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