Small-Mouthed Salamander

Photo of a small-mouthed salamander.
Scientific Name
Ambystoma texanum
Ambystomatidae (mole salamanders) in the order Caudata (salamanders)

The small-mouthed salamander is medium-sized, with a small head and mouth. It is usually dark gray to black or dark brown. the body, limbs, and tail may be mottled with small, irregular flecks of tan, grayish blue, or gray. The belly is usually dark gray to black, but small flecks may be present. There are 13 to 15 costal grooves (vertical grooves on the sides of the body).


Adult length: usually 4–5½ inches; possibly to 7½ inches.

Where To Find
Small-Mouthed Salamander Distribution Map

Found throughout much of Missouri except for most of the Ozark Highlands.

Small-mouthed salamanders live under rocks, rotten logs, and piles of dead leaves, or in burrows in the soil. They typically live in bottomland and floodplain forests but can be found on rocky hillsides, woodlands, prairies, and even farmland. In Missouri, they have been observed living in mole burrows and crayfish burrows. Three adults were found under a pile of old plywood within a hay barn in late winter.

The small-mouthed salamander is likely common throughout much of its range, but it is rarely observed due to its secretive habits. Local extinctions have likely occurred due to land conversion and destruction of shallow, temporary wetlands. Keeping this species common in Missouri depends on protection and construction of temporary, fishless wetlands within the overall natural habitat.

Earthworms, slugs, moths, centipedes, beetles, and insects.

Life Cycle

Breeding occurs from late February to early April. Small-mouthed salamanders emerge from underground wintering locations en masse on rainy nights and migrate to fishless wetlands. Breeding locations can be found both in wooded or grassland habitats with preference to breed in shallow, temporary wetlands such as pools, roadside ditches, and flooded fields. They will also utilize more permanent wetlands, such as farm ponds, borrow pits, and swamps. Occasionally eggs are deposited on twigs or the bottom of sluggish streams in headwater tributaries.

Eggs are laid singly, in small, loose clusters, or in sausage-shaped masses of 6 to 30 eggs. These are attached to submerged twigs or plant material. Depending on water temperature, eggs may take 2 to 8 weeks to hatch into gilled, pond-type larvae. The larvae remain in the wetland for 2 to 4 months. Larvae typically move onto land from late May through July.

For most of us, finding a salamander is not an everyday occurrence. When we see an unusual animal, we tend to take pictures of it, post them on our social media pages, and try to find it in a field guide. There is an inherent pleasure in learning about the natural world.

As predators, small-mouthed salamanders help to limit populations of worms, slugs, and insects.

As prey, they and their eggs and young feed a variety of snakes, mammals, and other creatures. When threatened by a predator, a small-mouthed salamander may exhibit defensive posturing, curling its body, raising and waving its tail, and exuding a sticky, white, noxious secretion.

Mole salamanders benefit from moles and other animals that dig burrows the salamanders later occupy.

Media Gallery
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.