Mudpuppies are between 20 and 33 cm in length. They are entirely aquatic and have large, maroon colored gills throughout their life. They are gray or rusty brown, to nearly black, marked with black or blue-black spotting or blotching. The pattern ranges from a few random spots to thick stripes. The belly is whitish to grayish, and sometimes has bluish black spots. The head of all mudpuppies is flat, and the tail is short and flattened for swimming. Four toes are found on each of four limbs. Young mudpuppies are black with longitudinal yellow stripes.
Mudpuppies live in rivers, weedy ponds, some large lakes, and in lower parts of streams that do not dry up in the summer. Mudpuppies need water that has an abundance of shelter. They reside under logs, rocks, or weeds during the day. They are rarely seen, but may be found under rocks in shallow water. Mudpuppies can be found in either shallow or deep water, depending on the season. They have been reported in water as deep as 30 meters.
Mudpuppy eggs take 1 to 2 months to develop, depending on the water temperature. Mudpuppies, like other mudpuppies and waterdogs, stay in their larval form for their entire lives.
Mudpuppy males join females in sheltered areas under rocks or logs in shallow water during the fall. Males swim and crawl around the females and eventually deposit a small plug of sperm on the substrate. Females pick up the sperm plug and store it inside themselves until it is used to fertilize their eggs in the spring.
Courtship and mating are in the fall, but some southern populations breed in winter. In spring, females excavate underwater nests and hang 18 to 180 eggs from the nest ceiling. Nests are made in areas with rocks, logs, or other debris for shelter and in water that is 10 cm to 3 m deep. Once hatched, larvae are 20 to 25 mm in length. It takes 4 to 6 years for a mudpuppy to reach sexual maturity.
Female mudpuppies lay their eggs in nest cavities that they dig in sheltered areas beneath rocks and logs. Nest openings usually face downstream. The eggs are attached to the roof of the nest and the females remains with them until they hatch - between 1 and 2 months. (Harding, 2000)
Mudpuppies have been known to live upwards of 20 years. (Petranka, 1998)
Mudpuppies are completely aquatic. They are usually nocturnal, although in murky or weedy water, they may be active during the day. Mudpuppies are solitary animals, coming together only to reproduce in the fall. They are active throughout the year, and do not hibernate. Individuals do not appear to migrate in streams, although they travel to deeper water in winter and summer and prefer shallow waters in spring and fall. Mudpuppies usually walk along the bottoms of lakes and rivers, but can also swim with a fish-like movement of their bodies. ("University of Georgia. Mudpuppy or Waterdog, Necturus maculosus", 1999; Conant and Collins, 1998; Harding, 2000)
Mudpuppies have sense organs in their skin that help them detect water movement and pressure changes. These sense organs help them avoid predators. They have small eyes that they use to see with and a good sense of smell, which they use to locate some prey.
Mudpuppies eat a variety of aquatic organisms. They are opportunistic feeders and will eat whatever they can catch. Crayfish are a major part of their diet. They also eat insect larvae, small fish, fish eggs, aquatic worms, snails, and other amphibians are also eaten. They will also eat carrion and are often caught in traps that are baited with dead fish.
Large fish, water snakes, and wading birds, such as herons, prey on mudpuppies. Mudpuppies avoid predators by hiding under logs, rocks, or thick vegetation. ("University of Georgia. Mudpuppy or Waterdog, Necturus maculosus", 1999; Conant and Collins, 1998; Harding, 2000)
Mudpuppies are important predators of aquatic invertebrates and small fish in their native aquatic ecosystems. They also are eaten by larger aquatic predators, like large fish, herons, and water snakes.
Mudpuppies have no negative impact on humans. Some people believe that they eat the eggs of game fish and kill them, but there is no evidence that mudpuppies impact game fish populations. People are also sometimes frightened by the strange appearance of mudpuppies, but they are completely harmless.
Mudpuppies have little economic importance. They are sometimes collected and used in research and education. They are important members of native aquatic ecosystems. (Harding, 2000)
Mudpuppies are locally common throughout their range, although populations are in decline in some areas. They can be found in a variety of aquatic habitats. Habitat destruction from polluted water and loss of ponds and lakes through development is a threat to some populations. Because of their sensitive skin, they are especially vulnerable to toxins in the water. Populations are also threatened by needless persecution, as some anglers kill mudpuppies in the mistaken belief that they threaten populations of game fish. Mudpuppies are listed as endangered in Iowa and special concern in Maryland and North Carolina.
Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.
Erin Siebert (author), Michigan State University, James Harding (editor), Michigan State University.
1999. "University of Georgia. Mudpuppy or Waterdog, Necturus maculosus" (On-line). Accessed November 16, 1999 at http://museum.nhm.uga.edu/~GAWildlife/Amphibians/caudata/Proteidae/nmaculosus.html.
Conant, R., J. Collins. 1998. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians. NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Cook, F. 1984. . Introduction to Canadian Amphibians and Reptiles. Ottawa, Canada: National Museum of Canada.
Harding, J. 2000. Amphibians and Reptiles of the Great Lakes Region. Ann Arbor, Michigan: The University of Michigan Press.
Levell, J. 1997. A Field Guide to Reptiles and the Law. Serpent's Tale Books.
Monds, S. "Representative Species - Canadian Great Lakes Salamanders" (On-line). Accessed November 16, 1999 at http://www.cciw.ca/glimr/data/habitat-rehabilitation/hab42a.html.
Petranka, J. 1998. Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press.