The name “salamander” refers to any one of 500+ species of amphibians in the Caudata and Urodela orders. Common to all salamanders are moist skin and wetland habitats, though appearance, size and behavior can vary greatly by species. Salamanders are the only vertebrate animal that can regenerate lost limbs and body parts. Often a salamander that loses a leg is able to completely grow the limb back in just a few weeks.
Terrestrial salamanders have a lizard-like appearance, whereas those that are primarily aquatic may have smaller limbs and a greater resemblance to eels. In reality, salamanders are no more closely-related to lizards and eels than they are to mammals and birds, with the smaller newt being perhaps their closest cousin. Just as their appearances can differ greatly, so can their size; ranging from inch-long minute salamanders to the nearly six foot Chinese giant salamander.
Depending on where they live, salamanders even breathe differently by species. Terrestrial species usually have simple lungs, whereas aquatic salamanders breathe through gills. To further complicate things, other types of salamanders possess neither lungs or gills and instead breath through their skin using a process called valerian respiration.
Salamanders are carnivores and will consume most any type of insect or larvae they have access to. Terrestrial salamanders have the ability to catch prey by rapidly extending their long, sticky tongues or mucus-covered hyoid bones to adhere to the insects. Aquatic varieties don’t always have this ability and will simply catch prey in their jaws.
If a salamander does happen to be preyed upon, they are capable of amputating their own tails (which will continue to wiggle for a short time after being detached) in a process called tail autonomy. This will usually distract the predator long enough for the salamander to escape, after which it can re-grow its tail in a matter of weeks. As an additional defense mechanism, some salamanders can secrete poison through their skin.
Spotted salamanders can live up to 20 years in the wild
The Chinese giant salamander can weigh up to 140lbs.