Salamander & Newt Species of New York (Upstate)

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About Salamanders / Newts (and how they are different from Lizards)

Lizards are reptiles, along with Snakes and Turtles. Salamanders, which look very similar to lizards, are amphibians, like Frogs. Reptiles and amphibians occupy different branches on the evolutionary tree. They have major differences in anatomy, reproductive habits, diet and behavior. At first sight the two can be easily confused, but if you understand the differences between these two types of animals you can easily tell which is which. Here are some major differences:

♦ Lizards have dry, scaly skin made of keratin (the same protein that makes up human hair and nails).

♦ Salamanders have moist, often slimy skin with no scales. Amphibian skin is porous allowing them to breathe through it. Some species of salamander do not have lungs, and breathe exclusively through their skin.

♦ Lizards lay amniotic eggs on dry land. Lizard eggs have tough shells that lock in moisture and protect the developing lizard inside. Salamanders lay jelly-like eggs that do not have shells. Salamanders must lay their eggs in water in order to keep them from drying out.

♦ Most lizards have external ear openings. Salamanders do not have external ear openings, rather they “hear” through ground vibrations.

♦ Most lizards have claws on their toes. Salamanders do not.

♦ Lizards do not metamorphosize. They hatch into a miniature form of their adult self. Many species of salamander hatch as a gilled aquatic larva and undergo metamorphosis into adult form.

♦ Salamanders are tied to water. At some point in their life they live in water. This is usually to reproduce, or as juveniles, but many species live out their entire lives in water. Lizards drink water, but most lizards’ life cycles do not have an exclusively aquatic stage.

Salamanders and Newts

Salamanders are a large group of amphibians that have slender bodies, short legs, and long tails. Their scale-less moist skin is used for respiration and ties them to wet habitats, and with some species, completely to water. They are able to completely regenerate lost limbs and other organs, a crucial adaptation as they are the favorite prey of many predators. Most salamanders have a larval stage similar to that of the tadpole. Most salamanders go through this larvae stage in which they are completely aquatic. Like frogs, most salamanders metamorphosize into their adult form. Newts are a group of salamanders that tend to have brighter colors and live most of their adult lives in water.

Salamanders and Newts in New York

Salamanders and Newts are wild animals that aren’t generally found in the populated urban areas of New York. Their super-absorbent skin and close-to-water life-cycles mean that even the slightest drop in water quality can impair their survivability. This makes them strong water quality indicators. Such large and environmentally sensitive species, such as the Eastern Hellbender, have significant trouble maintaining populations in polluted water. Birth defects and toxic poisoning can come about easily as toxins are not only absorbed into the eggs that are laid underwater, but also directly through the amphibian’s porous skin. Salamander populations are in general decline across the state because of high levels of pollutants in our streams, much of it from agricultural run-off, which makes the streams uninhabitable for adults or nonviable for their eggs.

Salamander and Newt Books and Field Guides

  

New York State Salamander / Newt Species Identification Guide

Desmognathus ochrophaeusDesmognathus ochrophaeus
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Allegheny Dusky Salamander
(Desmognathus ochrophaeus)

Identifying characteristics: A lungless salamander with highly variable coloring (brown, gray, olive, yellow or orange). Usually identified by a lightly-colored line that runs from its eye to the bottom of the jaw. Some specimens also have a lightly-colored, broad stripe that runs down the back through the tail. This stripe is variable in color and looks like a series of V-shapes.  The stripe may be subtle in older specimens. Their bellies are a lighter color than their backs. Their tail is about half their total length and has no prominent keel.

Size: Average body length of 3.5 inches.

Habitat: Temperate forest floors, where the ground is wet, or near springs or creeks. High rainfall. Stationary, rarely moving more than a meter from its home. Often found under logs and rocks, but is a good climber and will often climb a short distance up a tree or small bush.

Food: Carnivorous. Worms, insects such as beetles, and fly larvae.

Reproduction: Eggs are laid in the crevasses of rocks or other debris in water. Larvae inhabit slow moving sections of streams. They develop into adults in a matter of weeks.

Other Info.: Primarily nocturnal.



Distribution

Complete distribution

Common in many areas of the state.

Status: none

Blue-spotted Salamander
Blue-spotted Salamander
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Blue-spotted Salamander
(Ambystoma laterale)

Identifying characteristics: Like the Jefferson Salamander, the Blue-spotted Salamander has the same long, slender body and tail (about 40% of its total length). The tail is round, until the last third where it becomes laterally flattened. The bluish/black body of this species tends to be fleshier than the Jefferson, with shorter legs and a stubbier snout. As indicated by their name, they have blue spots and speckles on their side, limbs and belly (and sometimes on their back).

Size: Average body length of 3-5 inches.

Habitat: This mole salamander lives most of its life underground. Temperate forest floors with sandy soil and plenty of moisture. They can often be found under rocks or logs. Unlike most salamanders, they can be found above ground during the summer.

Food: Carnivorous. Worms, insects and larvae (especially mosquito larvae), spiders, snails and slugs.

Reproduction: They breed in woodland ponds or pools, where the female lays eggs underneath submerged debris. Larvae hatch a month later and remain aquatic until they mature into adults.

Other Info.: Primarily nocturnal. Will wave its tail over its body when threatened. The tail secretes a foul-tasting substance and can detach if grabbed. They may mate with the Jefferson Salamander and produce hybrids.



Distribution

distribution

Found throughout the state.
Hybrids found throughout the state.

Status: Special Concern in NY

Common Mudpuppy
Common Mudpuppy
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Common Mudpuppy
(Necturus maculosus)

AKA: Waterdog

Identifying characteristics: Mudpuppies are neotenic salamanders, meaning that their body never matures into an adult. They maintain the characteristics of salamander larvae. Their large, stout body-size in combination with their bushy, red external gills make them easy to identify. The mudpuppy’s color varies from grey to brown to black, with darker blue/black spotting. The belly is a lighter shade and also may have spotting. There are usually dark stripes running across the face through the eyes. The legs appear small compared to the body, but are well developed. Their tail is laterally flattened.

Size: Average body length of 10-11 inches.

Habitat: Aquatic habitats such as rivers, streams, ponds and lakes with abundant debris (for hiding and laying eggs). Prefers shallow water.

Food: Carnivorous. Crayfish, insects and larvae, fish, worms and snails.

Reproduction: Eggs are laid in a cavity below a rock or log. Eggs hatch within 8 weeks.

Other Info.: Primarily nocturnal. Mudpuppies are active throughout the year and do not hibernate. They can live for up to 20 years. Those that inhabit slow-moving water tend to have larger gills than those who live in fast-moving water.



Distribution

Distribution

Found in aquatic habitats throughout the state.

Status: none

Eastern Hellbender Eastern Hellbender
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Eastern Hellbender
(Cryptobranchus a. alleganiensis)

Identifying characteristics: America’s largest aquatic salamander is easily identified by its broad, wrinkly body and odd body shape. Often gray, brown or black in color, the body is dorsally flattened, but the tail is laterally flattened. Similar to the Mudpuppy, the Hellbender doesn’t fully develop into the typical adult salamander form. Unlike the mudpuppy, the Hellbender does not have external gills. The legs are well-developed and used for locomotion on river bottoms.

Size: Average body length of 18 inches. Some reaching over 2 feet.

Habitat: Aquatic habitats such as rivers and streams, that are fast-running, have abundant debris, are oxygen rich and clear of pollutants. There are only 2 known areas in NY where they still remain.

Food: Carnivorous. Crayfish, insects and larvae, fish, worms and snails.

Reproduction: Unlike most salamanders, its eggs are fertilized externally, like frogs. Eggs are laid in a cavity below a rock or log and they hatch 2-3 months later. Larvae have external gills and resemble other larval salamanders, but lose the gills, start to flatten and develop skin folds as they develop.

Other Info.: The Hellbender has no gills and the lungs only aid in buoyancy control. The wrinkled skin provides it with more surface area, helping it breathe through its skin. Unfortunately, this also means it needs lots of oxygen in the water. Hellbenders are solitary and highly aggressive to each other. Nocturnal. Uses suction action to capture some prey.



Distribution

distribution

Found in the Susquehanna and Allegheny River drainages.

Status: Special Concern in NY State due to pollution and reduced aquatic oxygen levels.
Endangered in many other states.

 

Four-toed Salamander
Four-toed Salamander
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Four-toed Salamander
(Hemidactylium scutatum)

Identifying characteristics: A small, slender body that is usually rust-colored to grayish brown. Sometimes has bluish/black speckles throughout the body. The belly is ivory white and may also have speckles. The hind feet have only 4 toes, while most salamanders have 5. There is constriction of the width of the tail at the base. The tail is nearly 60% of its total body length.
Size: Average body length of 2 to 4 inches.

Habitat: Mature forests adjacent to wetlands (for breeding and moisture). Forest habitats must have a well-developed canopy (for shade) and plenty of debris (for hiding and foraging). Water bodies such as bogs and temporary swamps and pools are preferred for breeding as they are often devoid of fish. They can be often found under rocks, logs, bark and sometimes poolside moss.

Food: Carnivorous. Insects and their larvae, spiders, snails and slugs.

Reproduction: Females will lay their eggs on or under plant matter (leaves, grass, moss) just above the water. Eggs hatch a month to two later and the larvae wiggle their way towards the water where they take about a month to mature.

Other Info.: When confronted, they may raise their head, wave their tail, and secrete a mild skin toxin. They also have the unique ability to voluntarily detach their tail, leaving it behind as they dash away. They have an interesting courtship behavior, initiated by rubbing their noses together.



Distribution

Complete distribution

Found throughout the state.

Status: None

 

Jefferson Salamander
Jefferson Salamander
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Jefferson Salamander
(Ambystoma jeffersonianum)

Identifying characteristics: Like the Blue-spotted Salamander , the Jefferson has the same long, slender body and tail (about 40% of its total length), but has longer and stronger legs and toes. The Jefferson also has a wider head and pointy snout. Although the Jefferson may have similar blue spotting, the spots are less distinct and not always present. The body color is brown or bluish gray. Its tail is round, until the last third where it is laterally flattened.

Size: Average body length of 3-5 inches.

Habitat: This mole salamander lives most of its life underground. Temperate forest floors with sandy soil and plenty of moisture. They can often be found under rocks or logs. Unlike most salamanders, they can be found above ground during the summer.

Food: Carnivorous. Worms, insects and larvae, spiders, snails and slugs.

Reproduction: They breed in temporary woodland ponds or pools, where the females lay eggs at the bottom of submerged debris. Larvae hatch up to 5 months later and remain aquatic until they mature into adults.

Other Info.: The Jefferson will wave its tail over its body when threatened. The tail secretes a foul-tasting substance and can detach if grabbed. Primarily nocturnal. The Jefferson may mate with the Blue-spotted Salamander and produce hybrids.



Distribution

Distribution

Found throughout the state.

Status: Special Concern in NY

Longtail Salamander
Longtail Salamander
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Longtail Salamander
(Eurycea l. longicauda)

Identifying characteristics: This lung-less salamander is very easy to identify by its long and slender bright yellow to orange to red body and long tail (over 60% of its body length). Younger specimens may have short tails. They most often have black spotting throughout the body and in some cases just along the sides. Sometimes abundant spotting on the sides of the body will look like banding rather than spots.

Size: Average body length of 4-6 inches.

Habitat: Damp terrestrial. Near rocky streams or wetlands and in damp caves. Often found in areas with lots of loose limestone or shale rock.

Food: Carnivorous. Worms, insects and larvae, spiders, snails and slugs.

Reproduction: Eggs are laid under rocks in streams. Larvae may take up to 2 years to mature.

Other Info.: Nocturnal. Breathe through their skin and mouth lining.



Distribution

distribution

Found in the southern regions of NY

Status: Special Concern in NY

 

 

Marbled Salamander
Marbled Salamander
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Marbled Salamander
(Ambystoma opacum)

AKA: Banded salamander

Identifying characteristics: A medium-sized salamander with a robust brown-to-black body crisscrossed with silvery-white bands. The tail is relatively short for a salamander (40% of their total length). Their legs are short with 4 toes on their forelegs and five on their hind legs.

Size: Average body length of 3.5-4 inches. Males are smaller than females.

Habitat: This mole salamander lives most of its life underground. Damp terrestrial. They prefer woodlands close to ponds and streams, but also inhabit wet sands or rocky areas. They can sometimes be found on dry hillsides.

Food: Carnivorous. Worms, insects and larvae, spiders, snails, slugs, and amphibian larvae.

Reproduction: Unlike other mole salamanders, the Marbled salamander does not breed in water, rather it climbs out of burrows in late summer and breeds on land. The female lays the eggs in a depression, ditch or dry/semi-dry pond, and then remains with the eggs until the autumn rains flood the area. If this flooding does not happen, the female will leave and hibernate and the eggs will remain dormant until the spring (that is if it doesn’t get too cold).

Other Info.: Primarily nocturnal. Since this species is active at night and spends most of its time underground, it is rarely seen outside of the breeding season.



Distribution

Distribution

Found throughout the Hudson Valley.

Status: None

 

Northern Dusky Salamander
Northern Dusky Salamander
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Northern Dusky Salamander
(Desmognathus fuscus)

Identifying characteristics: This salamander’s color is highly variable, coming in yellow, red, grey, brown and black. Most often they are brown with dark spots. They can be identified by their relatively short, laterally-compressed keeled tail and pale line that runs from the eye to the back of the jaw. The hind legs tend to be larger than the front ones. A lighter-colored dorsal band (from head through tail), and dark spots may also be present on the back of the salamander.

Size: Average body length of 3-5 inches.

Habitat: Damp terrestrial. Near rocky streams or wetlands and in damp caves. Prefers limestone rock. Often near slow-moving, small amounts of water, but rarely in it.

Food: Carnivorous. Worms, insects and larvae, spiders, snails and slugs.

Reproduction: Lays eggs in moss, rocks or logs. Larvae hatch within 5-9 weeks and can take 6 months to a year to mature.

Other Info.: Primarily nocturnal. A lung-less salamander that breathes through its skin and mouth lining.



Distribution

Complete distribution

Common throughout the state.

Status: None

 

Northern Red Salamander
Northern Red Salamander
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Northern Red Salamander
(Pseudotriton r. ruber)

Identifying characteristics: A relatively large, stout lung-less salamander that is typically red or orange, with black spotting. Older specimens may have a less striking color, typically a dull purplish-brown. The hind limbs have 5 toes, the forelimbs have 4. Costal grooves (that look like rib grooves) are present.

Size: Average body length of 4-6 inches.

Habitat: Semi-aquatic. Fully aquatic in winter. They prefer damp wooded areas with clean running streams and plenty of debris.

Food: Carnivorous. Worms, insects and larvae, spiders, snails, slugs and smaller salamanders. This salamander has a projectile tongue that is used to snare prey.

Reproduction: Eggs are laid under submerged rocks or logs. Larvae hatch a few months later and take 2-3 years to mature.

Other Info.: Primarily nocturnal. When threatened, it will curl up and wave its tail above its head. Red Salamanders may secrete a substance toxic to some animals.



Distribution

distribution

Southern regions of the state up to the Adirondack region.

Status: None

Northern Redback Salamander
Northern Redback Salamander
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Northern Redback Salamander
(Plethodon c. cinereus)

Identifying characteristics: This salamander is easy to identify by its dark (reddish-gray or black) colored body and broad reddish-orange dorsal stripe (from neck through tail). Although some specimens may lack this stripe (or it may be faint), its mottling of light and dark gray on its belly is always present. The body shape is flattened and the legs are short with thick toes. Costal grooves (look like rib grooves) are present.

Size: Average body length of 3-5 inches.

Habitat: Damp terrestrial. Prefers deciduous forests. Often found in leaf litter, under rocks or logs, or within burrows.

Food: Carnivorous. Worms, insects and their larvae, spiders, snails and slugs.

Reproduction: Lays eggs under rocks, within underground cavities or downed / rotting logs. Mothers stay with the clutch until it hatches. Young are completely terrestrial and are small versions of the adult form.

Other Info.: Primarily nocturnal. This is a lung-less salamander that breathes through its skin and mouth lining.



Distribution

Complete distribution

Common throughout the state.

Status: None

 

Northern Slimy Salamander Northern Slimy Salamander
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Northern Slimy Salamander
(Plethodon glutinosus)

Identifying characteristics: A black lung-less salamander that is speckled with white or silver spots. Costal grooves (similar to rib grooves) are present. They secrete slime through their skin when handled.

Size: Average body length of 5-6.5 inches.

Habitat: Damp terrestrial, wooded areas. Often found in leaf litter, under rocks or logs, or within the burrows of other animals. Hot or dry temperatures drive them underground.

Food: Carnivorous. Worms, insects and their larvae. Especially ants and beetles.

Reproduction: Eggs are laid under moist terrestrial debris or in crevasses in caves. The mother stays with the clutch to protect it. The eggs hatch 3 months later. Juveniles are terrestrial, resembling small adults.

Other Info.: Primarily nocturnal. During courtship, the spots of the male may flush red. They are named for their slimy skin secretions that deter predation. The slippery slime allows them to slip away from a predator’s grasp. It also has a foul taste. This salamander is lung-less and breathes through its skin and mouth lining.



Distribution

Distribution

Southern parts of the state.

Status: None

Northern Spring Salamander
Northern Spring Salamander
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Northern Spring Salamander
(Gyrinophilus p. porphyriticus)

Identifying characteristics: A lung-less salamander that is generally orangish/yellowish-brown or salmon, speckled with black spots on its back. The coloring tends to dull in older specimens. The body is stout with a broad nose and keeled tail. Costal grooves (that look like rib grooves) are present (as with other lung-less salamanders)

Size: Average body length of 5-7 inches.

Habitat: Semi-Aquatic. Prefers cool and clear mountain streams and springs, and sometimes damp caves. Occasionally they are found under streamside debris or on land during rain. They prefer higher elevations.

Food: Carnivorous. Worms, insects and their larvae, spiders, small frogs and other salamanders.

Reproduction: Eggs are laid in the crevasses under debris (stones or logs) in water. Larvae inhabit slow moving sections of streams and can take 2-3 years to mature.

Other Info.: Primarily nocturnal. When threatened, it will dash into water and swim away. The Spring Salamander may secrete a substance toxic to some animals.



Distribution

Complete distribution

Scattered throughout the state.

Status: None

 

Northern Two-lined Salamander  Northern Two-lined Salamander
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Northern Two-lined Salamander
(Eurycea bislineata)

Identifying characteristics: Aptly named due to the two narrow black lines that run the length of their back and tail. A broad mid-dorsal stripe ranges in color from yellow to light brown (and may be spotted). The two bordering lines may be broken up into dashes in some specimens. The body color is generally a mottled yellowish-brown. Tail is laterally compressed. Costal grooves are present.

Size: Average body length of 2.5-3 inches.

Habitat: Damp terrestrial. Wooded or open areas with plentiful moisture and debris. They require a close running water source. Often found under leaf litter or streamside debris.

Food: Carnivorous. Insects and their larvae, spiders, snails and slugs.

Reproduction: Eggs are laid in the crevasses under debris (stones or logs) in water. The larvae hatch 1-2 months later, remain aquatic, and can take 2-3 years to mature and move to land.

Other Info.: Nocturnal. When threatened, may disconnect their tail and dash away.



Distribution

Complete distribution

Common throughout the state.

Status: None

 

Red Spotted Newt Red Spotted Newt
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Red Spotted Newt
(Notophthalmus v. viridescens)

Identifying characteristics: The Red Spotted Newt is a subspecies of the Eastern Newt. The Eft, or terrestrial “teenage” form is bright orange with two rows of red spots with black borders. The adults are aquatic and have duller, brownish color–sometimes approaching olive. Black-bordered yellow to red spots may remain. The belly is often yellow with black specks.

Size: Average body length of 2.5-5.5 inches.

Habitat: Semi-aquatic. Adults and juveniles spend most of their time in vernal pools. If the pools dry up they may burrow in mud. Efts, or “teens” are terrestrial and prefer damp woodland with plenty of leaf cover. Efts can be found under leaves during or after periods of rain.

Food: Carnivorous. Insects and their larvae, spiders, snails and slugs.

Reproduction: Eggs are laid in the crevasses under debris (stones or logs) in water. Larvae hatch 3-8 weeks later, develop into Efts and leave water. The Eft may take up to 3 years to mature into an adult, when they return to water.

Other Info.: Nocturnal. The terrestrial form hibernates in winter, though aquatic forms will stay active all year.



Distribution

Complete distribution

Common throughout the state.

Status: None

 

Spotted Salamander Spotted Salamander
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Spotted Salamander
(Ambystoma maculatum)

Identifying characteristics: A stout salamander with a black or gray body and two rows of large yellow spots running from head to tail. Some specimens may not have any spots at all. The belly is purplish-gray or sometimes black and may have light speckling. One or more skin folds on bottom of the neck.

Size: Average body length of 6-7 inches.

Habitat: Terrestrial. Preferring damp, mature woodland habitats with plenty of ground cover and access to vernal pools.

Food: Carnivorous. Insects and their larvae, spiders, snails, slugs and earthworms.

Reproduction: They breed in woodland ponds or pools, where the females lay eggs at the bottom of submerged debris. Larvae hatch a month later and remain aquatic until they mature into adults.

Other Info.: Nocturnal. Since this species lives in mature woodlands, their numbers are diminishing due to deforestation.



Distribution

Complete distribution

Common throughout the state.

Status: None

 

Wehrle's Salamander  Wehrle's Salamander
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Wehrle’s Salamander
(Plethodon wehrlei)

Identifying characteristics: A slender salamander with a bluish-gray or dark brown body with white or yellow speckles on the back and sides. The underside is a solid gray. The tail is tubular with no flattening and the hind feet are distinctly webbed. Costal grooves are present.

Size: Average body length of 4-5.5 inches.

Habitat: Upland forests and woodlands with plenty of debris or rock crevices. Can be found under rocks or in rock crevices.

Food: Carnivorous. Insects and larvae, spiders.

Reproduction: Eggs are laid in damp rotting logs, moss, in caves or soil. Larvae are not aquatic.

Other Info.: Nocturnal. This species is very rare in NY and only a few populations are found in western NY.



Distribution

Distribution

A few populations in western NY.

Status: exotic

 

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