Salamanders are seldom seen creatures in the area. They spend most of their lives living underground in burrows feeding on invertebrates like earthworms, grubs, and crickets. However during early springtime showers, the secretive salamanders move across the landscape to find breeding ponds to perpetuate their lifecycles. Tiger Salamanders can be found statewide, but are more common in the area, while Smallmouth Salamanders are found in the bottom three tiers of Iowa’s counties. The state endangered Blue-spotted Salamander is found only in Linn and Black Hawk Counties in Iowa. These three species breed in temporary ponds that dry up periodically.
Ponds with few or no fishes and other aquatic predators are important breeding locations for many amphibians like salamanders, toads, and frogs. Male salamanders arrive just after ice out and females show up soon afterwards. Males deposit spermatophores on the bottom of ponds which the female salamanders pick up and use to fertilize their eggs. Salamander eggs are tough to find as they are clustered on sticks and other debris in the ponds.
Larvae hatch in a few weeks and develop into mature salamanders by mid summer if the pond doesn’t dry up first. Sometimes people call salamander larvae “mudpuppies”, however the Mudpuppy is an exclusively aquatic salamander found in a few river systems like the Iowa or the Winnebago, but not in ponds.
When the metamorphosed salamanders crawl onto land, they find shelter in burrows and under logs while dispersing into the surrounding habitat. If they survive, in a few years they will return to their natal pond and start the process all over again.
Salamanders in Iowa used to be much more numerous, however loss of habitat like prairies and pothole marshes has contributed greatly to their decline. Restoring grasslands and wetlands can help provide habitat for salamanders and many other wildlife species.