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Department of Natural Resources


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

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.

Life History

Egg masses of the spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) attached to an underwater twig. Developing eggs are surrounded by individual envelopes and enclosed in a mass of firm, jellylike material.

Most Illinois salamander species have a two-part life cycle that includes the gilled, aquatic larval stage and the terrestrial adult stage. Therefore, they have access to two habitats at different times in their lives. However, the adult mudpuppy (Necturus maculosus) and lesser siren (Siren intermedia) spend their entire lives in lakes, ponds, permanent streams, or swamps and never transform. Embryos of the terrestrial redback salamander (Plethodon cinereus), zigzag salamander (Plethodon dorsalis), and northern slimy salamander (Plethodon glutinosus) undergo direct development and have no larval stage. Rather, their eggs develop directly into tiny versions of the adults.

Courtship and egg-laying are annual events. Males and females of all but the hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) engage in a distinctive courtship behavior during which sperm from spermatophores deposited by males are transferred to the cloaca of females. The sperm fertilize the eggs just before they are released to the environment. Females of most species lay their eggs in the spring, while the remainder deposit eggs in autumn. The eggs are placed in a variety of wet or moist places, such as: woodland ponds; under rocks in streams; under mosses, logs, rocks, or leaves along streams or ponds; inside rotting logs; in underground burrows; in rock crevices; or in caves. In some species, adults care for the developing embryos. The adult may stay with the eggs to keep them moist (if on land) by curling its body around them, protect them from predators, and remove dead and decomposing eggs. In other species, the jellylike egg masses are attached to plant stems and twigs in fish-free pools and left with no parental care. Development from embryo into larval form takes from two weeks to three months, depending on the species.

The eastern newt (Notophthalmus viridescens) is peculiar because it goes through three distinct stages during its life: larva, eft, and adult. Adult newts live in lakes and ponds, where the female lays numerous tiny eggs wrapped individually in leaves of underwater plants. The embryo completes development in about two weeks and hatches into an aquatic larva that feeds and grows for a few months, then transforms into the eft. This juvenile newt lives on land for one to three years before returning to water to complete its transformation to the adult form.

Adult and juvenile mole salamanders (family Ambystomatidae) live in rotting logs and burrow in the forest floor. They emerge at night or during heavy rain to feed, and, in spring and autumn, to migrate to breeding ponds. The terrestrial and streamside lungless salamanders (family Plethodontidae) are seldom active on the surface of the ground except at night, usually following rain. Because of their respiratory skins that can dry out quickly, these animals live under moist leaves, logs, and rocks, or in burrows. Juveniles and adults of some species are common around springs (cave salamander, Eurycea lucifuga; four-toed salamander, Hemidactylium scutatum; longtail salamander, Eurycea longicauda), banks of small, rocky streams (dusky salamander, Desmognathus fuscus; southern two-lined salamander, Eurycea cirrigera; longtail salamander, Eurycea longicauda), and in forest floor litter (redback salamander Plethodon cinereus; zigzag salamander, Plethodon dorsalis; northern slimy salamander, Plethodon glutinosus). Many lungless salamanders seem to be territorial, with home ranges that they defend by posturing, chasing, and biting other salamanders.

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