Did you find a salamander in Michigan?
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 Michigan. You will find detailed pictures, along with range maps for each species to help with your identification!
9 Types of Salamanders in Michigan:
#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 Michigan!
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 Michigan, 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 Michigan.
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 Michigan.
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 Michigan, 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 Michigan 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. 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 Michigan!
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.
Which of these salamanders have you seen in Michigan?
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.