Two-toed Amphiuma (Amphiuma means)

Photos by Amanda Hurst unless otherwise noted


Amphiumids are commonly known as “congo eels,” a complete misnomer if there ever was one. First of all, amphiumids are amphibians, rather than fish (which eels are). Furthermore, the congo eel, which is probably the basis for this common name, is a marine fish. This notwithstanding, amphiumas certainly bear resemblance to the elongate fishes. It is easy to overlook the diminutive legs, and the lack of any external gills (as opposed to the sirens) adds to the similarity between the amphiumas and eels. Amphiumas have two pairs of legs, and the three species, all of which occur in the southeastern United States, differ in regard to the number of toes at the ends of these limbs. There are three species: one species has one toe, one has two, and the third has three toes per limb. The two-toed amphiuma is the largest of the family, and is the longest salamander species in the United States, approaching four feet in total length. Amphiuma means is distinguishable, of course, by the number of toes. The color is dark on dorsum (gray to black), fading to lighter shades on the venter. Amphiumas are less aquatic than their bodies might suggest, and it appears that they actually lay their eggs at the interface of water and land, rather than in a strictly aquatic habitat. Amphiumas, especially this largest of the three species, are notorious for having a vicious (though not at all venomous) bite and should be handled with some respect. They are found in most aquatic habitats, (especially those with slow or no current) on the SRS and feed on all types of aquatic animals, including other amphiumas.