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Salamanders of the order Urodela, also called Caudata, are a group of amphibians distinguished by their lizard-like appearance, with slender bodies, blunt snouts, short limbs, lack of scales and claws, and presence of a tail in both larvae and adults. Living a biphasic life cycle, salamanders are beneficial to their ecosystems and to humans, playing important roles in food webs as well as helping control pests and acting as model organisms in research.
See the fact file below for more information on the salamanders or alternatively, you can download our 21-page Salamander worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
- Compared to newts which have velvety or warty skin, salamanders do not have scales, making it moist and smooth. Their skin may be drab or vibrantly colored, with different patterns of stripes, bars, spots, blotches, or dots.
- They vary in size from minute salamanders, which are just 1.1 inches long, to the Chinese giant salamander, which reaches 5.9 feet and weighs around 143 pounds.
- Adults generally look like lizards, having a basal tetrapod body with hollow trunks, four limbs, and long tail.
- Some aquatic species, like sirens and amphiumas, have reduced or lacking hind limbs, causing them to resemble an eel. Most species, however, have front and rear limbs that are about equal lengths and project sidewards.
- Their feet are wide with short digits, usually four on the front feet and five on the back. They also lack claws, and the shape of their foot differs according to the species’ habitat. Climbing salamanders have slender, square-tipped toes, while those dwelling in rocks have larger feet with short, blunt toes. The tree-climbing salamander (Bolitoglossa sp.) has plate-like webbed feet which sticks to smooth surfaces by suction, while rock-climbing Hydromantes species found in California have feet with fleshy webs and short digits, and use their tail as an additional limb. When going up, the tail props up the latter part of the salamander’s body, while one rear foot moves forward then swings to the opposite side to act as a support as the other hind foot advances.
- Larvae and aquatic salamanders have laterally flat tails, dorsal and ventral fins, and undulate from side to side to push them through the water. In the Ambystomatidae and Salamandridae families, the male’s tail is used during the amplexus embrace to propel the mating pair to an isolated area. Terrestrial salamanders, on the other hand, use their tails to counterbalance their bodies as they run, while arboreal and other tree-climbing species have prehensile tails.
- Their skin is permeable to water, functioning as a respiratory membrane, and is well-equipped with glands. It possesses highly cornified external layers, renewed periodically through shedding controlled by hormones found in the pituitary and thyroid glands.
- Glands in the skin excrete mucus which maintains the skin’s moisture, making it an important feature in skin respiration and thermoregulation. The sticky layer protects salamanders against bacterial infections and mold, reducing friction when swimming, and allowing these creatures to become slippery and more difficult for predators to catch.
- Their sense of smell plays a role in territory maintenance, identification of predators, and courtship rituals; however, olfaction is secondary to sight when selecting their prey and feeding.
- Most salamanders’ eyes adapt greatly for vision at night. In some permanently aquatic species, they are reduced in size and have an uncomplicated retinal structure. Cave dwellers, such as Georgia blind salamanders, have eyes that are absent or covered with a layer of skin. To locate their prey, salamanders apply trichromatic color vision reaching the ultraviolet range, based on three photoreceptor types.
- All salamander species have no middle ear cavity, eardrum, and eustachian tubes, but possess an opercularis system similar to frogs, enabling them to identify airborne sounds.
- Salamanders are known to produce no sounds for communication. During mating season, they communicate through pheromone signaling, and some species create quiet ticking or popping noises, probably by opening and closing the valves in their nose.
- Respiration varies among different species, and can involve gills, lungs, skin, and the membranes of the mouth and throat.
FEEDING AND DIET
- Salamanders are opportunistic predators. Large species, such as the Japanese giant salamander (Andrias japonicus) prey on crabs, fish, small mammals, amphibians, and aquatic insects. Smaller species, on the other hand, such as the dusky salamanders (Desmognathus) in the Appalachian Mountains, consume earthworms, flies, beetles, beetle larvae, leafhoppers, springtails, moths, spiders, grasshoppers, and mites.
- Most species have small teeth found in their upper and lower jaws.
- Terrestrial salamanders catch prey by sticking their tongue out, which takes less than half a second. Aquatic species, on the other hand, lack muscles in the tongue and capture prey using a different approach. They grab the food item, hold it with their teeth, and apply a kind of inertial feeding, tossing their head about, drawing water in and out of their mouth, snapping their jaws as they tear their prey.
- Despite moving slowly and having thin skin and soft bodies that make them seem vulnerable to opportunistic predators, salamanders have a number of effective lines of defense. Their mucus-coated damp skin makes them hard to grasp, and the slimy coating may have a displeasing taste or may be toxic.
- When attacked by a predator, a salamander may put itself in a position wherein its main poison glands face its attacker. Often, these glands are found on the tail, which may be waggled or turned up and arched over the animal’s back. The sacrifice of the tail may be a strategy if the salamander will be able to escape and the predator learns to evade the salamander in the future.
- Although the majority of salamanders have strange colors so as to stay hidden, others signal their toxicity through their vibrant coloring. Yellow, orange, and red are the colors typically used, often with black for better contrast. Sometimes they posture if attacked, displaying a flash of warning hue on their underside.
- Some species use tail autotomy to get away from predators. The tail drops off and wriggles around after an attack, and the salamander escapes or stays still not to be noticed while its aggressor is distracted. The tail regrows over time, and salamanders continuously generate other complex tissues.
DISTRIBUTION AND HABITAT
- There are about 760 extant species of salamander; one-third of the recognized species live in North America, with the highest concentration found in the Appalachian Mountains region.
- The Anderson’s salamander is among the salamander species to occur in brackish or salt water.
- Salamanders are usually found only in the Holarctic and Neotropical regions, not reaching south of the Mediterranean Basin, the Himalayas, or South America.
REPRODUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT
- A number of salamanders do not produce vocalizations, and in most species, neither sex exhibits sexual dimorphism, so they use olfactory and tactile signals to distinguish potential mates.
- In about 90% of all salamanders, internal fertilization takes place. The male deposits a spermatophore on the ground or in the water, depending on the species, and the female picks it up with her vent.
- Three variations of egg deposition occur. Ambystoma and Taricha spawn large numbers of small eggs in quiet ponds where several predators less likely dwell. Most dusky salamanders and the Pacific giant salamander lay smaller medium-sized eggs in a hidden site in flowing water, and these are usually protected by an adult, normally the female. Tropical climbing salamanders and lungless salamanders, on the other hand, lay their large eggs on land in a well-concealed location, where they are also guarded by the mother. Some species, like fire salamanders, are ovoviviparous, with the female keeping the eggs inside her body until they hatch, either into larvae to be transferred into a body of water, or into fully formed juveniles.
- Reproduction of salamanders in temperate regions is usually seasonal and they may migrate to breeding grounds.
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about the salamanders across 21 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Salamander worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the salamanders of the order Urodela, also called Caudata, which are a group of amphibians distinguished by their lizard-like appearance, with slender bodies, blunt snouts, short limbs, lack of scales and claws, and presence of a tail in both larvae and adults. Living a biphasic life cycle, salamanders are beneficial to their ecosystems and to humans, playing important roles in food webs as well as helping control pests and acting as model organisms in research.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Salamander Facts
- Creature Feature
- Salamander Anatomy
- Salamander Stuff
- What’s the Difference?
- 4 Pics 1 Word
- Amazing World of Salamanders
- Ask Yourself
- Life Stages
- Newt and I
- In Human Society
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Link will appear as Salamander Facts & Worksheets: https://kidskonnect.com - KidsKonnect, May 4, 2021
Use With Any Curriculum
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