Did you find a salamander in Illinois?
First, congratulations! Although these amphibians are widespread, they can be challenging to locate. The best places to look are in wet habitats under rocks and in creekbeds. Honestly, looking for salamanders is a really fun experience!
Below you will find a list of the most common and interesting salamanders that live in Illinois. You will find detailed pictures, along with range maps for each species to help with your identification!
15 Types of Salamanders in Illinois:
#1. Eastern Newt
- Notophthalmus viridescens
- Larvae are aquatic and have smooth, olive green skin, narrow, fin-like tails, and feathery gills.
- Juveniles are terrestrial and have rough, orangish-red skin with darker spots outlined in black.
- Adults have slimy, dull olive-green skin, dull yellow undersides, darker black-rimmed spots, and a blade-like tail.
Eastern Newts have the most complicated life cycle of any salamander in Illinois!
When they’re first hatched, they spend all of their time in the water. This larval stage lasts for two to five months. After that, they metamorphose into juvenile Eastern Newts.
They live in terrestrial forest habitats for two to seven years during their juvenile stage. Even though they generally remain hidden under moist leaf litter and debris, you may see them moving about on rainy days and nights, foraging insects, worms, and spiders. This is the stage of life you’re most likely to see an Eastern Newt. If you spot one, be careful – they have glands that secrete a potent neurotoxin when they’re threatened.
Finally, Eastern Newts will migrate back to a water source and metamorphose into aquatic adults, where they eat small amphibians, fish, and worms. They can live up to 15 years and spend the rest of their lives in this aquatic form.
Interestingly, Eastern Newts are known for their homing ability, which allows them to travel to and from their breeding ground. Though scientists are unsure of the exact mechanism, the Eastern Newt likely uses magnetic orientation to find its way!
#2. Spotted Salamander
- Ambystoma maculatum
- Adults are 5.9 to 9.8 inches long with wide snouts. They are typically black but may also be bluish-black, dark grey, dark green, or dark brown. Their underside is slate gray or pale pink.
- They have two uneven rows of spots down their back, from just behind their eyes to the tip of their tail. Spots on the head are orange and fade to yellow further down the body and tail.
- Larvae are light brown or greenish-yellow with small darker spots, external gills, and fin-like tails.
The Spotted Salamander is found primarily in hardwood forests with vernal pools, which are temporary ponds created by spring rain. Like many salamanders in Illinois, they require vernal pools for breeding because the fish in permanent lakes and ponds would eat all their eggs and larvae.
These salamanders are fossorial, meaning they spend most of their time underground. Spotted Salamanders are typically only seen above ground just after heavy rain, so you’ll need to get a little muddy to find one! They go dormant underground during the winter months and don’t come out until the breeding season between March and May.
The Spotted Salamander’s eggs are truly incredible. The embryos can host algae inside their eggs, and they are the only vertebrate known to do so. The embryos and algae have a symbiotic relationship. The algae have a suitable habitat, and in return, they produce the oxygen necessary for the embryos to grow and thrive.
#3. Eastern Tiger Salamander
- Ambystoma tigrinum
- Adults range from 6 to 8 inches in length.
- Their coloring is dark gray, brown, or black with brownish-yellow to greenish-yellow markings, ranging from large spots and stripes to small irregular shapes on the head, back, and tail.
- This species has a thick body and neck, short snout, strong legs, and a lengthy tail.
This species is one of the largest terrestrial salamanders in Illinois.
Eastern Tiger Salamanders are secretive and spend much of their time underground in woods, grasslands, or marshes. You’re most likely to see them moving about and foraging on rainy nights.
Their diet is primarily made up of insects, worms, slugs, and frogs. However, if there’s a prey shortage, they become much less picky. They’ve been observed feeding on baby snakes, newborn mice, and small salamanders of other species. They will even cannibalize their own young in times of low food supply!
Eastern Tiger Salamanders are very long-lived and have been known to reach 16 years of age in the wild. However, individuals in captivity can live much longer, up to 25 years.
Although Eastern and Western Tiger Salamanders are closely related, it would be unusual to mix up these two species. First, because they rarely share the same range and aren’t often seen together. Secondly, Eastern Tiger Salamanders are much larger and have a black patch on their snout.
#4. Common Mudpuppy
- Necturus maculosus
- Adults range from 8 to 19 inches in length.
- This species is rusty brown to gray or black with scattered bluish-black or black spots, which sometimes merge to form stripes. The underside is whitish and may also have bluish-black spots.
- The large, bushy, red, or maroon external gills behind the flattened head make this species easy to identify.
Common Mudpuppies are among the most well-known salamanders in Illinois.
These LARGE salamanders can be found in nearly any body of water, including lakes, reservoirs, ditches, and rivers. They are secretive and require habitats with lots of cover, such as boulder piles, submerged logs, tree roots, or vegetation.
Common Mudpuppies are nocturnal and spend their days hiding under rocks. They’re active at night and hunt by walking along the lake or river bottom, but they can also swim. These opportunistic feeders eat whatever aquatic organisms they can catch, including insect larvae, small fish, fish eggs, aquatic worms, snails, and even carrion.
In the spring, when water temperatures don’t fluctuate as much, Common Mudpuppies spend time in shallow water. However, they have been reported in water as deep as 100 feet during the summer and winter!
#5. Red-backed Salamander
- Plethodon cinereus
- Adults range from 2 to 5 inches in length.
- Adults can occur in two color phases: the “lead-back” is consistent gray or black, and the “red-back” has an orange to red stripe down the back and tail.
- All adults have mottled white and black undersides and five toes on their hind feet.
Unlike other salamanders in Illinois, Red-Backed Salamanders don’t have lungs OR gills! Instead, they “breathe” with their thin skin, absorbing oxygen through moisture. This unique trait means they must stay moist to survive.
Red-backed Salamanders are typically found beneath leaf litter, logs, bark, rocks, or burrows in deciduous forests. They have a low tolerance for dry weather, and typically you’ll only see them during or after rainfall. In the winter, they hibernate underground.
These salamanders feed on invertebrates, including spiders, snails, worms, and other small insects. Researchers studying the diets of Red-Backed Salamanders found that individuals with red coloring had a higher-quality, more varied diet than those with gray coloring.
The different phases are also believed to have different methods of predator evasion. For example, the “lead-back” phase salamanders tend to run from predators, while the “red-back” phase will freeze. Both phases of the Red-backed Salamander may also drop all or part of their tail to escape a predator. Eventually, the tail will grow back, but duller in color.
#6. Four-Toed Salamander
- Hemidactylium scutatum
- Adults grow up to 3.9 inches in length.
- Orangish-brown to reddish-brown coloring with a brighter tail, grayish flanks, and white underside with small black spots.
- They have an elongated body and limbs, short snout, prominent eyes, and four toes on their hind feet.
Adult Four-Toed Salamanders are typically found in hardwood forests near bogs, floodplains, or swamps. They’re almost always found near sphagnum moss, and you’ll want to look under the leaf litter, logs, rocks, or other debris to find them.
As adults, these salamanders primarily feed on small invertebrates such as spiders, worms, and insects. Predators like larger salamanders, snakes, and birds of prey will hunt Four-Toed Salamanders while they forage. If threatened, they may play dead or drop their tails, giving them a chance to escape predators.
Four-toed Salamanders use old underwater burrows or cavities for overwintering. They choose spots deep enough to avoid freezing and often overwinter communally. They’ve even been found in groups with other species, such as the Red-backed Salamander.
Four-toed Salamanders are relatively uncommon throughout their range due to their specialized habitat, so if you see one in the wild, consider yourself lucky!
#7. Marbled Salamander
- Ambystoma opacum
- Adults range from 3.5 to 4.25 inches in length.
- Their coloring is dark brown or black. Males have white crossbands while females have silver or gray.
- Stout-bodied and chubby, females tend to be larger than males.
Marbled Salamanders occupy various damp habitats, from low-lying floodplains to moist, wooded hillsides. However, they spend most of their time underground or beneath rocks, logs, leaf litter, or other debris, so it’s unusual to find one unless you’ve disturbed its hiding place!
Marbled Salamanders in southern Illinois are considered a keystone species, which is an animal whose disappearance would completely change its ecosystem.
For example, let’s look at the relationship between Marbled and Spotted Salamanders:
Marbled Salamanders eat Spotted Salamander larvae, which eat zooplankton. If Marbled Salamanders were suddenly removed from this food chain, the Spotted Salamander population would explode.
With so many more Spotted Salamanders eating zooplankton, eventually, the zooplankton would become extinct in that area. Then, once their food source disappeared, Spotted Salamanders would also disappear.
For such a small animal, Marbled Salamanders are incredibly important!
#8. Small-Mouthed Salamander
- Ambystoma texanum
- Adults range from 4.3 to 7 inches in length.
- Their coloring is gray or dark brown, with light gray or silvery flecks on the back and gray blotches on black undersides.
- They have a relatively small head and long tail, and males are typically smaller than females.
Small-Mouthed Salamanders prefer wooded areas near wetlands or floodplains, but they also occupy open habitats like agricultural land and prairies. They remain hidden for most of the day, spending their time under rotting logs, rocks, and tree litter. They may also use old mammal and crayfish burrows.
If threatened, Small-Mouthed Salamanders typically raise and undulate their tail while tucking their head beneath it. In addition, their tails have granular glands on the top that produce toxic secretions to deter predators.
You’re most likely to see Small-Mouthed Salamanders as they migrate to nearby breeding ponds in February or March. They typically migrate at night during rainy weather. Their breeding grounds include vernal pools, runoff ponds, flooded areas, and roadside ditches.
#9. Northern Dusky Salamander
- Desmognathus fuscus
- Adults typically range from 2.5 to 4.5 inches in length though individuals up to 5.6 inches have been recorded.
- Their coloring ranges from brown or reddish-brown to gray or olive, with a whitish belly, dark speckles, and somewhat lighter tail.
- The hind limbs are larger than the front limbs, and males are usually longer than females.
Northern Dusky Salamanders are typically found in southern Illinois in moist woodlands close to running water, such as hillside streams. They hide under stones, logs, and leaf litter at the water’s edge. They’re frequently found under rocks or logs partially submerged in streams.
These nocturnal salamanders leave their cover to forage at night. They may be active from dusk until dawn on damp or rainy nights. Interestingly, they have a small range and may only travel a couple of meters away from their territory searching for food.
Northern Dusky Salamanders feed on various terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates. However, they don’t prefer specific prey and eat whatever is abundant, including crustaceans, earthworms, spiders, insect larvae, ants, centipedes, moths, and mites.
#10. Southern Two-Lined Salamander
- Eurycea cirrigera
- Adults range from 2.5 to 3.75 inches in length.
- Their coloring is tan to light yellow, with two black stripes running from the eyes down the tail.
- They have a thin body and black flecks on the back.
Southern Two-Lined Salamanders occupy temperate forests in southeastern Illinois. As adults, they’re mostly terrestrial, but they migrate to streams for breeding. They spend most of their time in the cool and damp areas under leaf litter or logs. Your best chance to see them is on a damp summer night when they’re likely to emerge from their hiding spots.
Depending upon their location, Southern Two-Lined Salamanders may burrow into the soil to overwinter. In warmer areas, they remain active and feed year-round.
Southern Two-Lined Salamanders are opportunistic predators that consume any small organisms they come across. As adults, they’ve been known to feed on roaches, spiders, ticks and other insects, earthworms, snails, and crustaceans. That’s a pretty varied diet for an amphibian!
#11. Lesser Siren
- Siren intermedia
- Adults range from 7 to 27 inches in length.
- Adult coloring is gray, brown, or nearly black, occasionally with dark spots and a paler underside. Juveniles have bold red to yellow bands on their heads and stripes running down their bodies, which fade as they age.
- They have elongated bodies with only two small, four-toed limbs behind the head and external gills.
Also known as the two-legged eel, dwarf siren, or mud eel, Lesser Sirens are found in calm, slow-moving backwaters and wetlands. They tolerate cloudy or murky water and prefer habitats with abundant vegetation for hiding. Lesser Sirens can bury themselves in the mud and go dormant if their water source dries up, allowing them to survive in seasonal wetlands.
Lesser Sirens are mostly nocturnal and spend their days hidden in organic matter or mud near the bottom of their water source. To make up for their limited eyesight and murky habitats, they have a lateral line organ, which allows them to sense vibrations in the water.
Unlike most salamanders in Illinois, Lesser Sirens are vocal! When interacting with other Sirens, they produce clicks or yelps and emit a short screeching sound if handled.
#12. Blue-spotted Salamander
- Ambystoma laterale
- Adults range from 3.9 to 5.5 inches in length.
- Their coloring is bluish-black with blue and white flecks on the back and a lighter underside.
- They have four toes on the front feet and five toes on the hind feet.
This species is the most beautiful salamander in Illinois!
You can find Blue-Spotted Salamanders in moist deciduous forests, swampy woodlands, and occasionally in coniferous forests and fields. Look for them under logs, rocks, leaf litter, or other organic debris. They’re generally only seen on damp, rainy nights.
Blue-spotted Salamanders have an interesting defense against predators. When threatened, they curl their bodies and wriggle to attract a predator to their tail. Then, they secrete a sticky, foul-tasting liquid into the predator’s mouth. Once they get a mouthful, most predators learn to leave this salamander alone!
Blue-spotted Salamanders breed in vernal pools to protect their young from becoming prey. These pools dry out in the summer, so they don’t support larger predators, making them a safe place for eggs to incubate.
#13. Mole Salamander
- Ambystoma talpoideum
- Adults typically range from 3 to 4 inches in length.
- Their coloring is black, brown, or gray with pale bluish or silvery flecks.
- They have large, flattened heads, stout bodies, and two light stripes on their underside.
- The aquatic morph has external gills.
Unlike other salamanders in Illinois, some Mole Salamanders live on land, while others live in water.
Mole Salamander juveniles will either metamorphose into a terrestrial form or grow and remain aquatic. Interestingly, both the aquatic and terrestrial morphs are capable of breeding, and they may even interbreed.
Scientists don’t fully understand why some Mole Salamanders undergo metamorphosis and others don’t. They may be affected by environmental conditions, including prey availability, water level, and predation. One study indicated that aquatic morphs breed earlier and have higher survival rates than terrestrial morphs.
Although they die at a higher rate as juveniles, terrestrial morphs seem to have longer lifespans. Mole Salamanders may live for up to 20 years in the wild.
#14. Long-tailed Salamander
- Eurycea longicauda
- Adults range from 4 to 8 inches in length.
- Their coloring is yellow to brownish-red with many black spots, which may form broken lines and are often more distinct on the tail, and a light yellow or cream underside.
- They have a noticeably long tail, large eyes, and a slender body.
Long-tailed Salamanders prefer wet, covered habitats like the sides of streams, ponds, springs, cave mouths, limestone seeps, and abandoned mines.
Look for these salamanders during the first few hours after sunset on humid or rainy evenings. They’re nocturnal and spend most of the day under rocks, logs, leaf litter, and other debris.
When threatened, this species of salamander will quickly escape into cover. If a predator grabs its tail, it will easily break off, allowing them to escape.
Unlike other salamanders in Illinois, Long-tailed Salamanders don’t display territorial behavior. Groups of 80 individuals have been found under single rocks, and one study found 300 individuals at the end of a mine shaft!
#15. Northern Slimy Salamander
- Plethodon glutinosus
- Adults typically range from 4.7 to 6.1 inches in length though individuals up to 8.1 inches have been recorded.
- Their coloring is black or blackish-blue with numerous silver, silvery-white, or gold spots all over their body.
Northern Slimy Salamanders spend most of their time in moist soil or leaf litter beneath rocks, rotting logs, or other debris near the water. Occasionally they use other animals’ burrows. In cold locations, Northern Slimy Salamanders hibernate below the soil in winter.
They are a territorial species and will defend their territory aggressively. Their name comes from the slimy secretions they give off when threatened by predators. The slime sticks like glue, affecting predators’ movement. Northern Slimy Salamanders may also vocalize when physically disturbed.
Northern Slimy Salamanders are nocturnal. Look for them on moist nights when they feed on ants, bees, wasps, spiders, and insects.
Which of these salamanders have you seen in Illinois?
Tell us about it in the comments!
Also, if you enjoy this article, make sure to check out these other guides about herps! As you may have guessed, “herps” refers to herpetology, the study of reptiles and amphibians like salamanders.