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You never know what animal or creature you may come across when you are exploring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They come in all shapes and sizes and can survive in the smallest of living spaces. That is why we wanted to take a minute and educate you on one of the unique creatures that you can find in the park, the Smoky Mountain salamanders.
Not only are these amphibians one of the most abundant creatures found within the park, they are also some of the most diverse. Read through our list below to discover even more about the salamanders that you may not have already known.
1. The salamanders are the biggest group of amphibians in the national park.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to a wide variety of living creatures. From black bears to synchronized fireflies and everything in between, there is an abundance of unique creatures found within the park, including two major groups of amphibians.
The salamanders are the biggest group of amphibians in the park with over 30 different species. Frogs and toads are the second biggest group with a total of 14 different species.
Click here to learn more about these two major groups of amphibians in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Although they are all classified under one umbrella term, there are actually a total of 31 species of salamanders you can find in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Each of the species has its own unique set of characteristics.
To help identify which species of salamanders you see during your next adventure in the Smoky Mountains, use the National Park Service’s amphibian checklist. This list will help you identify major characteristics of all major amphibians found within the park’s boundaries.
3. Smoky Mountain salamanders are commonly called “spring lizards.”
For starters, salamanders are amphibians and lizards are reptiles. More so, amphibians don’t have scales, causing them to be slimy to touch.
In addition, salamanders lay eggs that are surrounded by a clear jelly while lizards’ eggs are surrounded with leathery shells.
With over 700 miles of streams and thick, dense forests, it’s no wonder that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park creates the perfect habitat for the Smoky Mountain salamanders to live and thrive. In fact, our beloved national park is considered to be the “Salamander Capital of the World” thanks to the 30+ species that call the area home. It is a combination of the climate and geology of the mountains that make the mountains so ideal for these amphibians.
The lungless salamanders are the species that have benefited the most from this extraordinary ecosystem. Over the years, they have undergone an impressive level of evolutionary diversification to adapt and to this unique setting.
Today, 24 different species of lungless salamanders live within the park’s boundary. As their name implies, these salamanders do not breathe through lungs. Instead, they ‘breathe’ through the walls of tiny blood vessels found in their skin and the lining of their mouths and throat.
5. Five families of Smoky Mountain salamanders are found in the national park.
As we mentioned, there are over 30 different species of salamanders found within the Great Smoky Mountains. These species are broken into five major classifications, also called families. The families are:
- Cryptobranchidae (giant salamander)
- Proteidae (mudpuppy)
- Salamandridae (true salamanders and newts)
- Ambystomatidae (mole salamander)
- Plethodontidae (lungless salamander)
Remember the lungless Smoky Mountain salamanders we just told you about, the ones that adapted the best to the national park’s ecosystem? Well, as it turns out, these slimy creatures are also carnivorous. Their diets consist mainly of spiders, worms, dragonflies, slugs, centipedes, insect eggs, frog eggs, and other small invertebrates.
They capture their food very similar to how a frog does by extending their long tongues out from a safe striking distance.
Even when they are baby nymphs, salamanders have small teeth to help them chew up meaty prey. As it grows bigger, so does its food choices as it evolves from its own shell to small aquatic animals to mosquito eggs before reaching adulthood.
If you thought this was interesting, read our blog about 13 Facts About the Smoky Mountains You Won’t Believe.