The mole salamander has a distinctive body shape, with a large, broad head, small body and tail, and large limbs. There are 10 or 11 riblike costal grooves. It is usually dull gray or brown, and on most individuals, there are light gray to blue-gray flecks over most of the body, limbs, and tail.
Similar species: This is one of six Missouri species of mole salamanders (family Ambystomatidae); all six are in genus Ambystoma. This one has distinctive body proportions and gray, lichenlike flecks; also, in Missouri it is restricted to the lowlands of our southeastern counties.
Adult length: 3–4 inches; occasionally to 5 inches.
Restricted to our southeastern counties: the Mississippi Alluvial Basin and the adjacent Black River Hills Border of the Ozark Highlands in southeastern Missouri. The overall range extends into Virginia, Florida, and Texas, with isolated populations in some southern states.
Habitat and Conservation
The mole salamander lives primarily in lowland forests, but it also occurs in adjoining upland hardwood forests. It hides under logs, leaf litter, and in the soil. Mole salamanders are seldom encountered because they rarely venture above ground, except during breeding season.
Mole salamanders eat a variety of small insects, worms, and land snails.
A species of conservation concern in Missouri. The mole salamander requires natural swamps and lowland forests to survive. This habitat has been greatly reduced in southeastern Missouri, and the remaining swamps and forests should be protected.
Breeding occurs in leaf-littered ephemeral or semipermanent pools, ditches, and fishless woodland ponds. On rainy nights in late autumn or early winter, adults move through the forest to breeding ponds and pools. Breeding takes place in December–February. Courtship occurs in the water. A female may produce 200–500 eggs or more; these are loosely attached to submerged twigs or leaves in small clumps of 4–40 eggs. The larval stage may last 3–4 months. Individuals often overwinter in the larval form and metamorphose in May, about 15 months after hatching. Extended larval periods have been recorded.
As humans pursue our own needs, such food, territory, shelter, and money, we tend to destroy and fragment natural landscapes. The swamplands of the Bootheel were mostly destroyed for cotton farming. The natural swamps that remain should be carefully protected.
The mole salamander requires fishless wetlands to breed and lowland forests to survive. These habitats have been greatly reduced in southeastern Missouri by the clearing of forests and draining of the lands, and undoubtedly populations have been reduced. Protection of the remaining fishless wetlands and forest, as well as the construction of wetlands and planting of trees, will better secure the future of this species in Missouri.
In their lowland forest habitat, mole salamanders are associated with marbled and small-mouthed salamanders.