These salamanders are on exhibit at the Museum – come visit them!

Red salamander. Photo: Jeff Beane.

Red Salamander

  • Red salamanders are likely mimics for the eft (juvenile) stage of our native eastern newt, which has very toxic skin.
  • Red salamanders in most of North Carolina dull and darken with age. But a smaller subspecies of red salamanders in northwestern North Carolina stay bright red.
  • Red salamanders breed in streams, springs and seeps. They have a long larval stage, usually lasting two to three years. Adults are semiaquatic to terrestrial.
  • Red salamanders can live for more than 20 years in captivity.

Jordan's Salamander. Photo: Jeff Beane.

Jordan’s salamander

  • Jordan’s salamander is named for David Starr Jordan, a fish scientist and founding president of Stanford University. Jordan refused to learn the names of his students, claiming that every name he learned would cause him to forget the name of a fish.
  • Jordan’s salamander is native to the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina and adjacent Tennessee. Its range lies almost wholly within Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
  • Jordan’s salamanders are terrestrial, with no aquatic larval stage. Complete development takes place within the egg. Females lay eggs in underground chambers. The eggs hatch into terrestrial juveniles that look like miniature adults.
  • The bright red cheek patches of Jordan’s salamander may warn predators that its skin is noxious. Some species of dusky salamanders also have red or orange cheek patches and may mimic Jordan’s salamander to make predators think it is toxic.

Hellbender. Photo: Karen Swain.


  • Hellbenders are aquatic, never willingly leaving the water. They breathe mostly through their skin; the folds and wrinkles provide plenty of surface area for oxygen exchange.
  • Hellbenders live in clean, cold rivers and larger streams, and are excellent water quality indicators. They prefer crayfish, but also prey on other aquatic animals, including smaller hellbenders.
  • The hellbender has many colloquial names. These include snot otter, mud-dog, lasagna lizard, devil-dog, mud-devil, grampus, Allegheny alligator, old lasagna-sides and molly-hugger. They are also called mudpuppies, which is actually the name of a different group of salamanders.
  • Their breeding season is usually in early September in North Carolina. A male hellbender digs a shallow hole beneath a large submerged rock and defends it against other males. When a female approaches, the male entices her in to lay her eggs beneath his rock. He fertilizes the eggs, then drives her away and guards the eggs until they hatch. Egg-guarding by males is very rare behavior among salamanders.
  • The North Carolina Zoo Society started a “Save the Snot Otters” campaign to raise funds for hellbender conservation. Students and faculty at Randolph Community College created “Snotty,” a hellbender mascot costume. Snotty appears at river festivals and educational events.

Seal Salamander. Photo: Jeff Beane.

Seal Salamander

  • The seal salamander is so named because of its habit of sitting on rocks along streams in a posture reminiscent of a miniature seal.
  • The species name, monticola, means “mountain dweller.”
  • Seal salamanders are common in and along streams throughout western North Carolina. You can tell them apart from other dusky salamanders by their clear white bellies and the dark, worm-like markings on their backs and sides.
  • They have an aquatic larval stage lasting 8-13 months. Adults are semi-terrestrial, inhabiting streams and adjacent uplands.
  • Studies analyzing growth rings in bones have shown that seal salamanders live for nine to 11 years in the wild.

Black-bellied Salamander. Photo: Jeff Beane.

Black-bellied Salamander

  • The black-bellied salamander is the largest member of the genus Desmognathus, or dusky salamanders. The longest specimen was over eight inches long!
  • You can tell them apart from other dusky salamanders by the combination of their large size, dark gray or black bellies, and keeled tails.
  • Black-bellied salamanders are common in streams throughout western North Carolina. They have a long aquatic larval stage, lasting one to four years. Adults are also semi-aquatic, never straying far from water.
  • Studies analyzing growth rings in bones have shown that they may live for 15 years or more in the wild.