Amphiuma tridactylumThree-toed Amphiuma

Geographic Range

Amphiuma tridactylum is native to the south central United States. Their geographic range spans from south eastern Missouri to the eastern coast of Texas, through the gulf states to the shore of the Gulf of Mexico. They are also found in Arkansas and western Tennessee. Amphiuma tridactylum is most commonly associated with Mississippi River flood plains. ("Amphiuma Tridactylum", 2010; Dundee, 2004; Hammerson, 2004)


Three-toe amphiumas prefer swampy habitat and are often found in alluvial swamps, ditches, streams, lakes and calcareous swamps throughout their geographic range. They are sympatric with many species of crayfish and often seek shelter in abandoned crayfish burrows. These salamanders can live in ditches and temporary pools and are sometimes found in ditches of more developed urban areas. They are most often found in the murky waters of swamps and marshes. ("Amphiuma Tridactylum", 2010; Cochran and Goin, 1970; Dundee, 2004)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • rivers and streams
  • temporary pools
  • Other Habitat Features
  • urban

Physical Description

Amphiuma tridactylum is among the largest salamanders recorded. It has long cylindrically shaped body with four vestigial legs, and feet containing three toes. The hind legs are shorter than the front legs. The dorsum is dark brown to black in coloration and the venter tends is significantly lighter in comparison. The underside of the neck tends to be dark in coloration. Males are heavier than females of equivalent body length and often have wider, heavier heads than females. Adults have a maximum body length of 117 cm. Hatchlings range from 4.3 to 6.4 cm and newly metamorphosed individuals range in size from 6.1 cm. In general, Amphiuma species have two rows of teeth on their upper jaw; one which is located on the vomeropallatine, the other on the premaxillary. Amphiuma have teeth on their mandible as well. Amphiuma tridactylum is peadimorphic. It maintains gill arches and a laterally compressed tail throughout adulthood and also possess a lateral line system throughout its life as well. It also has lungs, and reduced, lidless eyes. Presumably as a form of defense, it secretes copious amounts of mucus, which makes it difficult to grasp ahold of. (Cagle, 1948; Dundee, 2004; Fontenot and Seigel, 2008; Glorioso, et al., 2010; Pough, et al., 2008; Thomas, 1996)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Average mass
    495.1 (males), 404.5 (females) g
  • Range length
    61 to 1170 mm
    2.40 to 46.06 in
  • Average length
    350 mm
    13.78 in


Amphiuma tridactylum metamorphoses in to adulthood but is paedimorphic and maintains larval features such as a laterally flattened tail and vestigial gill arches throughout its life. Most individuals are reproductively mature by 3 to 4 years of age, and females are considered sexually mature when they are 27 to 33 cm in length from snout to vent. There is no information available regarding sexual determination during development. (Cagle, 1948; Fontenot Jr., 1999)


Amphiuma tridactylum is polygynandrous, and mating occurs between January and April. Males court females by rubbing their snout on the female’s body. If the female is receptive, she returns the gesture and coils under the male to make their cloaca touch. During aquatic courtship, males swim rapidly in a circle and flap their tails above the surface of the water and slap the water’s surface. Female respond by swimming below the male and making their claoca touch. Females compete for mates, however, there no evidence to suggest that males compete for mates as well. Eggs are internally fertilized, as males deposit a spermatophore into the female's cloaca. Heavy rain has been shown to stimulate mating in this species. (Cagle, 1948; Fontenot Jr., 1999)

As the breeding season approaches, the cloaca of Amphiuma tridactylum males becomes swollen. Spermatogenesis takes place between October and May, peaking from December to March, and vitellogenesis,yolk formation in the eggs, takes place from September to May. Females mate biennially, and males mate annually. Females retain sperm in the spermatheca for up to 7 months and exhibit delayed fertilization. Amphiuma tridactylum lays its eggs under logs, on fallen branches and most commonly in its burrow near the water’s edge. Eggs are laid in strands like pearls on a string, and are of a jelly like consistency. Most egg masses consist of 50 to 200 eggs. Upon dissection, once specimen was found to have 354 developing follicles in her coelom. Eggs are opaque and are 10 mm in diameter on average. Eggs are deposited from January to September and have and require of 4 to 5 months to develop. Habitat conditions are a major determinant in how often a female reproduces. Females reproduce more often in permanent wetlands with abundant resources than in vernal habitats with limited resources. (Cagle, 1948; Dundee, 2004; Fontenot Jr., 1999)

  • Breeding interval
    Male three-toed salamanders mate annually, and females mate biennially.
  • Breeding season
    Fertilization takes place between January and April, and eggs are deposited from January to September.
  • Range number of offspring
    30 to 250
  • Range time to hatching
    4 to 5 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    3 to 4 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    3 to 4 years

Amphioma tridactylum females tend to their nests, and during dry periods aestivate in their burrows while wrapped in their eggs. Females also defend their eggs but do not prevent them from floating away. There is no information available regarding paternal care in this species. (Cagle, 1948; Fontenot Jr., 1999)


There is no information available concerning the average lifespan of Amphiuma tridactylum in the wild. Average lifespan of captive individuals is between 13 and 19 years. A close relative of A. tridactylum, Amphiuma means, reached a maximum age of 27 years in captivity. (Oliver, 1964)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    13 to 19 years


Amphiuma tridactylum is nocturnal, and although most activity occurs between dusk and dawn, this species is most active around midnight. Amphiuma tridactylum aestivates in subterranean burrows during the dry season in vernal wetlands. In some regions of its geographic range (e.g., Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama) it is sympatric with Amphiuma means. It is non-migratory and occupies a small home range, which encompasses the burrow site and expands during breeding season. Amphiuma tridactylum has been shown to travel nearly 400 m at any one time. In general, members of Amphiuma move via lateral undulations of the body both on land and in the water, and their vestigial limbs are useless while in terrestrial habitats. This species is often found covered in bite marks, regardless of sex or age. These markings are through to be the result of its foraging behavior and not a result of predation or competition for mates. (Cagle, 1948; Fontenot and Seigel, 2008; Glorioso, et al., 2010; Karlin and Means, 1994)

Home Range

There is no information available regarding the average home range size of Amphiuma tridactylum. Although Amphiuma tridactylum is capable of moving on land, is often not found more than a few meters from the water’s edge. It is more active and motile after a heavy rain or in areas where the ground is saturated. It spends most of the day in its burrow and emerges at night to feed. It does not travel great distances to forage. (Cagle, 1948; Dundee, 2004)

Communication and Perception

In general, members of Amphiuma have reduced lidless eyes and must rely on olfaction and their lateral line system to detect prey and potential predators. One report suggests that Amphiuma tridactylum can emit a high pitched whine when preyed upon. Although solitary throughout most of the year, males and females attract potential mates via chemical cues and communicate their willingness to mate via physical contact. (Cagle, 1948; Dundee, 2004; Harper, 1935; Thomas, 1996)

Food Habits

Amphiuma tridactylum is a generalist carnivore. Although preferred prey consists of crayfish, it is also known to feed on insects, worms, snails, small fish, small reptiles, and other amphibians. Cannibalism has been observed on occasion. Amphiuma tridactylum is an ambush predators and remains in its burrow with only its head protruding. It may also stalk prey until it is within striking distance. When attacking prey, it bites and tears while turning and thrashing in a manner similar to the death roll performed by members of Crocodylidae. (Cagle, 1948; Dundee, 2004; Oliver, 1964)

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats non-insect arthropods
  • Animal Foods
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • fish
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • mollusks
  • terrestrial worms


Other than a few species of snake, Amphiuma tridactylum has few natural predators. Mud snakes, king snakes, and water moccasins are all known to prey on A. tridactylum. This species cryptic coloration, burrowing tendencies, and ability to secrete copious amounts of mucus likely help reduce risk of predation. (Cagle, 1948; Harper, 1935)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Amphiuma tridactylum is a major predator of crayfish and other small aquatic vertebrates and invertebrates throughout its geographic range. It also preys on various species of insect and their aquatic larvae, potentially helping control insect pest populations. They are the dominant prey item for mud snakes and are also preyed upon by other species of snake as well. There is no information available concerning parasites specific to this species. (Cagle, 1948; Cochran and Goin, 1970; Dundee, 2004; Harper, 1935; Oliver, 1964)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Amphiuma tridactylum is consumed by humans in some parts of its geographic range and is kept as a pet by amphibian enthusiast. Amphiuma tridactylum has the largest red blood cells of any animal is often used as the model organisms in various biomedical research efforts as a result. (Dundee, 2004; Garrison, 1949)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Other than its painful, non-venomous bite, there are no known adverse effects of Amphiuma tridactylum on humans. (Cagle, 1948; Dundee, 2004; Harper, 1935)

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans
    • bites or stings

Conservation Status

Although precise populations estimates are unknown, Amphiuma tridactylum is classified as a species of least concern on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species. Despite this, amphibian populations across the globe are in steady decline due to habitat destruction, novel diseases and pollution. Fortunately, A. tridactylum faces no major threats at present and does not require specific conservation and management strategies to ensure its longterm survival. ("Amphiuma Tridactylum", 2010)


Abigail Schnelker (author), Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, Mark Jordan (editor), Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, John Berini (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


a wetland area rich in accumulated plant material and with acidic soils surrounding a body of open water. Bogs have a flora dominated by sedges, heaths, and sphagnum.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


active at dawn and dusk


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

delayed fertilization

a substantial delay (longer than the minimum time required for sperm to travel to the egg) takes place between copulation and fertilization, used to describe female sperm storage.


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


mainly lives in water that is not salty.


having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.

indeterminate growth

Animals with indeterminate growth continue to grow throughout their lives.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


mature spermatozoa are stored by females following copulation. Male sperm storage also occurs, as sperm are retained in the male epididymes (in mammals) for a period that can, in some cases, extend over several weeks or more, but here we use the term to refer only to sperm storage by females.


a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.


uses sight to communicate


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Fontenot, C., R. Seigel. 2008. Sexual dismorphism in the three-toed Amphiuma tridactylum: Sexual selection or ecological causes?. Copeia, 1/1: 39-42.

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