How many salamanders are there in the world?

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If you've ever seen the word salamander and wondered what it means and how to say it, you're not alone. Pronounced axuh -lot-ul, this amphibian looks like a bizarre mix of salamander and fish. With their legs, gills, and slippery bodies, it seems difficult to know exactly what they are. Unfortunately, they are far less abundant in the wild than they used to be. So how many salamanders are there in the world? Discover this and more as we unravel the strange, exotic lives of these aquatic creatures.

newt
There are only 50-1,000 salamanders left in the wild, although as many as 1 million live in captivity worldwide.

© iStock.com/argue

What is a salamander?

Salamanders are the rarest aquatic salamanders in the world. Their taxonomic name is Ambystoma mexicanum . They are also known as Mexican walkers because they live almost entirely in water. Despite this, they are not actually fish.

The salamander takes its name from the Aztec deity Xolotl, god of fire and lightning. The god is said to have turned into a salamander to escape death. The name "Newt" means "water monster".

Baby faces and pleasing colors have made salamanders popular worldwide. In the wild, they are usually brown with golden flecks, although they can take on a variety of colors. People with albinism have golden skin and eyes. Leucistic salamanders are pale pink or white with black eyes, while xanthophyll salamanders are gray. Melanin is completely black. Beyond that, exotic pet breeders often try to develop new colors. This has resulted in many different varieties such as golden albino or piebald varieties.

Salamanders average 9 inches in length, but they can grow up to 18 inches long. They're relatively light, with a maximum weight of 10.5 ounces.

How many salamanders are there in the world?

The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that there are between 50 and 1,000 salamanders left in the wild. Since salamanders are extremely shy toward humans, this number cannot be known with more precision. Even experienced conservationists have trouble finding them in the wild.

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However, the total number of salamanders in captivity is much higher, estimated at as high as 1 million individuals. They are the most popular exotic pets in many parts of the world and make ideal experimental subjects. In some places, people even eat them as a delicacy.

Where do salamanders live?

There is only one natural habitat left for the salamander: Lake Xochimilco in the Valley of Mexico. Nearby Lake Chalco was once home to the creatures, but the government drained it due to fears of flooding. This forces its wildlife to find new habitats.

A white salamander swims among grassy reeds underwater
In the wild, salamanders live only in Lake Xochimilco in central Mexico. As aquatic animals, they spend their entire lives in water.

© Pouzin Olivier/Creative Commons

newt habitat

Salamanders are a unique species of salamander because they spend their entire lives in the water. They are neonatal, which means they do not lose their larval characteristics as they mature. Other salamanders become land animals when they grow up. However, salamanders retain gills, which allow them to breathe and live underwater. In fact, salamanders can die if left out of water for too long. Neoteny explains the cute baby face associated with this species.

Lake Xochimilco is perfect for salamanders because of its temperature. It stays between 60-64 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the ideal temperature for this species. Likes to crawl and swim at the bottom of lakes where there are many hiding places.

Salamander Diet and Predators

Salamanders are carnivorous predators. They need a high-protein diet to thrive. In the wild, they eat aquatic insects, insect larvae, worms, crustaceans, molluscs, small fish, and some amphibians. Due to their relatively small size, they rely on smaller prey for their livelihoods. In captivity, they can be fed bloodworms, earthworms, shrimp, beef, insects, pelleted food, and house fish.

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Salamanders don't have a plethora of predators. However, carp or tilapia as well as storks or herons may attack them. Humans also sometimes eat salamanders. This is a common practice among Mexicans when salamanders are more abundant. Difficulty finding and catching them in their native habitat today has put an end to the practice. In Japan, on the other hand, captive salamanders are so abundant that restaurants often serve them as a delicacy. They are said to be crunchy and fishy.

Salamander Reproduction and Lifespan

Salamanders take 18-24 months to reach sexual maturity. Due to their neonatal stage, they retain larval characteristics even at this stage. The courtship dance causes females to find sperm sacs left behind by males. She inserts these, resulting in fertilization.

Females can lay 100 to 1,000 eggs at a time, usually on plants. The eggs hatch after about 14 days. Occasionally, salamanders will eat their own eggs or offspring.

Salamanders can live over 20 years in captivity. In the wild, their average lifespan is usually between 10-15 years.

white salamander
Salamanders are popular exotic pets and come in a variety of colors.

© Meggyn Pomerleau/Shutterstock.com

Are Salamanders Good Pets?

Salamanders are popular pets because of their unique color range and cute faces. However, they are also somewhat fragile and require gentle handling and careful monitoring of conditions. It is critical to keep the aquarium water temperature between 60-64 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition to regulating their body temperature, it also prevents the overgrowth of algae.

While some salamanders sell for as little as $40 to $50, they require regular maintenance and expensive veterinary checkups. They can live for over 20 years in captivity, so be prepared for a long-term commitment. A high-protein diet will help keep your pet healthy.

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In addition to being kept as pets, many salamanders live in laboratories as specimens for scientific research. Their ability to regenerate is the subject of much research, with the hope that humans will one day benefit from them. Their remarkable resistance to cancer—roughly 1,000 times that of the average mammal—is also of great interest to scientists.

Some salamanders are also zoo residents, allowing people to see them without the expense and care of keeping them as pets.

Are salamanders endangered?

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists salamanders as critically endangered. With as few as 1,000 left in the wild, they are in serious danger of extinction outside captivity.

What caused this astonishing reduction in numbers? First, the wetlands that the salamanders call home have shrunk as Mexico City's population has grown from 3 million to 21 million. Since people have encroached on their territory, the government has diverted water from the lake for human consumption. This further reduces the size of the salamander's habitat. The remaining water suffers from pollution and sewage.

Additionally, the introduction of non-native carp and tilapia by farmers has endangered salamander populations. These fish compete with adult salamanders for limited resources and eat their eggs.

Thankfully, with so many salamanders in captivity, it's possible that this species will survive into the future in some form.

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Pink Pet Salamander
Salamanders have been known to engage in cannibalistic behaviors.

© iStock.com/izanbar


about the author

Catherine Duke


I am a freelance writer with experience in both fiction and non-fiction. When I'm not writing on the page, I enjoy reading, hiking outside, and playing with my dog.

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