Mole Salamander (Ambystoma talpoideum)

Photos by Amanda Hurst unless otherwise noted

Description: Mole Salamanders are mid-sized — 3-4 in (7.5-10 cm) — stout-bodied salamanders with large, flattened heads. They are black, brown, or grey in color with pale bluish or silvery flecks. Males can be distinguished by a swollen cloaca. Larvae and paedomorphic adults are aquatic and have large feathery gills. They can be distinguished from other salamander larvae by the presence of two light stripes on their underside.

Range and Habitat: Mole Salamanders are found throughout the Coastal Plain of the Southeast and there are scattered populations in the Piedmont. Larvae and neotenic adults found in fishless wetlands. Adults are found in forested habitats and seem to prefer sandy pine forests more than the Marbled Salamander (Ambystoma opacum). Occasionally adults may be found under logs or in moist leaf litter.

Habits: Adult Mole Salamanders are nocturnal and burrow during the day. They are perhaps most often encountered when they migrate to wetlands to breed on rainy nights from October to March. Mole salamanders are facultatively paedomorphic, meaning that they may retain larval characteristics as adults and continue to live in water or complete metamorphosis and live in the terrestrial environment. The “decision” to undergo metamorphosis is not fully understood and may be based on environmental cues such as water level, light intensity, food availability, competition, and predation. A recent study found that neotenic A. talpoideum breed earlier and have higher survival rates than terrestrial conspecifics, which may explain why paedomorphism occurs in this species.

Conservation Status: These salamanders are considered common and are not protected in our region.

Pertinent References:
Ryan, T. J. and G. R. Plague. 2004. Hatching asynchrony, survival, and the fitness of alternative adult morphs in Ambystoma talpoideum. Oecologia 140:46-51.

Scott, D. E. 1993. Timing and reproduction of paedomorphic and metamorphic Ambystoma talpoideum. American Midland Naturalist 129:397-402.

Account Author: Emily Rogers, University of Georgia – edited by J.D. Willson