Quick facts

Scientific name: Necturus maculosus

  • Salamander native to Michigan
  • Acts as an early warning system for environmental problems
  • Relies on lungs and feathery red external gills for oxygen
  • Protected as a species of special concern


Life history

The mudpuppy is a species of salamander native to North American lakes, rivers, and ponds. It is Michigan’s largest fully aquatic salamander. Often referred to as “bio-indicators” because of their sensitivity to pollutants and water quality, these salamanders act as an early warning system for environmental problems.

Mudpuppies mate in late fall, but females do not lay their eggs until the following spring. Females usually lay 50-100 eggs in cavities or under rocks. Eggs hatch 1-2 months after being laid. Mudpuppies can live for more than 20 years and can take up to 10 years to reach sexual maturity. Their diet is mostly crayfish, insect larvae, snails, and small fish (including invasive round gobies).

Mudpuppies have slimy skin and no scales. As amphibians, they have lungs and can breathe air. However, they also rely on their feathery red external gills for oxygen. They have been nicknamed “waterdogs” because of the barking sound they sometimes make.

Learn more about mudpuppies through this Michigan Sea Grant video, produced in partnership with Herpetological Resource and Management, Eastern Michigan University, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Division, Belle Isle Aquarium, and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Human impacts

Mudpuppies have long been misunderstood by Michigan anglers and are often discarded or killed when caught. The salamanders have been accused of being poisonous, eating enough fish eggs to depress sport fish populations, and competing with game species for food. In fact, mudpuppies are not poisonous, and their varied diet helps them play a role in controlling invasive species such as round gobies. There is no evidence that mudpuppies impact native fish populations either through egg consumption or competition.

In 2016, the mudpuppy was elevated to a species of concern and is now protected by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Anglers who catch mudpuppies are encouraged to gently remove the hook and return them to the water. Watch the following video for tips on safely unhooking a mudpuppy.