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Salamander Sway for Valentines Day

Feb 09, 2020

The song "Sway", first made popular by Dean Martin, would choreograph well with the ritual water dance of spotted salamanders. Shortly after Valentine's Day, on the first warm rains of late winter/early spring, hundreds will gather in ponds and sway and swim with a marimba type rhythm.

The sway of spotted salamanders is a perfect ritual dance for Valentine's Day. It can look like a flash mob in Missouri ponds as they all gather around the same time. Herpetologist's call it a "Big Night".

According to MDC Herpetologist, Jeff Briggler, during the first warm rains from February into March, spotted salamanders emerge from their woodland burrows and head to a pond for mating. Males come out first and females arrive later. If you're out near a pond at this time, you may first hear a small rustle in the wet leaves. Briggler says, "If you shine a flashlight on the pond, you may see hundreds of spotted salamanders swimming and dancing in the water."

Spotted salamanders spend most of their time on land in the forest -- on the ground and under leaves -- and are rarely seen. They only breed in water. After courtship and laying eggs, they move back out to the woodlands where little is known of their lives. They will come back to the same pond the next year. The best chance to see them is during this late winter water dance.

Most of the young do not survive their time in the pond. But if they make it through transformation and out of the pond, they can live as long as 20 years.

Spotted salamanders have yellow and orange spots that cover them from head to tail. Their legs are large and strong with four or five toes.

Watch several spotted salamanders swimming and swaying in the video below by Saunders Drukker.

All In The Family

Six families of salamanders are represented in Missouri:

  • Hellbenders belong to the giant salamander family. Missouri is the only state to hold both subspecies: the eastern hellbender and the federally endangered Ozark hellbender. They're fully aquatic and live under flat rocks in large Ozark streams and rivers.
  • Lesser sirens are permanently aquatic, eel-like animals, with small eyes, external gills, four toes on the small forelimbs, and no hind limbs at all. We have one species in our state, the western lesser siren, which lives in sluggish waters along the Mississippi River and in the Bootheel.
  • Mole salamanders are represented by six species in Missouri, including the spotted salamander,small-mouthed salamander, and eastern tiger salamander. They spend most of their time underground, often in burrows made by small mammals, and are active at night especially after heavy rains.
  • Newts, unlike most salamanders, have rough, almost bumpy skin as efts (the younger life stage, which lives on land for a couple of years). The central newt is our only species in this salamander family, and it's found mainly in the forested regions of the state, especially the Ozarks.
  • Amphiumas are eel-like and have four tiny, almost useless limbs, small eyes, and smooth skin. Our one species, the three-toed amphiuma, lives in the lowlands of southeastern Missouri. It can reach a yard in length! Sadly, its existence in our state is imperiled.
  • Lungless salamanders include eight species of this salamander family in Missouri. As adults, they lack lungs and several lack gills. They absorb oxygen through the skin and mucous membrane in the mouth.
  • Mudpuppies, sometimes called waterdogs, are totally aquatic and have permanent external gills. They live in a variety of habitats, including streams, rivers, sloughs and reservoirs.

Missouri is home to nearly 50 species and subspecies of salamanders. Discover more about them with MDC's Field Guide.

Salamander spotted.jpg

Drawing of spotted salamander
Spotted Salamanders return to the same pond each year to replace a generation

Spotted Salamanders Breeding

Watch the spotted salamander mating dance in this video from Saunders Drukker
Watch the spotted salamander mating dance in this video from Saunders Drukker

Spotted salamander_16.jpg

Spotted Salamander
Spotted Salamander

spotted_salamander-2.jpg

spotted salamander
Spotted Salamander

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