Mole Salamander

Photo of a Frank Nelson Mole salamander in its natural habitat.
Species of Conservation Concern
Scientific Name
Ambystoma talpoideum
Ambystomatidae (mole salamanders) in the order Caudata (salamanders)

The mole salamander has 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.


Adult length: 3–4 inches.

Where To Find
Mole Salamander Distribution Map

Restricted to 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.

The mole salamander lives primarily in lowland forests, but it also occurs in adjacent upland hardwood forests. It finds shelter 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.

Life Cycle

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 between December and February. Courtship occurs in the water. A female may produce 200 to over 500 eggs, which are loosely attached to submerged twigs or leaves in small clumps of 4–40 eggs. The larval stage may last 3–4 months; a Missouri study revealed that larvae very often overwinter in that form and metamorphose in May, about 15 months after hatching. Extended larval periods have been recorded in several states.

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.

Adults of most salamanders in this family spend most of their time in the soil, often in burrows made by small mammals. Their welfare is therefore linked to the activities of mice, moles, shrews, and other animals.

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.

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Similar Species
About Reptiles and Amphibians in Missouri
Missouri’s herptiles comprise 43 amphibians and 75 reptiles. Amphibians, including salamanders, toads, and frogs, are vertebrate animals that spend at least part of their life cycle in water. They usually have moist skin, lack scales or claws, and are ectothermal (cold-blooded), so they do not produce their own body heat the way birds and mammals do. Reptiles, including turtles, lizards, and snakes, are also vertebrates, and most are ectothermal, but unlike amphibians, reptiles have dry skin with scales, the ones with legs have claws, and they do not have to live part of their lives in water.