What do salamanders eat? KidsOutAndAbout naturalist Liz Thompson has the answer.
Question submitted by Alyssa, age 7, Spencerport, NY
Alyssa, thank you so much for your question. Salamanders are one of my favorite subjects!
One of the reasons I find salamanders so interesting is the fact that most people think they are lizards. Salamanders are shaped quite a bit like lizards, but are not related to them at all. Salamanders are amphibians; they are related to frogs and toads! Like all amphibians, they share a few things in common with their frog and toad relatives, including moist skin and the absence of claws on their toes.
Salamanders go through a complex life cycle. Most salamanders lay their eggs in water. When the eggs hatch, the baby salamanders look more like tadpoles than salamanders, and are called "salamander nymphs." The nymphs have feathery gills that extend from the sides of their necks and help the young salamanders absorb oxygen from the water. While they continue to grow, over a period of usually about 1-3 months, the nymphs feed on small animals and organisms that live in the water.
As the nymphs grow, and eventually develop lungs, the feathery gills slowly fade. When they have grown into their recognizable salamander form they leave the water and move onto the land where they eat a variety of small insects and other invertebrates (animals without backbones) including worms, spiders and slugs. Some larger salamanders will eat smaller salamanders as well as salamander nymphs and eggs. Different species eat different things depending on their size and what is available in their habitat. One thing is sure, regardless of species: Every stage of the salamander life cycle is carnivorous (eating only other living things, no plants).
Here is a list of some of our most common salamanders and what they eat:
- : worms, centipedes, crickets, spiders
- : small invertebrates (these salamanders will even climb up small shrubs and other plants to search for food)
- : earthworms, slugs, isopods (potato bugs, pill bugs)
Eastern red-spotted newt
- : insect larvae, worms, amphibian eggs and larvae, leeches (remember, newts are aquatic salamanders, salamanders that live in the water)
If you haven't read The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer, it is worth a special trip to the library. It is a wonderful book about a young boy who brings a salamander home from the woods and tries to make a good home for it.
Here are some websites where you can learn more about salamanders:
- Introduction to Salamanders:
- A brochure published by the School of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse about New York salamanders:
- A great salamander information sheet you can print out and color: