Mudpuppies

I was invited to search for mudpuppies in a Wellington County stream last December.

February 9, 2021 | | Notes from the Wild

Streams and lakes in Ontario, including those in Headwaters, are home to fantastic animals that most of us will never see – the whimsically-named mudpuppies. Our largest salamanders, they ultimately grow about the length of your forearm.

As carnivores, they crawl from hiding spaces under stones and rock ledges in the dead of night to prowl streambeds for fish, crayfish and carrion. In the darkness they likely track their prey by following chemical cues.

Mudpuppy searches are usually conducted after dark during the winter. Photo by Don Scallen.

Mudpuppy searches are usually conducted after dark during the winter. Photo by Don Scallen.

Mudpuppies grow about the length of your forearm. Photo by Don Scallen.

Mudpuppies grow about the length of your forearm. Photo by Don Scallen.

Due to their nocturnal habits and bodies patterned like river stones, they are seldom seen. My guess, however, is that they are far from rare.

Mudpuppies, unlike most other amphibians, do not undergo metamorphosis and they retain their gills – fleshy growths on the side of their heads – throughout their lives.

They also differ from most of their amphibian relatives by remaining active throughout the year. In fact, mudpuppy searches are usually conducted after dark during the winter.

Speaking of which, I was invited to search for mudpuppies in a Wellington County stream last December. Five of us, donning chest waders over layers of clothing, slipped into the icy water at about 9pm. We searched the bottom with headlamps and flashlights.

All I noticed were sleepy fish – reward enough for a naturalist like me – but soon a voice rang out that a mudpuppy had been found. I plowed through the current to behold the first live mudpuppy I had ever observed in its natural habitat. Exhilarating!

The great salamander patrolled the bottom in a slow, methodical manner. If it was unduly bothered by our flashlight beams, it didn’t show it.

Now in my seventh decade, I continue to be thrilled by new discoveries like this mudpuppy. And it’s great to know that nature has a store of surprises that I will never exhaust. I will never want for wonder.

About the Author More by Don Scallen

Don Scallen enjoys sharing his love of nature through his writing and presentations. Check out his blog "Notes from the Wild".

Related Stories

red-backed salamander

Autumn Salamanders

Oct 2, 2018 | Don Scallen | Notes from the Wild

Small wonder so many salamanders are active at this time of year, seeking last suppers of grubs and spiders, crickets and millipedes.

Jefferson salamander eggs. Photo by Don Scallen.

Dispatches from a Vernal Pool

May 5, 2020 | Don Scallen | Notes from the Wild

Vernal pools, like coral reefs, are theatres showcasing life and death struggles between prey and predators.

Brook Trout

Dec 1, 2020 | Don Scallen | Notes from the Wild

There is no guarantee that brook trout will continue to thrive in Caledon, Erin and Dufferin in the years to come.

Amazing Beavers

Aug 6, 2019 | Don Scallen | Notes from the Wild

This serendipitous meeting with a near-sighted beaver was my favorite type of wildlife encounter!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

By posting a comment you agree that IN THE HILLS magazine has the legal right to publish, edit or delete all comments for use both online or in print. You also agree that you bear sole legal responsibility for your comments, and that you will hold IN THE HILLS harmless from the legal consequences of your comment, including libel, copyright infringement and any other legal claims. Any comments posted on this site are NOT the opinion of IN THE HILLS magazine. Personal attacks, offensive language and unsubstantiated allegations are not allowed. Please report inappropriate comments to vjones@inthehills.ca.