The mudpuppy is a somewhat large salamander living in mid-eastern North America. Like the axolotl, this animal is neotenic, meaning they stay in their larval stage their whole life. Amphibian larvae have gills, so adult mudpuppies have gills as well. They also grow lungs to help them with breathing.
In the picture above, which is somewhat grainy, you should be able to see the mudpuppy’s gills right in front of its front legs. The size of the gills varies based on the habitat the mudpuppy lives in. When their habitat has less oxygen, the gills will be larger so they can get the oxygen they need. When the habitat has more oxygen, the gills will be smaller, as they can get the oxygen they need more easily.
These creatures are typically a grayish-brown color with an abundance of speckles. The exact color of the body varies. Some mudpuppies are mostly gray or mostly brown while others are almost completely black! Different mudpuppies also have different amounts of spots. Some have very few while others have so many that they blend together to form stripes! The underside is gray or light brown and is sometimes spotted, but not always.
Mudpuppy is an interesting name for an animal that isn’t a dog, much less a mammal. There are two different ideas of how these salamanders got their name. The first one is due to their gills. Evidently some people think their gills look like dog ears, and that could be where they got part of their name. The other possible explanation is that some people believe this salamander makes a noise like a barking dog. This belief is false, but it could have been enough to get these creatures named after dogs.
Mudpuppies are larger than most salamanders you’re probably used to seeing. Even the smallest adults are about 8 inches (20 cm) long while the larger ones can be 13 inches (33 cm). The largest mudpuppies can be up to 18 inches (45 cm) long! Though this is quite large, it doesn’t give these salamanders the title of largest North American salamander. That title belongs to the hellbender.
These salamanders have a diverse diet that includes most animals living in or around streams. They will eat a wide variety of insects as well as fish, frogs, worms, fish and frog eggs, and even other salamanders. Sometimes they will even eat carrion. Probably the biggest part of this salamander’s diet is crayfish, which make a great food for salamanders to snack on.
Habitat and range
Mudpuppies live in the eastern United States and Canada. Their range extends as far south as northern Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, as far west as Oklahoma, and as far north as the southern part of Canada.
These salamanders are completely aquatic. They will inhabit almost any areas of fresh water, including ponds, lakes, streams, canals, and rivers. Deep water doesn’t bother them. They have been known to live as deep as 100 feet (30.5 m) below the surface! As you can tell by their name, mudpuppies are not opposed to getting dirty either.
Status and threats
These salamanders are classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Redlist. Despite their large size, mudpuppies have several predators. Different water birds, such as herons, will eat these salamanders, as well as water snakes, turtles, some mammals, and large fish.
The biggest non-natural threats they face is pollution. Sometimes people will accidentally catch mudpuppies while they are fishing. Many people will just cut the line and let the mudpuppy go with the hook still in its mouth just so they don’t have to touch the slimy animal. This is better than killing it or leaving it to die, but it doesn’t give the mudpuppy a pleasant life with a hook in its mouth.
Reproduction and development
Mudpuppy mating season occurs in the fall. The male will go find a suitable female in a sheltered area in the water and start swimming/crawling around her before mating.
Despite mating in the fall, the female will not actually lay her eggs until the spring, between April and June. She will lay the eggs in shallow, slow-moving water and attach them to the underside of rocks or logs. She can lay between 40 and 150 eggs each year. Like other amphibian eggs, mudpuppy eggs are small, spherical, and jelly-like. They are about 0.25 inches (6 mm) in diameter, about the size of a pea.
The female will guard the eggs for the next one to two months, which is when they hatch. Although the eggs are small, the young salamanders are about an inch long (2.5 cm) when they hatch. Over the next four to six years, the young mudpuppies grow to the size of eight inches (20 cm). Although they are not full size yet, they are ready to mate.
Unlike most other amphibians, the mudpuppy will spend its entire life in the water. They do undergo metamorphosis and grow lungs, but the lungs are so small that they can’t support the salamander on their own. Instead, mudpuppies keep their gills their whole life and must stay in the water in order to breath and stay alive. These incredible salamanders can live up to 20 years in the wild.
Since I’m going on vacation next week, I won’t be posting an article about an animal. Instead, I will try to post some pictures and information on my Facebook page about animals I see on vacation!
- Mudpuppy – Public Domain