial grooves, small grooves which extend downward from the nostril to the mouth (sometimes difficult to see). These salamanders also exhibit costal grooves. Extreme variation may be found among members of this family in
    morphology , habitat, and life cycle. Nine species, of five genera, are included here. (pp. 11-15)

See KEY descriptions on page 13

I. Gills absent (adults)

A. One gill slit on each side of neck, body flattened, loose skin fold along each side, aquatic
.......... Cryptobranchus (p. 7)

B. Almost colorless, eyes reduced to spots of pigment, aquatic in caves.......... Typhlotriton (p. 13)

C. Skin smooth, green, belly yellow with black spots, several red spots in row along each side, aquatic.......... Diemictylus (adult) (p. 10)

D. Skin rough, red or orange, costal grooves indistinct, terrestrial.......... Diemictylus (eft stage) (p. 10)

E. Costal grooves distinct, no naso-labial groove, legs strong, body stout , terrestrial.......... Ambystoma (p 8-9)

F. Naso-labial groove present, costal grooves distinct

  1. tongue boletoid, costal grooves 13 or 14; (if adult, ground color is red or orange) costal grooves 19 or 20; adults in or at edge of water ..........Eurycea (p. 14-15)

  2. tongue not boletoid, costal grooves 14, no red or orange color, light line from eye to corner of mouth. Swollen behind jaws. Hind legs larger than front legs..........Desmognathus (p. 11)

  3. tongue not boletoid, costal grooves 16, 18, or 19, dark colored, terrestrial, hind legs about same size as front legs ...... Plethodon (p.11-12)

II. Gills present (aquatic larvae and adults)

A. Four toes on each hind foot, red feathery gills...... Necturus (p. 7)

B. Upper tail fin extends well onto back

  1. less than 40 mm total length, uniform greenish yellow, indistinct bar through eye, costal grooves indistinct...... Diemictylus (p. 10)

  2. more than 75 mm, uniform light greenish, gills long and bushy, toes flat and pointed......Ambystoma tigrinum (p. 8)

  3. more than 40 and less than 75 mm,

a. small round dark spots scattered over dorsal surface, making an indistinct band on either side of mid-dorsal line, hind legs longer than fore legs, size 50-75 mm ......Ambystoma maculatum (p. 8)

b. row of indistinct pale spots on upper sides, forelegs longer than hind, size 50-75 mm......Ambystoma opacum (p. 9)

c. uniformly pigmented, with broad light band on side, extending onto tail, size small 40-50 mm......Ambystoma annulatum (p. 9)

d. uniformly pigmented, with light stripe on side of body, size 50-70 mm ......Ambystoma texanum (p. 9)

C. Upper tail fin does not extend onto back (Eurycea and Typhlotriton)

    1. costal grooves 13 or 14

      a. dorsolateral series of small rounded light spots...... E. longicanda (p. 14)

      b. three rows of dark spots; on sides, dorsolaterally and on both sides of mid back...... E. lucifuga (p. 14)

    2. costal grooves 19 or 20

a. grayish stippling on cream-colored ground color, with broad light stripe down midline
of back (sometimes not present), 1 to 3 rows of light spots along sides. Distance from snout to vent about 8 times more than width of head. Tongue free all around...... E. tynerensis (p. 15)

b. yellowish with brown overcast, a series of pigment-free spots dorsolaterally and sometimes another row on lower sides. Distance from snout to vent about 6 times more
than width of head. Tongue free all around...... E. multiplicata (p. 15)

c. light grayish-lavender, with scattered yellow necks. Tongue is not free all around...... Typhlotriton (p. 13)

KSN - Vol 16, No 4 - Salamanders in Kansas and Vicinity

1. Cryptobranchus alleganiensis, Hellbender

Size: Large, 12 to 18 inches.

Description: Head and body flattened with wrinkled fold of skin on either side of body. Color, gray,
dark brown, or black, with large darker or lighter indi stinct spots not forming a particular pattern.
A single gill slit on each side of neck. No eyelids.

Range: Appalachian mountains and Ozark uplift. Occurs in southern half of Missouri and northern
Arkansas; rarely in extreme southeast Kansas and northeast Oklahoma.

Habitat: Aquatic, found in rivers and streams of mountains or hills which have rocks or debris for

Habits: Usually found beneath objects on bottom of streams. Food consists or crayrish, fish, worms,
and other invertebrates.

Reproduction: External fertilization (only U.S. salamander that exhibits this). Several hundred eggs are laid at a time in two long strings. The nest is under some object and the eggs are unattached to any object. Eggs are usually laid in September and hatch in two or three months. The aquatic life cycle is represented.

2. Necturus maculosus, Mudpuppy, waterdog

Size: Large, 12 to 15 inches.

Description: Color, brown, with rather large dark spots and a speckling of small spots. The gills are prominent and bright red . Head is broad and flattened; tail is finned. This is the only salamander
in our area that has only four toes on each hind foot.

Range: In the United States, mostly west of the Appalachian Mts. and east of the Great Plains, from Canada to the Gulf or Mexico. In our area, it occurs through all but the extreme northwest corner of Missouri and northeast Kansas, through the eastern fourth of Kansas and Oklahoma, and all of Arkansas.

Habitat: Aquatic, usually found in rivers and streams or other permanent water over three feet deep, where there is suitable cover on the bottom for protection and nests, such as rocks, logs, and debris. Found less in ponds and lakes than in streams.

Habits: Nocturnal usually. Feeds upon almost any type of small aquatic animal. May be caught on
fishing line. Thought by many to be poisonous - it is not!

Reproduction: Eggs are laid in the late spring, attached to the underside of some submerged object,
and may number up to 150. Eggs hatch in about six weeks. Sometimes females guard the eggs. The aquatic life cycle is represented.

KSN - Vol 16, No 4 - Salamanders in Kansas and Vicinity

1. Ambystoma maculatum, Spotted Salamander

Size: Medium, up to 8 inches.

Description: Color, black, with a row of dorsolateral prominent round spots of yellow or orange on each side, widely separated from each other. No spots are on lower sides. Body and legs stout. Usually 12 costal grooves. Belly slate-gray.

Range: Most of eastern United States, except for Florida. In our area, the southern half of Missouri,
all of Arkansas, and extreme eastern Kansas and Oklahoma.

Habitat: Terrestrial, usually found in deciduous woodlands, under various articles of cover.

Habits: Food consists of earthworms and insects. These salamanders may wander a great deal and
may be more easily found in the open than some of the more secretive types.

Reproduction: Males precede females to breeding ponds late in winter, sometimes while ice may still be partially present. Heavy rains usu a lly initiate the response to breed at the appropriate time of the year. At times, large numbers may be present in a single pond for several days. This salamander exhibits the typical life cycle. Eggs are laid a few days after the spermatophore is picked up. About 100 eggs are laid together within a gelatinous envelope attached to a plant stem a short distance below the surface of the water. Hatching occurs about a month and a half later, with the larvae transforming in 75 to 100 days later.

2. Ambystoma tigrinum, Tiger Salamander

Size: Medium large, 6 to 10 inches.

Description: Color, black or brown, with pattern of several variable spots, which are not round, but are elongate vertically. There are also yellow markings on lower sides. Belly yellow and black. Costal grooves 12. Body and legs stout.

Range: Most of U.S.A., except much of Appalachia and two tiers of western states. Found commonly
throughout all of our area.

Habitat: Occurs in woodlands, hills, open pasture, and drier environments than other salamanders. Usually found in burrows or under debris where there is moisture.

Habits: Nocturnal, but spends a great deal of time underground. Food is a variety of organisms. In captivity, they can be conditioned to feed on hamburger pieces, but usually this has to be placed on a straw and moved about in front of the salamander.

Reproduction: Adults return to water to mate, in the typical life cycle, in late winter or early spring. Usually ponds or cattle tanks are chosen. Several clusters of eggs may be laid by a single female, each cluster containing 40 to 60 eggs. Hatching occurs in about three weeks, with transformation occurring a bit over two months later. Neoteny is not uncommon in the Tiger Salamander and frequently large axolotls are taken from Kansas farm ponds. The incidence of neoteny increases in the more arid western part of our area.

KSN - Vol 16, No 4 - Salamanders in Kansas and Vicinity

1. Ambystoma opacum, Marbled Salamander

Size: Small, 3 to 5 inches.

Description: Color, black, with strongly contrasting white bands that usually meet on upper sides to form a series of black blotches along midback. The white crossbars may appear silvery. Usually the crossbars do not appear on lower sides. Body short and stout, costal grooves 11.

Range: Most of U.S.A. south of Great Lakes and east of Oklahoma, except part of penisula Florida.
In our area, southern Missouri, extreme eastern Oklahoma, and all of Arkansas, except extreme northwest corner.

Habitat: Found most frequently under ground cover in low moist woodlands.

Reproduction: Purported to be unusual in that females in autumn, deposit eggs singly in depressions
under material which fill with subsequent rains.

2. Ambystoma annulatum, Ringed Salamander

Size: Medium, 5 to 7 inches.

Description: Color, dark brown or black, with well separated yellowish-white rings or narrow bars, not broad, like the preceding species. Some rings may be incomplete at midline. On lower side is an irregular light gray stripe. There is usually a light transverse bar between the eyes. Counting one groove each in groin and under arm, there are 15 costal grooves. Appears more slender than other Ambystomas from our area.

Range: Found only in a band from central Missouri southwest to east-central Oklahoma. This includes
northwest corner of Arkansas.

Habitat: Apparently spends most of the year underground. Found in moist woodlands and around

Reproduction: Reports state that mating occurs in spring, with typical life cycle, the eggs either deposited in small cluster on vegetation in shallow water or scattered on the bottom.

3. Ambystoma texanum, Small-mouthed Salamander

Size: Small medium, 4 1/2 to 6 1/2 inches.

Description: Color, black, with lichen-like markings of gray. There is quite a variation in amount of these markings, which are usually concentrated on the back and upper sides, but may be on lower sides, also. Ventral surface with better defined light spots. The head and mouth are quite small in comparison with other Ambystomas. There are 14 costal grooves.

Range: from the Great Lakes southwestward to Louisiana and central Texas. In our area all of Missouri and Arkansas, as well as the eastern fourth of Kansas and eastern half of Oklahoma, is included.

Habitat: Found in damp situations under logs and stones.

Reproduction: Typical life cycle, with adults going to breeding ponds early in spring. Several hundred eggs are laid, either in small groups or singly, attached to stems or bottom objects.

Eggs hatch in two or three weeks; the larval stage lasts perhaps a bit over two months.

KSN - Vol 16, No 4 - Salamanders in Kansas and Vicinity

1. Diemictylus viridescens, Newt

Size: Small, 3 to 4 inches.

Description: Aquatic adult color, green above and yellow below a line through eye and leg insertions. This pattern is carried on to end of tail. Numerou s black dots are scattered all over body and tail. A dorsolateral row of about six slightly black-bordered red spots may be present. Two raised longitudinal ridges are present on top of head and a black line runs horizontally through center of each eye. Skin smooth but not slimy. Tail is nattened laterally. Terrestrial subadult is red or orange. Skin covered with small black spots and red dorsolateral spots may be present. Skin is rough and dry. Tail is round in cross-section.

Range: Eastern half of United States. In our area, all of Arkansas, Missouri except for northwest corner, southeast eighth of Kansas, and eastern fourth of Oklahoma is included.

Habitat: Permanent and semi-permanent bodies of water. particularly in woodlands. Ditches, ponds, sloughs, and quiet waters with vegetation are preferred. The land stage may be found under surface litter in moist woodland situations.

Habits: The aquatic stage may be quite abundant where it occurs and may be found crawling about in the vegetation of the water. They feed on a variety of small aquatic animals. This stage may be purchased at stores that handle aquarium fishes. Newts do well in captivity and will feed on bits of hamburger or dog food, learning quickly to come to the feeder.

Reproduction: The life cycle is unusual, for although the egg and larval stages are spent in the water, the quite different subadult is terrestrial for two or three years. At sexual maturity another transformation occurs, with striking changes in color and morphology. The adult now returns to the water to spend its life there. Much of the respiration takes place through the skin and the lining of the mouth, but since no gills are prese nt, the newt must surface from time to time to breathe atmospheric oxygen. In some regions, the terrestrial stage is skipped. After a courtship display, the male deposits packets of spermatophores, which are picked up by the female. Eggs are laid in the early spring and are attached singly to underwater objects and hatch in about a month or less. Larvae transfrom into subadults in three or four months. The eft stage may be omitted in our area.

KSN - Vol 16, No 4 - Salamanders in Kansas and Vicinity

1. Desmognathus fuscus, Dusky Salamander

Size: Small, 3 to 6 inches.

Description: A lungless salamander which has naso-labial grooves, and usually a light line from eye to corner of mouth. There is a tranverse fold of skin on underside of neck. Hind legs are larger than forelegs. Tail is squarish on bottom: becoming sharp-edged on top, particularly toward tip. Color is dark gray or brown with ill-defined markings. There may be a row of indistinct light spots on sides. Costal grooves distinct. There are usually 14.

Range: That portion of the United States south and east of a line from Maine to east-central Oklahoma;
then south to the Gulf coast. Part of peninsual Florida is excluded. In our area, they barely enter, occurring in the southern half of Arkansas and in southeast Oklahoma.

Habitat: Under logs, stones, and debris in moist woodlands, particularly near ponds and streams.

Habits: These salamanders swim quite well and sometimes may be found under rocks at edge or in streams, where the individual seeks to escape by a surprising leap and then swimming away under water. Food is any small creature it can capture, usually earthworms and insects.

Reproduction: This salamander characterize, the terrestrial life cycle. The female lays 30 or more eggs in a crevice or rotting log or other suitable moist place and may remain with the eggs for some time. Eggs are found during the summer months, but duration of the egg and larval stages is not known.

2. Plethodon glutinosus, Slimy Salamander

Size: Medium, 5 to 7 inches.

Description: Color , black, covered with a variable amount of white necks which are often concentrated on the lower sides. Naso-labial grooves are present, but may be difficult to detect as grooves. In this case, their presence is indicated by lack of dark pigment where the groove occurs. Hind legs are a little larger than the front legs. Costal grooves are prominent and are 16 in number. The tail is round in cross section. The skin secretions of this salamander are sticky and extremely difficult to remover from the hands.

Range: Most of U.S.A. east of Mississippi River except New England, lower peninsular Florida, and most of Great Lakes region. It also occurs in a broad band through Missouri and Arkansas into central Texas. In our area it occurs in the southern half of Missouri, northwestern Arkansas, the eastern edge of Oklahoma, to, or near, the extreme southeastern corner of Kansas.

Habitat: Moist woodlands, where it may be found under various surface cover and shale banks.

Habits: Secretive, attempts to squirm quickly away by burrowing into litter when uncovered. Food items are earthworms, spiders, insects and their larvae.

Reproduction: This species exhibits the terrestrial life cycle. Eggs have been fou nd in crevices in caves and in rotting stumps. There is evidence that an adult female breeds only every other year. In Pennsylvania and Maryland, eggs are laid in late spring, with hatching in late summer. The first young are found the following spring.

KSN - Vol 16, No 4 - Salamanders in Kansas and Vicinity

1. Plethodon cinereus, Red-backed Salamander

Size: Small, 2 1/2 to 4 inches.

Description: Color, dark gray or black, with a broad light reddish stripe down midback and a long top of tail. The edges of the stripe are wavy on the body. Belly is gray, with speckled appearance. Some individuals lack this dorsal stripe. Hind legs are about the same size as the front legs. Naso-labial grooves are present and there are usually 18 or 19 costal grooves.

Range: Northeastern fourth of the United States. In our area it occurs in the Quachita Mountains of western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma.

Habitat : Under debris, logs, rocks on moist forest floor and in crevices or under shale in ravines.

Habits: Nocturnal. Food items are small invertebrates of many kinds, including ants. Often does not attempt immediate escape when uncove red, as does the Slimy Salamander. It may lose part of tail when captured, a protective device against predators. This salamander is completely terrestrial.

Reproduction: Mating may take place in the fall , but it may be extended or there may be two egg-laying
periods. This species exhibits the terrestrial life cycle. From 5 to 13 eggs are deposited by the female during summer months in small cavities, often in rotting logs or stumps. The egg mass may be suspended from the ceiling of this nest and the femaJe may remain with the eggs. Duration of the egg stage in nature is not known. Gills are retained for a few days after hatching.

2. Plethodon dorsalis, Ozark Red-backed Salamander

Size: Small, 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches.

Description: Color, dark gray or black with a narrow reddish or yellowish mid-dorsal stripe that continues a long top of tail. The edges of the stripe are indistinct. Some individuals lack the dorsal stripe. Belly color has reddish or orange tones. Naso-labial grooves are present and the 16 or 17 costal grooves are prominent. Hind legs are about the size of the fore legs.

Range: Midland area from southern Ohio and Illinois to mid-Mississippi and Alabama, with an extension into our area to include southwestern Missouri, northwestern Arkansas, and adjacent Oklahoma.

Habitat: Usually around or in caves or rock slides or cliffs; may be in wooded areas under logs or along small streams.

Habits: A good climber, nocturnal, usually found under rock slabs.

Reproduction: Not much is known. Presumed to be somewhat similar to Red-backed Salamander.

KSN - Vol 16, No 4 - Salamanders in Kansas and Vicinity

1. Typhlotriton spelaeus, Grotto Salamander

Size: Small, 3 to 5 inches.

Description: Adult color, pale, practically colorless. No gills; eyes show only as dark spots or pigment; no eyelids. Larvae: external gils present; eyes runctional; high tail fin. Color, brownish, or purplish gray with streaks or yellow on sides.

Range: Occurs in Kansas only in Cherokee County; elsewhere in northeastern Oklahoma, southwestern
fourth or Missouri, and northwestern fourth or Arkansas.

Habitat: The larval stage may be round in brooks and springs in the open outside or caves as well as within the caves, but the adults are round only in streams and pools well within the dark interior or caves.

Habits: Food for the larvae consists or a variety or small aquatic invertebrates, mostly isopods, while the adults utilize fly larvae and adults, isopods, and other invertebrates that occur in the deeper caves. It is interesting that the dual life or this salamander exists, with the change from acceptance or illuminated conditions or the larvae, with runctional eyes and strong pigmentation, to a form living in total darkness with functionless eyes and lack or pigment.

Reproduction: Little is known concerning the reproduction or this secretive form, courtship, egg-laying, duration or egg stage under natural conditions, or length or larval stage. Eggs are apparently laid deep within the cave and hatch in the spring or the year. Why the larvae leave the cave - or why they later reeneter - is unknown.

Key characteristics on page 6

KSN - Vol 16, No 4 - Salamanders in Kansas and Vicinity

KSN - Vol 16, No 4 - Salamanders in Kansas and Vicinity KSN - Vol 16, No 4 - Salamanders in Kansas and Vicinity
2. Boletoid tongue (free on all sides) A. Dorsal fin arising on back (Ambystoma larva)
B. Dorsal fin arising above anus (adult Newt)

KSN - Vol 16, No 4 - Salamanders in Kansas and Vicinity

1. Eurycea longicauda, Dark-sided Salamander

Size: Small medium, 4 to 6 inches.

Description: Color, bright reddish-orange with numerous black spots on body and tail. These spots are lacking in a pair of rows alo ng midback , leaving a double row of dark spots in center of midback. The black spots are highly concentrated on the sides of the body and tail, forming a dark broad band on each side. Hind legs are about the size of the front legs. Naso-labial grooves are present. There are 13 or 14 costal grooves. Tongue is free on all sides.

Range: Much of eastern United States, not including New England, peninsular Florida, and Great Lakes area. In our region, it occurs in the southern half of Missouri, northwestern fourth of Arkansas, extreme eastern Oklahoma, and Cherokee County, Kansas.

Habitat: This salamander is an inhabitant of the twilight zone of caves, where it may be found under slabs of rock on the floor or sides, sometimes in or at the edge of pools of water. Occasionally, it is found along streams that issue from caves, but not any great distance away from the cave.

Habits: Food consists of the variety of small invertebrates found in its environment. Caves that harbor Dark-sided and Cave Salamanders are those that have running water streams and pools within them (at least at times).

Reproduction: The life cycle is typical. There is an indication that mating may take place in the late fall and eggs laid in the winter, hatching in winter or early spring. Larvae are found in streams that issue from caves, hiding under leaves. They have been found transforming in June.

KSN - Vol 16, No 4 - Salamanders in Kansas and Vicinity

2. Eurycea lucifuga, Cave Salamander.

Size: Small medium, 4 to 6 inches.

Description: Color, bright red or orange with many scattered spots of black. The spots do not concentrate
on the sides to form broad dark bands, but may at times appear as lines of scattered dots. Naso-labial grooves are present and there are 14 costal grooves. Hind legs are about the size of the fore legs. Tongue is free on all sides.

Range: It occurs in an irregular area from western Virginia to eastern Oklahoma and from southern Ohio to nothern Alabama. In our area it is found in the southern half of Missouri, nothern fourth of Arkansas, northeastern Oklahoma, and Cherokee County, Kansas.

Habitat: It lives in the twilight zone of caves where it may be found in the open on the floor or sides, or under slabs of rock and debris. Occasionally found under surface material outside of caves, but not far away. Larvae are found in streams that issue from caves.

Habits: Terrestrial as an adult. Food consists of a variety of organisms found in its habitat. These salamanders are good climbers.

Reproduction: Larvae have been found early in February through the spring. The typical life cycle is characteristic. Eggs are laid in late fall and early winter. They hatch in Tennessee in December and January and transformation occurs from June through August. Larvae have been reported as developing in the depths of caves as well as in open streams.

1. Eurycea multiplicata, Gray-bellied Salamander, Many-ribbed Salamander

Size: Small, 2 to 3 1/2 inches.

Description: A small dark salamander that has a lighter dorsal stripe. The stripe may be missing in some individuals. Belly is gray with speckling in our area, but the underside of the tail and the posterior part of the belly becomes bright yellow farther to the south in Oklahoma and Arkansas, with the dorsal stripe becoming orange or tan. Naso-labial grooves are present; costal grooves are 19. Hind legs are about the size of the front legs.

Range: Southwest fourth of Missouri, northwestern half of Arkansas, eastern fourth of Oklahoma, and Cherokee County, Kansas.

Habitat: Found in and about springs, rocky streams, and in or near caves, usually in still or slowly running water under stones and debris, but may be found under logs and rocks near streams, at least in the spring of the year.

Habits: Apparently utilizes small invertebrates in its habitat for food. Often found in twilight zone of caves.

Reproduction: Eggs have been found attached singly under rocks in a cave spring in the twilight zone in October, and larvae have been taken in the open from a cave stream from early February through June. The typical life cycle is exhibited, but the gill-less adult spends considerable time in the water.

2. Eurycea tynerensis, Oklahoma Salamander

Size: Small, 2 to 3 inches.

Description: Color, grayish-cream, with a fine misting of black. The pigment may be less dense on the middle of the back. A row of small light spots are on the sides. Naso-labial grooves are present. Tongue is free on all sides. No eyelids are present. Small gills are present in this neotenic adult as well as the larval stage. Costal grooves are 19 or 20. Legs small and slender. Tail fin rises above vent and becomes wider toward the tip; the fin on the underside of the tail is only on the posterior half of the tail.

Range: Originally taken from Adair County, Oklahoma. Found only in this general region and in nearby Arkansas and Missouri.

Habitat: This is an aquatic salamander found in the gravel of small mountain streams.

Habits: Quite secretive. Not much is known about this form.

Reproduction: The aquatic life cycle is exhibited, and the adults being neotenic. A female containing large eggs was found in April, but nothing else is known about egg deposition or larval period.


Salamanders are quite hardy in captivity if several factors are kept in mind, the chief one being that they must not be allowed to dry out. Therefore, moist earth or moss must be present in their cage at all times. An aquarium makes an ideal cage. Place a sheet of glass over the top to keep evaporation at a minimum. Provide earth or moss for terrestrial species and provide pieces of bark for cover. Do not put the aquarium where direct sunlight shines on it or where it can get too warm. Remember that salamanders are cool-loving creatures. Try variety of food substances: earthworms, insect larvae, flies, etc. Also, try to feed them small pieces of hamburger. But in most cases this will have to be put on the end of a fine straw and moved in front of the salamander's head. The aquatic salamanders should have pond water or dechlorinated water. Provide some way that the salamander can get out of the water if it desires.  Salamanders can make interesting objects for observations and will do well if properly cared for.


For more detailed information on salamanders, you should try to secure a copy of one or more of the following:

Blair, et al. 1968. Vertebrates of the United States (2nd ed.). McGraw-Hili Book Co. pp. 1-616.

Cochran, D. 1961. Living Amphibians of the World. Doubleday &Co. pp. 1-199.

Conant, R. 1958. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians. Houghton Mifflin Co. pp. 1-365.

Pope, C. 1953. Handbook of Salamanders. Comstock Pub. Co. pp. 1-555.

______. 1947. Amphibians and Reptiles of the Chicago Area. Chicago Nat. Hist. Mus. pp. 1-275.

Smith, H. 1956. Handbook of Amphibians and Reptiles of Kansas. Misc. Publ. 9, Univ. Kansas Mus. Nat. Hist. pp. 1-356.

Stebbins, R. 1966. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. Houghton Mifflin Co. pp. 1-279.

Zim, H. and H. Smith. 1956. Reptiles and Amphibians (Golden Nature Guide) paperback. Simon and Schuster. pp. 1-160.

Have you let us know if you wish your name retained on our mailing list?

The Kansas School Naturalist Department of Biology 
  College of Liberal Arts & Sciences 
Send questions / comments to
Kansas School Naturalist.
 Emporia State University