On the evening of December 12th 2013, I headed out on a trip to observe salamanders. To see them I would have to travel to a creek and then wander around in the dark knee deep frigid water, as it was here that I would encounter several of Canada’s largest salamander species the Mudpuppy (Necturus maculosus). Although, most people think of reptiles and amphibians as warm loving creatures, salamanders usually prefer cooler temperatures. Mudpuppies are extremely cold-hardy animals, and in the cool winter waters they are easily observed in the right habitat. They will even remain active under the ice.
As I walked through the chilly water, I peered down with the help of a flashlight. On the bottom I could see the Mudpuppies slowly patrolling the rocky bottoms of their aquatic world. Others could be seen swimming with a motion similar to that of crocodilians, propelled by their large tails.
These beautiful salamanders are an aquatic species equipped with frill-like external gills. They resemble over grown versions of the larval stages of most other salamander species. But Mudpuppies do not metamorphosis into terrestrial creatures. They keep their ”juvenile” characteristics even as mature, breeding capable, adults. A condition known as neoteny.
Not only are mudpuppies remarkable for being neotenic, but for their size as well. Some individuals can get close to 20 inches in length! They are the largest salamander species in Canada, and one of the largest in the world, being rivaled or dwarfed by only a few species (from the genera Siren, Amphiuma, Cryptobranchus, and Andrias).
For most people the idea of taking a trip to stand out in icy winter waters to watch salamanders might seem crazy! However, for me there is nothing else I’d rather be doing then spending time with these stunning creatures!