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Mole Salamanders: Ambystomatidae

Behavior And Reproduction

Mole salamanders spend most of the year in underground burrows and tunnels made by small mammals and come out only on rainy nights to feed or to travel to breeding sites, where they stay for several weeks. This behavior gives these salamanders their name. Moles are small mammals that spend almost all their time in tunnels searching for insects to eat.

Two key types of behavior of mole salamanders are their defenses from predators and their traveling. Many mole salamanders that have gone through metamorphosis take a head-down position and lash their tails when threatened. Both behaviors show predators parts of the salamander's body that are full of poison glands. Mole salamanders are famous for their travels to breeding ponds. In some species hundreds of salamanders may travel on a single rainy night to a breeding site, giving a spectacular display of salamanders crossing the landscape, including roads. In other species the travels take as long as many weeks rather than one night. In general, males travel before females do and stay for a longer time in the breeding pond.


Axolotls (ACK-suh-lah-tehls) are a species of mole salamanders that never go through metamorphosis and never leave the water. According to Aztec legend a god named Xolotl escaped from his enemies by diving deep into a lake and changing himself into a salamander. Mexico City was later built on that lake.

Most mole salamanders breed in the winter or spring, although mountain salamanders breed in the summer. Landdwelling adults move into vernal pools, ponds, or, more rarely, streams to breed. Two species mate and lay eggs on land. Males often compete for females. The males deposit bags of sperm on the ground, and females take the bags into their bodies, where sperm and egg unite. One male may deposit more than thirty sperm bags in a single night. Females lay the eggs either one at a time or in large clusters. The eggs attach to the pond bottom or to plants. After hatching, larvae spend several months to several years in the water before going through metamorphosis and starting a land-dwelling lifestyle.

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceAmphibiansMole Salamanders: Ambystomatidae - Physical Characteristics, Behavior And Reproduction, Conservation Status, Tiger Salamander (ambystoma Tigrinum): Species Account - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET, MOLE SALAMANDERS AND PEOPLE