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Department of Natural Resources


Introduction | Agency Resources | Conservation | Salamander Facts | Defense
| Life History | Species List | Gallery | Glossary | Bibliography

No photographs included within this information may be used on the internet, publications, or any other form of media without the photographer's express permission. All rights reserved.


Longtail salamander showing the nostril, nasolabial groove, and cirrus on the upper lip. Note also the costal grooves along the side. Like most salamanders it has four toes on the front foot.

Adult salamanders resemble lizards in general body form but have four toes on each of their front feet (versus five in lizards), and their soft skin is not covered with scales. Many salamanders may be recognized easily by distinctive traits or the number of legs or toes. The lesser siren (Siren intermedia), for example, lacks rear legs. The mudpuppy (Necturus maculosus) and four-toed salamander (Hemidactylium scutatum) have four toes on each hind foot, whereas all other Illinois salamanders have five toes per hind foot. Nasolabial grooves are present in the eight species of the family Plethodontidae yet are absent in all other Illinois species. The eastern newt (Notophthalmus viridescens) lacks the costal grooves that are easily seen on other salamanders.Male and female newts can be distinguished by their appearance, but it is difficult to tell the sexes apart in other salamanders except early in the breeding season. At this time, the female's body bulges with unlaid eggs. Males of some salamanders have secondary sexual features like enlarged cirri (genus Eurycea), mental glands (genus Plethodon), or enlarged cloacal glands (genus Ambystoma). Identifying larvae is challenging even to experts because the appearance of larvae changes constantly as they grow.

Even though most of our salamanders have lungs, the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide for respiration occurs mainly through their skin. The skin is kept moist for this function by mucus secreted by skin glands. Eight Illinois species of salamanders (family Plethodontidae) lack lungs and rely entirely on the skin and mouth lining for gas exchange. Larval salamanders and the adults of the lesser siren and mudpuppy have external gills. Other skin glands release chemicals that coordinate reproductive behavior.

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