Two major groups of amphibians occur in the Great Smokies: the salamanders (30 species) and the frogs and toads (14 species). Amphibian checklist
Five families of salamanders are represented in the park: Cryptobranchidae, Proteidae, Salamandridae, Ambystomatidae, and Plethodontidae.
The southern Appalachian Mountains, including the Great Smokies, are a major center of evolutionary diversification for the family Plethodontidae, commonly known as the lungless salamanders. There are 24 species of lungless salamanders in the park. The family has undergone an extraordinary level of evolutionary diversification in the southern Appalachian Mountains. As their family name implies, these salamanders lack lungs. They "breathe" (exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide) through the walls of tiny blood vessels in their skin and linings of their mouths and throats. Lungless salamanders occur everywhere in the Great Smokies, in and along streams and under rocks, logs, and leaf litter in the forests.
Salamanders are commonly called "spring lizards" in the southern Appalachians. Lizards and salamanders are, however, very different sorts of animals: salamanders are amphibians while lizards are reptiles. The skins of salamander lack scales and are moist or slimy to the touch. Their eggs are surrounded by clear jelly. Lizards on the other hand, have scales on their skin, and are dry to the touch. They lay eggs with leathery shells.
Warren Bielenberg photo.
Amphibians in the Park
Adult amphibians are carnivorous. Frogs and many lungless salamanders use their tongues to capture small prey, while other salamanders capture their prey by grasping them in their jaws. Amphibians generally feed on any prey that is small enough to be subdued and eaten. Insects and other small invertebrate animals comprise the bulk of salamander and adult frog diets. Larval salamanders are also carnivorous, feeding mainly on small aquatic animals such as the immature stages of aquatic insects. Frog and toad larvae (tadpoles) are aquatic herbivores and scavengers, feeding on algae, aquatic plants, and bits of decaying organic matter.
Watch a video about Hellbenders!
Hellbenders are the largest salamanders in the Great Smoky Mountains—sometimes reaching 29 inches in length! View a short video of research into the life of this aquatic salamander.
Reptiles and Amphibians of the Smokies