Why Is a Salamander Called a Mudpuppy?

Mudpuppies are a species of American salamanders that live throughout the eastern United States. Although they can swim, these nocturnal predators usually walk through their aquatic environments while hunting. They live as far north as Canada and their range extends south to Georgia, Tennessee and Missouri.

Habitat and Diet

Mudpuppies are large for American salamanders, averaging 11 inches but sometimes exceeding 18 inches. Mudpuppies live in lakes, reservoirs, rivers and other bodies of water. They’re suited to murky ponds as well as rapid, clear streams. They spend their days beneath logs, stones or matter underwater and come out at night to hunt crayfish, small fish, roe, insects, snails and other mollusks. Because they breathe through gills, they don’t need to remain in shallow areas where they can quickly surface for air; they can live in water nearly 100 feet deep.

Barking

Unlike other salamanders, mudpuppies can vocalize. When they're removed from water, they squeak or whine in a way that some people think resembles a puppy's whimper -- hence their name. According to lore, their noises sound like dogs barking, but experts concur this comparison is exaggerated.

Distinctions

In addition to making noises, mudpuppies are unique among salamander species in other ways. Rather than metamorphose from larvae into adults, they remain in the larval stage all their lives. Also, mothers in most salamander species don't remain with their eggs, but female mudpuppies stand guard at the nest until their offspring hatch.

Taxonomy

Common mudpuppies belong to the Necturus genus, along with four waterdog species found only in North America. Alabama waterdogs live only in Alabama's Black Warrior River Basin and are considered endangered. At 4 1/2 to 6 1/4 inches, dwarf waterdogs are the smallest Necturus species. They inhabit areas along the Atlantic coast in the Southeast. Gulf Coast waterdogs range from the Florida panhandle to eastern Louisiana, with another, distinct group living in western Louisiana. Originally considered a mudpuppy subspecies, the Neuse River waterdog lives only in North Carolina, where it's listed as a species of special concern. A distant relative of the Necturus genus, the olm, inhabits caves in Europe. The only surviving member of the Proteus genus, this amphibian has become blind from living in dark environments.