To the untrained eye, salamanders can be difficult to distinguish from each other. But to an expert, the subtle differences in their bodies and behaviors make each one unique and worthy of attention from dedicated herpetologists (scientists who study reptiles and amphibians).
In addition, Missouri’s diverse natural resources provide a unique environment for different salamanders to live and thrive throughout the year, so let’s take a closer look at the19 types of salamanders in Missouri.
1. Spotted Salamander
The Eastern Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) is among the best types of Salamanders in Missouri.
It’s also likely that you will see it, as it is one of the most common salamanders in our state and can be found anywhere there is fresh water, including roadside ditches, ponds, lakes, streams, and even lawns.
They have four toes on their hind feet and five on their forefeet. They are typically brown or black with spots ranging from white or yellowish orange to dark red or purplish brown, the lighter colors usually found around their head area. These critters measure about 4-5 inches long when fully grown.
2. Marbled Salamander
Marbled salamander is a type of salamander that has yellow or tan coloring. Marbled salamanders also have short legs and broad bodies, resembling slugs.
Marbled salamanders are some of the only species that live below-freezing temperatures, which is why they are typically hidden under logs, rocks, and grasses on a warm day.
Suppose you’re looking for marble types of salamanders in Missouri. In that case, you’ll find them throughout most forested areas in Missouri year-round, except during extremely cold winters when they burrow into mud or freeze solid if not covered by snow.
3. Eastern Tiger Salamander
Coloration varies from light tan to brown and black. Eye pupils are vertical. Tiger salamanders have a distinctive belly spot that is lacking in other types of salamanders in Missouri.
They are only found in select counties, including Stoddard, Maries, Phelps, and Dent. They prefer rocky areas with shallow pools for breeding and hibernating. Adults can reach up to 8 inches long.
4. Western Slimy Salamander
This species can be found hiding under rocks or logs during droughts, but these types of salamanders in Missouri are more active after rains and will be out looking for food. This species is often found near water, so they are easy to catch if you’re fishing.
The Western Slippery salamander is usually a uniform black color with a slight yellow tint on its stomach and tail.
It’s common throughout Missouri and other nearby states such as Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.
The Western Slippery salamander only grows up to about 4 inches long from the snout’s tip to the tail’s end.
5. Eastern Long-tailed Salamander
The eastern long-tailed salamander (Eurycea longicauda) is a mole salamander native to Canada, Mexico, and the United States.
These types of salamanders in Missouri are found from southern New York south through Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana as far south as northern Alabama and Mississippi.
The Eurycean long-tailed salamander gets its name from its noticeably longer tail when compared with other members of its genus.
It can be easily distinguished from its close relative, Stereochilus marginatus, by noting their different range; Euryceus is found further north than Stereochilus. The photo was taken at Waypoint Center for Outdoor Education, located just outside Galena, IL, on July 21st, 2013.
6. Four-toed Salamander
Four-toed salamanders are relatively small (1–2.5 inches long), with a slender, cylindrical body and pale-yellow or light brown coloring.
The four-toed salamander is only found in Missouri in southern counties, including Cape Girardeau, Bollinger, Butler, Ste. Genevieve and St. Louis.
These types of salamanders in Missouri are considered extremely rare and thus have been placed on their conservation list by state officials.
These types of salamanders in Missouri can be found under rocks and logs near creeks and streams. They feed on insects, spiders, worms, and slugs.
While they’re not commonly seen during daylight hours due to their preference for hiding spots under cover, they can sometimes be spotted after heavy rains or at night when they come out to feed.
The name four-toed comes from its fourth toe being longer than its other toes. The extra toe helps them grasp onto slippery rocks as they climb up waterfalls in search of food.
7. Ringed Salamander
The ringed salamander is a medium-sized species found throughout Missouri. These animals prefer to live in high, moist environments and are often found underneath rocks or logs during periods of heavy rain.
Their diet consists of insects and small fish, which they hunt by poking their slender bodies out from hiding places.
These types of salamanders in Missouri are easiest to spot at night when they leave their habitats to hunt.
The ringed salamander gets its name from thin black bands that encircle its body like a belt, as well as pink spots on either side of its tail. Adults can grow up to five inches long, though most are about three inches in adulthood.
8. Mole Salamander
The Mole Salamander Ambystoma talpoideum is also known as a Western Mole Salamander. This small species can be found in forested areas and near bodies of water such as streams, ponds, and lakes.
These types of salamanders in Missouri species are often mistaken for another family member (Ameiurus) because they look so similar; Mole salamanders are larger and have blue eyes, while ameiuruses have red eyes.
To tell them apart, it’s best to look at the skin underneath their eye; Mole salamanders have a very obvious ridge, and ameiuruses don’t.
9. Central Newt
The small-mouthed salamander, or central newt (Notophthalmus viridescens), is a type of newt native to North America and one of five species from the genus Notophthalmus.
It is found from southwestern Canada through Illinois and southeastern Minnesota into eastern Texas. In some parts of its range, it can be commonly found in urban areas where it may live for several years without water if there are adequate food sources.
These types of salamanders in Missouri were once considered endangered but are now considered a species of concern by state agencies in Illinois and Minnesota. Central newts are typically between 2 1/2 and 4 inches long when they mature after three years.
10. Common Mudpuppy
These aquatic salamanders have rounded bodies and blunt faces, also known as Waterdog or Giant Salamanders.
These types of salamanders in Missouri have external gills, and their tails are flatter than most other species. Adults are usually reddish-brown with black spots or stripes on their backs.
Females lay eggs in late summer or fall that hatch into tadpoles about two months later. These lizards can grow up to 14 inches long.
While they tend not to stray far from water, these types of salamanders in Missouri make good pets if you provide them with a habitat that includes rocks for sunbathing and leaves for burrowing, although it will be challenging for you to keep them out of the water!
11. Ozark Zigzag Salamand
The Ozark zigzag salamander is a dark salamander with yellow or black stripes along its sides and four pairs of small red dots on its back.
The number and location of stripes can change from one individual to another, leading researchers to believe that there might be more than one species under the same name.
These types of salamanders in Missouri live on wet rocks, logs, and decaying vegetation near permanent water sources like streams or springs. These salamanders also hibernate during winter months.
12. Cave Salamander
The cave salamander is a medium-sized species that only live in caves, meaning you’ll only see these types of salamanders in Missouri if you are exploring underground. It has a brown body with irregular yellow and black speckles.
Adults reach about 6 inches long; like most salamanders, it is aquatic. Unfortunately, they’re rare enough that there aren’t many studies on them.
Be sure not to confuse it with its cousin, which we will mention later! There are just two cave salamanders in Missouri: Ambystoma texanum and Ambystoma jeffersonianum (AKA Jefferson’s cave salamander). Both are listed as endangered under federal law.
13. Grotto Salamander
Found only in Lebanon, Missouri, these salamanders can survive extreme dry periods by living under rocks.
These types of salamanders in Missouri can even do so while being submerged underwater for an extended period.
Only two grotto salamanders have ever been found, and they were both females, leading scientists to believe that these rare creatures give live birth rather than lay eggs as most species do.
Grotto salamanders will curl up into a ball when disturbed and are generally black with some white specks and red eyes.
14. Southern Red-backed Salamander
According to salamander expert Richard Bartlett, this species lives in southern and western areas of Missouri. It’s sometimes called a red-spotted newt, but it’s a salamander.
According to Bartlett, they are relatively small — less than 5 inches long- and have red spots on their back and sides with grey or green skin.
Some people have used these types of salamanders in Missouri as good luck charms throughout history. The red-backed salamander is found more frequently than other types of salamanders because it hides during winter months rather than burrowing underground like some species do (source).
15. Ozark Hellbender
The Ozark hellbender, also known as one of Missouri’s largest salamanders, is only found in a small region in southwest Missouri.
These types of salamanders in Missouri can be found under flat rocks or logs, and while they are not considered endangered, they are facing serious threats from habitat loss and development. Here is a fun fact about these aquatic creatures:
They can live to be over 50 years old. Then, when it comes time for mating, male hellbenders travel miles looking for females, during which time they will fight other males over territory. These battles have been compared to dragons fighting, and each one can last up to 3 hours!
16. Eastern Hellbende
The hellbender is a large salamander, growing up to 20 inches long and weighing more than 2 pounds. These types of salamanders in Missouri have short, powerful legs and a flattened tail that works as a large rudder for swimming against swift currents.
The adult coloration can range from reddish-brown or orange with black blotches on its back, light yellow on its belly, or white speckled with black spots.
Hellbenders are nocturnal, so they spend most of their time underwater during daylight hours but can be seen basking in rocks or sunning themselves on logs during warmer months.
They prefer clear water with rocky bottom habitats but will travel overland when necessary and have been found at elevations as high as 6,000 feet above sea level.
17. Red River Mudpupp
The only amphibian native to Missouri, red river mudpuppies are only found in a few scattered counties. These types of salamanders in Missouri prefer muddy rivers and streams with rocky bottoms.
Red river mudpuppies have rough, dark skin with brightly colored patterns that serve as camouflage from predators.
Most red river mudpuppies are between 6-8 inches long. Adults can live for up to 12 years in captivity, but their life span is likely shorter than in inclement conditions.
18. Western Lesser Siren
The western lesser siren is a species found only on two lakes located near St. Louis. This amphibian can grow up to 11 inches long and is typically brown with darker coloring along its back and tail.
It primarily hunts during twilight hours when its prey (aquatic insect larvae) are most active and during times of the year when its preferred food source (daphnia) is at a peak level.
It’s critically endangered, making it one of nine types of salamanders in Missouri you won’t want to miss seeing.
19. Three-toed Amphiuma
Three-Toed Amphiumas are often seen basking on rocks, logs, and other elevated surfaces. These types of salamanders in Missouri feed mostly on small fish, tadpoles, frogs, and aquatic insects.
This species can live on land and underwater; they use their ventral (belly) fins to crawl along lakeshores and stream banks.
Being so well-adapted to life underwater makes these types of salamanders in Missouri quite vulnerable when out of it – during droughts, they can die quickly if unable to find a body of water in which to live.
In general, though, Three-Toed Amphiumas have a long lifespan: 20 years for females; 12 years for males.
Salamanders make up a fascinating part of America’s wildlife. With such a diverse selection, it’s no wonder salamander-viewing vacations are on their way to becoming one of America’s biggest wildlife attractions.
We have many types of salamanders in Missouri, so get out there and explore our land before they’re all gone!
And if you need help identifying them, check out these fun facts: most adult salamanders average 5–10 inches long; redback salamanders can grow up to 8 inches, and 4-footed salamanders may live for more than 20 years! So enjoy discovering our types of salamanders in Missouri!