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Monday, September 12, 2016
@ Your VisitMeet Our AnimalsReptiles & AmphibiansSouthern Appalachian Salamanders


Our mountain area boasts one of the most diverse salamander populations in the world. Rugged terrain, microhabitats and microclimates, diverse mineral deposits and nutrient rich soils and streams are a few of the reasons behind the myriad of species in our area– about 50 species total. Scientists from all over the world come to this area to study the many colors, shapes, and habits of our mountain salamanders.


Salamanders are amphibians though they look more similar to their reptilian cousins, the lizards. Locally, salamanders are also called spring lizards. Salamanders differ from lizards in that they have smooth, scaleless skin, no claws, and most go through some type of metamorphosis. The larval stage of a salamander’s life cycle can be from several days to years. Some are aquatic while others spend their lives on land. The tiny pygmy salamander reaches a length of only 1.5 inches while the large hellbender can grow to about three feet in length.  

The coloration of salamanders varies. The neon orange red eft boldly crawls about in broad daylight because it has toxins in its skin that makes it foul tasting. The rare green salamander’s green and gray color matches its limestone habitat so it can be camouflaged from predators. Besides size and coloration, many subtle differences make each of the many species of salamander unique. Consulting a field guide to identify or admire salamanders is a good idea. Some species are challenging to identify even for experts.

The American Hellbender is one of the largest salamanders in the world and the largest in North America. They are completely aquatic salamanders that breathe through their skin. They do have lungs, but they use capillaries in the folds of their skin to get oxygen from the water. Hellbenders are not venomous. However, their slimy skin contains toxins. Adult hellbenders grow to a total of 12 – 29 inches in length. They can weigh about 3.3 lbs to 5.5 lbs and may live 30 years in captivity. They have flat bodies and heads with short legs. Their tails are keeled to help propel them through the water and their skin ranges from a blotchy brown to red-brown with a paler underbelly. Hellbenders are primarily nocturnal, but can be active on cloudy days. There are actually two subspecies of hellbenders: the Ozark subspecies and the eastern.


~ WNC Nature Center ~ 75 Gashes Creek Road ~ Asheville ~ NC 28805 ~
Phone (828) 259-8080


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