Rough-skinned Newt

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Rough-skinned Newts have relatively grainy and dry skin compared to other salamanders. They also have a fairly stocky shape. This distinctive salamander is two toned: dull grey to brown on top, and bright orange to yellow below.

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Their bright belly color serves as a warning to would-be predators. When disturbed, the newt will curve its head, neck and tail upwards to display it.

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I often find them in forested environments under rotting logs. Like most amphibians, newts become more active and come out of hiding when it rains, but unlike other salamander species they will venture out during the day.

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Adult newts eat a variety of organisms, including insects, slugs, worms, and even amphibian eggs and larvae.

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Protected by powerful tertrodotoxins, the Rough-skinned Newt is the most poisonous amphibian in the Pacific Northwest. One contains enough poison to kill 25,000 mice.

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Zigzag Salamander

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While visiting Snake Road in southern Illinois, I came across this “lifer” amphibian which I’ve never seen “in person” before. It reminded me of a smaller version of a Redback Salamander that is common in my area of Ohio. Its body color is dark grey with a red or orangish wavy pattern, or “zigzag,” extending from the neck down the back to the base of the tail where it straightens out.

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This species is part of a large group known as Lungless Salamanders. They have no lungs and breathe through their skin and mouth. This unique trait requires them to keep the surface of their skin moist at all times. Females lay their eggs deep in underground cavities and guard their eggs until hatching. The baby salamanders do not go through an aquatic larval stage. Instead, when young salamanders emerge from their eggs they look like miniature versions of adults.

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Zigzag Salamanders inhabit temperate forests, rocky areas and caves. They have a preference for moist, rocky slopes. There they hunt for spiders and beetles, which comprise most of their diet. This is one of the smallest salamanders in the United States, reaching only about three inches in total length.

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Central Newt

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I often see this amphibian on my visits to southern Illinois. Sometimes it is out and about (especially during rainy weather), sometimes it is found hiding under logs and sometimes I see it in the water (especially at night when walking around the edges of ponds).

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They look similar to the Eastern Newts that I find in my home state of Ohio, with olive backs covered in black spots and sporting a bright yellow belly. Two rows of small red spots may be present along the back, though in some cases this little salamander lacks the red spots entirely.

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The Central Newt’s habitat is woodland ponds, swamps and occasionally water-filled ditches. Its diet consists of small aquatic invertebrates such as worms, mollusks, insects and crayfish. They may also eat tadpoles and the larvae of other salamanders.

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In the Spring, adults mate and females lay their eggs in water. The eggs hatch out into one-half inch tadpole-like larva. Like the Eastern Newt, the Central Newt has a land dwelling “eft” stage that spends 2 to 3 years wandering the forest floor before returning to water and leading a primarily aquatic life.

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After completing their aquatic larval stage, efts emerge onto land in Autumn. Their skin as an eft is rough, rather than smooth, like most salamanders. Their skin becomes smooth again when they become adults and return to the water. It is thought that the eft stage allows them to investigate new territories to spread to.

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Efts are bright orange to advertise that they are toxic to most predators. The Central Newt produces toxins in all its life stages, but the toxin is strongest during its eft stage. Their poison is tetrodotoxin, a deadly neurotoxin, which makes this species unpalatable to predatory fish and crayfish.

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Although usually only about four inches in total length, these creatures have a surprisingly long lifespan of well over 10 years in the wild.

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Pacific Giant Salamander

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While visiting Van Damme State Park in California, I came across one of the world’s largest land-dwelling salamanders, it reaches up to 13 inches in total length. These salamanders have a relatively large head, body and legs. Their smooth skin usually has tan, gold, or grey mottling on top of a dark brown, reddish-brown, or grey background.

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While Pacific Giant Salamanders start their life as entirely aquatic larva, with gills that allow them to breathe under water, most of their time as adults is spent beneath logs, bark or stones, either on a streambed or on land, though they will roam about freely after heavy rains.

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Pacific Giant Salamanders are found in a variety of habitats, but most live in the forest, near cool, clear, mountain streams. Mature and old-growth forests with plenty of litter, downed wood and talus are preferred habitats.

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These robust-skulled amphibians are equipped with blade-like teeth. They are well known for their ability to prey on small salamanders as well as rodents and small snakes.

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While most salamanders are silent, the Pacific Giant Salamander is one of several salamanders that have vocal abilities. When startled, these amphibians may respond with a low-pitched growl or bark. It was rewarding to come across this cool creature.

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Ensatinas belong to a family known as Lungless Salamanders. Oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange occurs through their moist skin.

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Adults can reach an overall length of about 6 inches, but are usually smaller. There are seven subspecies, all of which can be found in California.


Their main habitat is forested areas, where they seek seclusion beneath fallen trees and rocks. During cool, cloudy, moist, rainy or damp, foggy days, these little amphibians often are out and about during daylight hours.


One distinct characteristic of Ensantinas is constriction at the base of the tail. If severely stressed, either by environmental factors or a predator, the salamander discards its tail at the point of this constriction.


This species is also known to secrete milky alkaline toxins from glands in the tail which are extremely distasteful and irritable to most predators. Like most salamanders, they eat a wide variety of invertebrates.

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There is a lot of variety in coloration, but almost all have orange or yellow coloring on the tops of their legs. Ensatinas also appear to have over-sized heads with large, expressive eyes.

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It’s always a pleasure to come across one of these cool creatures in the field, and I found a few on my last visit to California.

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Arboreal Salamander

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This species is found both on the ground as well as in trees. On the ground it often hides in logs and stumps or beneath bark and rocks. I enjoy coming across this amphibian when I visit California. Here’s one that I found yesterday.

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It is also well known for its climbing abilities. “Back in the day” many individuals were found on the University of California Campus at Berkeley occupying cavities in trees, some at a height of 30 feet above the ground. This is a juvenile that I encountered this week (the rest of the photos in this post are from previous visits to California).

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This is a fairly big salamander (the largest examples reach 7 inches, including the tail) with a large head and angular jaws. The eyes are prominent. Its stout legs undoubtably aid it in scaling trees. It is often chocolate-brown in color and sprinkled with pale yellow spots.

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This is one of the very few salamanders with vocal abilities. When handled it may bite and squeak.

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The Arboreal Salamander is mostly nocturnal and eats insects such as crickets and termites (as well as other invertebrates) found underneath leaf litter at night. These are lungless salamanders that breathe through their skin, so they are restricted to areas with plenty of moisture.

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Not only do these amphibians have a interesting “look” to them, but their unique lifestyle makes them and enjoyable herp to find and observe in the wild.

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Smallmouth Salamander

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As Spring approaches here in northeast Ohio, I await the annual migration of mole salamanders and frogs as they leave their underground hibernation hideouts and head to vernal pools to lay their eggs. This week it happened.

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One of the less common of these creatures around here is the Smallmouth Salamander. It is best identified by its short snout and small head. It usually grows to about five inches in total length.

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The Smallmouth Salamander’s dark, earthtone ground color is occasionally accented with light flecks of blue pigment, especially along its sides and belly.

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This amphibian’s habitat is forested floodplains, swampy areas and deciduous forests. It spends most of the year hidden in underground burrows or under logs, leaf litter and other debris.

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Like the other mole salamanders in northeast Ohio, the Spotted Salamander and the Jefferson Salamander, the Smallmouth Salamander typically eats insects, slugs and worms.

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I look forward to searching for and coming across this oddly proportioned amphibian each Spring and it was exciting to see one this week.

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Mole Salamander

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This 3 to 4 inch amphibian seems to have a head and feet too big for the rest of the creature. It kind of reminds me of a Bulldog.

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Mole Salamanders are black, brown or grey in color, with pale bluish or silvery flecks. Adults are found in forested habitats like bald cypress and tupelo swamplands, flatwoods sloughs and nearby ponds. I sometimes find them under logs or in moist leaf litter.

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These were all from a swamp edge I investigated while visiting southern Illinois. Adult Mole Salamanders are nocturnal and burrow during the day; their common name comes from their underground lifestyle.

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Adults move to fish-free pools or swamp edges for courtship and egg-laying during late autumn and winter rains. Females attach 200-400 small eggs, in jelly-covered clusters, to underwater twigs and leaves.

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Mole Salamander larvae transform during summer or autumn and, in a few permanent ponds, some large larvae are known to overwinter. They have gills and breathe like fish until they metamorphose into adults.

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It is always cool to come across this oddly proportioned amphibian, which is not native to my home state of Ohio.

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Yellow-eyed Ensatina

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An Ensatina is a type of lungless salamander found in coniferous forests, oak woodland and chaparral. I came across a few of them on my recent visit to California.

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One of their characteristics are their large, expressive eyes. They also feature a tail that is constricted at the base. A bright yellow patch on the eye gives this salamander its common name.

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This subspecies of Ensatina is orange-brown to dark brown above, with orange coloring below. They are typically 3-5 inches in total length.

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Since they are lungless, they conduct respiration through their skin, which requires them to live in damp environments on land and to move about on the ground only during times of high humidity.

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When feeling threatened, an Ensatina can drop its tail to distract the attention of a predator while the amphibian can crawl away to safety. The tail can grow back. As another defense behavior, an Ensatina will stand tall in a stiff-legged defensive posture with its back arched and its tail raised up and secrete a milky white poisonous substance, while swaying from side to side.

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These amphibians eat a wide variety of invertebrates, including worms, ants, beetles, spiders, scorpions, centipedes, millipedes, sow bugs and snails. They tend to catch their food with their sticky tongue, like a toad does.

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These are neat creatures to encounter and I had a great time seeing them in the field when herping California.

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Longtail Salamander

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One of Ohio’s longest salamanders, the tail of this aptly named animal comprises 60-65% of its total length (up to 9”). They do not live in my part of northeast Ohio, but I have found them while visiting the southern part of the state, as well as in Kentucky. The examples in the photos above and below lost sections of their tails, which grow back, though not as long or with the same color and pattern of the original.

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This amphibian can be rather attractive, with a ground color that is usually some shade of yellow or orange, but it may be brownish in some individuals. They feature black spots on their back, sides and legs. The herringbone-like pattern on the tail is the key identifying characteristic to differentiate it from its lookalike – the Cave Salamander.

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Streams, springs, seeps, caves, and wet shale banks are the primary habitats for this amphibian. I usually find them under rocks along the banks of creeks.

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Females lay between 60 and 110 eggs in the Winter and attach them to the undersides of rocks that are submerged in water. The eggs hatch in 4 to 12 into an aquatic gilled larval stage that inhabit streams until they metamorphose.

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Like all salamanders, it is a carnivore. Long-tailed salamanders feed on a wide variety of aquatic and forest-floor dwelling invertebrates such as spiders, flies, mites, ticks, slugs and worms

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This is a lungless salamander that breathes through its skin. Like most other lungless salamanders, the home ranges of adults do not typically exceed more than a few dozen square yards.

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I always enjoy coming across these colorful, elongated creatures while searching for reptiles and amphibians.

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