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Department of Natural Resources


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Salamander Facts
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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.


Defensive posture the cave salamander (Eurycea lucifuga) assumes when attacked by a predator such as a bird. Note that the salamander closes its eyes and raises and wiggles its tail above its lower head. A noxious skin secretion is released onto the surface of the tail.


Because salamanders can be an important food source for many reptiles, birds, and mammals, it is not surprising that they have defense mechanisms to help them avoid predators. Most salamanders produce sticky, distasteful, or poisonous skin secretions that deter these predators. The slimy salamander (Plethodon glutinosus) is well known for smearing attackers with a sticky secretion, and the large tail of the tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) can flip harmful secretions onto a predator's face. Skin secretions of the eastern newt, especially the eft, induce vomiting in predators, which allows them to escape from a predator's digestive tract, if swallowed. Skin secretions may be reinforced by other defensive behaviors. For example, the redback salamander (Plethodon cinereus) may assume a coiled, defensive posture that protects its head while presenting its tail and unpleasant skin secretions. The dusky salamander (Desmognathus fuscus) can run swiftly and leap to escape. The ability to lose its tail, either by constriction at the base of the tail (four-toed salamander, Hemidactylium scutatum) or by the long, easily-broken tail in species of Eurycea and Plethodon provides an edible distraction for the predator while allowing the salamander to escape. The tail may be completely regenerated within a year or two. Bright warning coloration, such as that of the longtail (Eurycea longicauda) and cave salamanders (Eurycea lucifuga), helps predators with color vision to associate the prey with the bad-tasting secretions and reminds predators to avoid these salamanders.

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