Did you find a salamander in Nebraska?
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 Nebraska. You will find detailed pictures, along with range maps for each species to help with your identification!
3 Types of Salamanders in Nebraska:
#1. 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 Nebraska.
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.
#2. Western Tiger Salamander
- Ambystoma mavortium
- Adults range from 3 to 6.5 inches in length.
- Their coloring is greenish-yellow with black 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 and a short snout.
Western Tiger Salamanders are secretive and spend much of their time underground. You’re most likely to see them moving about and foraging on rainy nights. Their favorite hiding spots are burrows, which they can make themselves or borrow from other animals.
Interestingly, Western Tiger Salamanders have four distinct morphs as adults. Scientists classify them by whether they are aquatic or terrestrial, and also by what they eat. For example, a typical Western Tiger Salamander eats insects and frogs, breathes above water, and spends time on land.
However, there is a terrestrial morph that cannibalizes other Western Tiger Salamanders! In addition, there are cannibalistic and non-cannibalistic aquatic morphs that have gills and breathe underwater.
The aquatic individuals are called paedomorphs, and while they are mature and able to reproduce normally, they retain a lot of the features of larval Western Tiger Salamanders. The most obvious feature is their frilly, long gills!
Although Western and Eastern 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. Second, Western Tiger Salamanders are smaller and lack the black snout patch that Eastern Tiger Salamanders have.
#3. 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.
Which of these salamanders have you seen in Nebraska?
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.