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Lungless Salamanders: Plethodontidae - Physical Characteristics

species larvae live metamorphosis

The family of lungless salamanders includes the smallest and nearly the largest land-dwelling salamanders. These salamanders have no lungs and breathe through their skin. They have four toes on their front legs and four or five toes on their rear legs. They have a medium to long tail. Lungless salamanders are 1 to 14 inches (2.5 to 35 centimeters) long. The head is specialized for burrowing and for wedging under rocks and in stream beds. Some lungless salamanders have a long tongue that they can flick rapidly to catch prey. Lungless salamanders that live in caves never have eyes or skin coloring and may have oddly formed limbs and snouts. Other species start life as larvae, but as they go through metamorphosis their eyes disappear, the eyelids fuse together, and their skin loses its color.

Some lungless salamanders live as water-dwelling larvae for a few months to three years. Larvae (LAR-vee) are animals in an early stage that change body form in a process called metamorphosis (MEH-tuh-MORE-feh-sis) before becoming adults. Some species do not go through metamorphosis and spend their entire lives with the body form of larvae, but they can reproduce. At least three species never live as larvae and hatch from their eggs looking like small adults.

Scientists have found large numbers of miniature salamanders, mainly in the family of lungless salamanders. Most of these miniature species live on land throughout their lives, and many are secretive. New species continue to be discovered at a high rate. Many of these species are less than 1.2 to 1.4 inches (3 to 3.5 centimeters) long from tip of snout to tip of tail.


Lungless Salamanders: Plethodontidae - Diet [next]

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