Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to 30 different salamander species! That’s a lot of salamanders!
One of the most common myths about salamanders is that they are lizards. They are definitely not lizards! Lizards, like snakes and turtles, are reptiles. Reptiles have dry, scaly skin and lay dry eggs on land. Salamanders, like frogs, are amphibians. They have moist, smooth skin, and lay soft, gel-like eggs in water. These are just a few of many differences between amphibians and reptiles!
Have you ever seen a salamander? On your next trip to the Smokies, try to find some! The best places to find salamanders are under rocks and logs in wet areas near streams or mountain seeps.
When you pick up a salamander, make sure your hands are clean and wet. Most of the salamanders in the Smokies breathe through their skin (lungless salamanders!). If you have lotion or insect repellent on your hands, this will harm your new friend!
After you have met your new salamander friend, gently return him to his home. First, put the rock or log back right where you found it. Then, place the salamander next to it and let him crawl back under on his own. (If you lay a log or rock directly on top, you may squish him!)
There are so many different salamanders to find here in the Smokies! The salamander seen at the very top of this page is a Jordan’s Salamander, which is special because it occurs only in the Smokies! Another salamander you might see is the Blue Ridge Two-lined Salamander (left). The salamanders that I seem to find the most often are the Duskies (above). Unfortunately, the dusky salamanders are also the most difficult to identify!
The Smokies are also home to one of the biggest salamanders: the hellbender! Hellbenders are nocturnal and spend most of their time under rocks in rivers, so few people get to see them. If you are among the lucky few to see a hellbender in the wild (I am!), consider yourself fortunate!
Want to start learning your salamanders? Here is a great online field guide: Salamanders of Tennessee!
When you arrive in the Smokies, stop by the bookstore at Sugarland’s Visitor Center and pick up a copy of Amphibians and Reptiles of the Smokies. Or buy it online ahead of time!
Books are great, but nothing compares with going out into the field with an expert! Luckily there are some opportunities to do that coming up soon! The annual Wildflower Pilgrimage, at the end of April, includes several salamander identification field trips. If you can’t make it to the Pilgrimage, the Smoky Mountain Field School has salamander and amphibian workshops for families and adults this spring and summer.
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