Michigan is known for its diverse reptilian fauna, which includes a variety of snakes, turtles, and lizards. But were you aware that you can also encounter a variety of salamanders in the region? Fortunately for you, that’s exactly what today’s topic is: the 10 most popular salamanders you can find in Michigan ecosystems.
The blue-spotted salamander is among the most beautiful, unique, and colorful lizards you can spot (heh) in the wild. This species is widely spread in North America, especially the eastern ecosystems, which include habitats like forests and wetlands. The salamander loves semi-aquatic habitats where it can find food and shelter easily.
The lizard is typically dark blue or completely black, with light blue spots sprinkled all over its body. Some specimens are so colorful and spotted that they look like they have galaxies imbued in their skin. These adorable reptiles are small, only capable of reaching 5 inches and come with small legs and bulky heads with massive black eyes.
This carnivorous reptile specializes in consuming insects, snails, and a multitude of other invertebrates, which it catches with its long and sticky tongue, salamander-style. The preferred method of hunting is typical for salamanders, which sit still and wait for the prey to come close. They then use their tongues as sticky harpoons, latching onto the prey and swallowing it in one simple move.
These nocturnal salamanders are known to be extremely territorial and aggressive, which is unexpected due to their small size. They can’t hurt you, though, but it’s good to know if you plan on putting together a blue-spotted salamander society at home.
The eastern newt is probably the most peculiar and unique-looking salamander you’ve ever seen. To put it simply, it looks like an unfinished lizard with a brown or orange spotted body and shiny skin. Most individuals have several round spots on the sides and come with smooth toes that you would expect to see in a lizard baby, not an adult.
The head is frog-like with large eyes, further adding to the confusion. These small salamanders won’t grow past 5 inches and qualify as semi-aquatic lizards, inhabiting ponds, marshes, and forest streams with clear waters. You can easily spot them on rocks, near the shore, basking in the sunlight, and practicing their hunting skills. Which basically consists of waiting and waiting some more.
The lizard is a born carnivore that prefers to consume insects, snails, and worms for the most part, as nothing can escape the tiny monster’s sticky tongue. The eastern newt also has quite a healthy appetite, so it can eat more than you expect on a daily basis. Unfortunately, they don’t quite make the ideal pets due to their unique lifestyle cycle and demanding housing conditions. For instance, this animal begins its life as an aquatic larva but quickly moves to land as a juvenile. In its adult form, the newt is a semi-aquatic lizard that requires the best of both worlds.
To note: these small salamanders are also territorial and abusive to one another. On the off chance that you can actually create a personalized habitat for newts at home, make sure you provide these tiny aggressors with sufficient space to prevent conflicts.
Eastern Tiger Salamander
Imagine a tiger in a salamander’s body with a frog’s head. This is exactly what the tiger salamander looks like. This reptile can reach 7-8 inches at most and inhabits various ecosystems, primarily semi-aquatic. Look for swamps, marshes, and river streams if you want to spot one in the wild. This species should be easily distinguishable in the wild thanks to its distinctive coloring and markings.
Tiger salamanders are carnivorous, but you expected this much, with their favorite meals consisting of insects and multiple other invertebrates. The tiger salamander comes with a healthy appetite, so it can readily eat anything that can fit in its mouth. The favorite hunting method is standard, relying on ambush and tongue-based ‘fishing.’
If you love tiger salamanders and are considering getting one as a pet, tough luck. These aren’t exactly pet material due to their delicate nature and predisposition toward becoming stressed in captivity. These salamanders are notorious for their high requirements in captivity and demanding nature. I only recommend them if you’re an experienced salamander or reptile keeper.
The good news is that these lizards can live 12-15 years in good conditions. The only problem is that keeping them in ‘good condition’ is the tough part.
We’re now moving to an even smaller species, this time only capable of reaching 3.5 inches in length. Four-toed salamanders are undoubtedly cute but don’t expect any exhilarating coloring. Most salamanders are light brown with subtle black spots sprinkled all over, especially the tail. They have very small limbs but thick tails that they use for balancing and swimming.
Four-toed salamanders prefer to inhabit bogs and vegetation-rich wetlands, where they can feast on every invertebrate that dares to cross their paths. These include small snails, various aquatic and land insects, worms and larvae, and anything else that provides the lizard with sufficient protein. The salamander uses its slim and agile body to move slowly and methodically toward the prey, they rely on its tongue to secure the meal.
These salamanders are solitary creatures that spend their time near rocks and in various crevices, in or around their main water source. As you can probably tell, these lizards aren’t exactly ideal for pets due to them being more delicate and fragile than other reptiles. They require precise living conditions and stable parameters, so they’re very difficult to care for. Their diet is also diverse and specific to their ecosystem, so you’ll have noticeable difficulties replicating it in captivity.
Marbled salamanders are a wonder to look at, thanks to their unique coloring and markings. These tiny reptiles rarely get to 4.7 inches, with most staying below that, even in good conditions. Marbled salamanders are 2-colored with a black and white dorsal area and a white underbelly. They have small heads with large mouths and even larger black eyes for a cute and unique appearance.
These salamanders prefer a semi-aquatic lifestyle, which is why they are often spotted in wetlands and ponds, where they hunt and lay their eggs. The reptile’s diet is typical, relying on insects and numerous other small invertebrates present in the lizard’s habitat.
These solitary and nocturnal lizards are not fit for life in captivity due to their sensitivity and high system requirements. You can’t really reproduce the animal’s ecosystem in captivity, which will cause the lizard to become stressed and sick with time. So, it’s best to admire these creatures from afar, considering you even get the chance to spot one in the wild.
The mudpuppy is as weird-looking as it sounds; I would argue it’s even weirder than that. This lizard is very similar to the notorious Axolotl in appearance, which cause many people to mistake the two. However, there are some glaring differences between them, including size and behavior. Mudpuppies can get as long as 17 inches, so expect a very long, slender, yet bulky lizard with a flat and wide head.
The limbs are very short and wide apart, causing the salamander to appear snake-like at first glance. Most individuals are mud-brown with subtle black spots all over the body and little color variation aside from that. They also possess those Axolotl-specific head crowns, except they are furrier in texture and is larger overall.
This creature is almost exclusively aquatic, so you can only find it in habitats like rivers, ponds, lakes, and muddy streams. Although, the notion of ‘finding it’ is kind of stretchy because you’re unlikely to spot this animal in the wild due to its murky habitat and reclusive lifestyle.
These salamanders consume aquatic invertebrates exclusively and rarely come to the water surface for a quick inspection of their habitat. You can’t befriend them due to their shy and reclusive nature and can’t keep them as pets because of their unique housing conditions and requirements.
This is another small, colorful, and cute one. Red-backed salamanders look exactly like their name suggests: with a brown body and a wide, body-long red band covering the entire dorsal area. These lizards are small and innocuous and come with agile and shiny bodies, small heads, and oversized black eyes for a plus of personality.
They inhabit a variety of ecosystems, most near various water sources, providing them with easy access to all of the resources they need. The diet plan is standard for a salamander, including small invertebrates, especially aquatic ones. These reptiles are very hard to observe in the wild due to their small size, reclusive lifestyle, and semi-aquatic habitat. It also doesn’t help that they are nocturnal and prefer to hide during the day.
Interestingly, these salamanders can lower their body functions and hibernate during cold temperatures, which allows them to survive without any oxygen for extended periods of time. This impressive adaptability and resilience are what help salamanders thrive even in inhospitable conditions. I probably didn’t need to mention that red-backed salamanders don’t make for good pets, but I’ll say it anyway.
These animals cannot be tamed or housed in a closed ecosystem due to their unique lifestyle and housing and dietary requirements. This being said, you can find them on the pet market, just that they’re extremely rare and only meant for experienced reptile keepers.
This is a medium-sized species with an innocuous but unique appearance. These salamanders can get as large as 7 inches, although most specimens won’t get past 5. These reptiles are typically muddy-brown, while some are black or dark blue with subtle lighter nuances mixed in the general color. This color pattern imbues the salamander with a granite-like look for a plus of originality. The reptile also has a small head with a small mouth and frog-like eyes. The tail is almost always long and paddle-like to enhance the salamander’s swimming capabilities.
Although this is an aquatic species, for the most part, the salamander can also patrol the land, hiding in the leaf litter, under logs, and even climbing rocks. Don’t expect to meet one anytime soon, though, because these reptiles aren’t fond of human contact, or any contact for that matter. They will immediately flee the scene and hide at the first sign of danger.
These nocturnal salamanders consume a variety of insects, snails, and worms and tend to have quite a healthy appetite, which is standard for insectivorous animals overall. This species is not among the most popular in the pet trade, but you can find one if you dig long enough. Just make sure you understand the animal’s requirements because aquatic and semi-aquatic salamanders are rather picky about their housing conditions, diets, and overall care routines.
The spotted salamander is perfect for those who are looking for a unique and exotic salamander with an exquisite appearance. These small reptiles (up to 6.7 inches) are typically black or dark brown, with distinct yellow dots covering the entire dorsal area. The dots are usually sprinkled in 2 clear rows that turn into one row when traversing the tail. The spotted salamander is short and bulky with a round head, small eyes, and a large mouth for an absolutely adorable look.
An important note here, the spotted salamander is poisonous, which should’ve been fairly obvious from its flashy appearance. No animal sacrifices its camouflage unless it has good reasons for it, and poisonous and venomous animals have all the reasons in the world. The spotted salamander isn’t that toxic, though, so it can’t really harm humans, but it does taste awful because of the chemicals present in the skin. This is a good evolutionary adaptation meant to protect the reptile from most predators.
Spotted salamanders are nocturnal and solitary, so you’ll have difficulties finding and observing them in the wild. They prefer to keep their distance and avoid humans as a general rule. Needless to say, they are rather difficult to keep in captivity, but not impossible, so long as you understand the animal’s requirements and preferences.
Western Lesser Siren
We’ve obviously left the most intriguing and unique species for last. The western lesser siren looks as unique and exhilarating as it sounds. This salamander can reach sizes of 7 to 20 inches, depending on the environmental conditions, available food, and genetics, among other factors. They have eel-like bodies and flat and wide heads with red flaring gills similar to those of an Axolotl. They also lack any hind legs, while the front ones are rather tiny and located right behind the neck.
This is a fully aquatic and peculiar species that swims with snake-like movements and is quite agile in its native habitat. Most specimens are brown or black, usually with spotted bodies to help them camouflage themselves on the sandy or rocky bottom.
The lesser siren has a fully carnivorous diet, consuming aquatic invertebrates like crayfish, insects, worms, and even small fish whenever given the opportunity. Despite their exotic appearance and seemingly unique lifestyle, these salamanders are moderately easy to keep in captivity, so long as you provide them with ideal living conditions. Just remember that these are reclusive and solitary reptiles that don’t enjoy human contact and spend much of their time in hiding.
As an interesting note, lesser sirens can survive extreme heat and dry conditions by covering themselves in thick mucus to prevent water loss. An impressive feature that few salamanders are capable of.
As you can see, Michigan is quite rich in salamanders, but I understand if this comes as a surprise. Most of these species are aquatic or semi-aquatic and prefer to live reclusive lifestyles, far away from humans and human settlements. But at least you now know.