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Mole Salamanders: Ambystomatidae - Physical Characteristics

larvae adults body water

Mole salamanders are small to large, stocky salamanders that live in water as larvae and on land as adults. Larvae (LAR-vee) are animals in an early stage that change form in a process called metamorphosis (MEH-tuh-MORE-feh-sis) before becoming adults. Mole salamanders are 3.5 to 14 inches (9 to 35 centimeters) long from the tip of the snout to the tip of the tail. They have a broad head, small eyes that stick out from the head, deep grooves along the sides of the body, and a long tail that is flat from side to side. Mole salamanders often have bold patterns as adults. Many species are brightly colored with yellow, orange, or silver spots, bars, and frosted patterns on a black background. Some mole salamanders have large poison glands on the head and along the body. All mole salamanders have lungs after metamorphosis.

Mole salamander larvae live in the water and have filmy gills that stick out behind their heads. Gills are organs for obtaining oxygen from water.

The larvae have a large tail fin that extends onto the body. Their small eyes do not have moveable eyelids. Many species of mole salamanders in Mexico and the United States do not go through metamorphosis; as adults they keep the body form they have as larvae. However, their reproductive organs mature, and they can breed.

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