Mole Salamander Ambystoma talpoideum

Adult from Posey County

Identification

The Mole Salamander is a small, stocky species with a very wide head and a short tail. This is one of the smaller Ambystomatids reaching lengths of only 3-5 in. They are gray to brown in coloration with some dorsal blue speckling that varies from individual to individual.

Adult from northwestern Georgia
Larva from northern Georgia

This species lays eggs in small clumps underwater attached to twigs and other debris, but may occasionally deposit eggs on land. The larvae of this species have distinctive yellow to white lateral stripes.

The Small-Mouthed Salamander (Ambystoma texanum) is an elongate, slender species with a smaller head and lichenate patterning dorsally that is very similar in appearance to the Mole Salamander.

Ecology and Conservation

These salamanders are found primarily in bottomland hardwood forest. They generally do not breed in permanent cypress floodplain swamps, but rather in ephemerally flooded forests as these areas are inundated only seasonally and retain shallower pools that are more suited for Ambystomatid breeding.

Bottomland forest from Posey County

Larval Mole Salamanders feed on small aquatic invertebrates (though cannibalism is well noted in this species) while adults feed on a variety of terrestrial invertebrates. Little is known about Mole Salamander breeding in Indiana, but they are winter breeders throughout most of their range, breeding from December - February. This is when they breed in neighboring states and it is likely that this is the case in Indiana. Mole Salamanders are found most reliably on the surface during the breeding season, but adults and juveniles can be found under logs and bark throughout the summer and fall. Breeding sites are variable and may be small temporary pools, ditches, or more extensive flooded bottomland pools, but are usually fishless (though this species will breed when fish are present). Females lay small egg masses attached to debris or vegetation in the breeding pools.

Due to its limited range in the state, this species is considered State Endangered, though the single Indiana population may very well be healthy despite its isolation.

Distribution

Mole Salamanders are found throughout the coastal plain of the southeastern United States from North Carolina into east Texas with isolated populations in Virginia, Kansas, and northern Georgia. Populations are also found along the Mississippi floodplain north into southern Illinois and Indiana. Mole Salamanders are only known from a single population in Posey County and likely are restricted to this area in Indiana.

Taxonomy

The Mole Salamander (Ambystoma talpoideum) has no recognized subspecies. It belongs to the family Ambystomatidae, which is represented in Indiana by eight species (plus the unisexual Ambystoma)--the most of any state!

Literature Cited

Conant, R. and J. T . Collins. 1998. Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Third Edition, Expanded. Houghton Mifflin, New York, NY.

Petranka, J. W. 1998. Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institute Press, Washington D.C.

Williams, R. N. and B. J. MacGowan. 2004. Natural History Data on the Mole Salamander (Ambystoma talpoideum) in Indiana. Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science 113:147-150.

Distribution Map
Distribution map of Mole Salamander (Ambystoma talpoideum)
Photographs