Cave Salamander

Image of a cave salamander
Scientific Name
Eurycea lucifuga
Plethodontidae (lungless salamanders) in the order Caudata (salamanders)

The cave salamander is a medium-sized salamander with a long tail. It is normally bright orange but can vary from yellow brown to orange red. There are distinct dark brown or black spots covering most of the body. The belly is usually yellow orange and without spots. There are 13 or 14 grooves along the side. The end of the tail is often black. Young cave salamanders are yellow with shorter tails.


Length: 4–6 inches.

Where To Find
Cave Salamander Distribution Map

Throughout most of the southern half of Missouri, with the exception of the Mississippi Lowlands.

Confined to Ozark Plateau areas having limestone outcrops. Although it usually occurs in caves, this species also can live in wooded areas, along rocky streams and springs, under rocks on glades during the spring, and even in wells and swamps. Those living in caves live in the twilight zone (the dimly lit area beyond the cave entrance) but also occur far back in areas of permanent darkness. When not in caves, this species is nocturnal and spends days under rocks or rotting logs.

The cave salamander eats a variety of small arthropods — insects, spiders, and little crustaceans, for example.

A common amphibian of the Ozark Plateau. As with all animals living in caves, this species should never be disturbed. The ecological balance in a cave is extremely fragile, and any disturbance could be dangerous to this balance.

Life Cycle

Breeding generally is in early summer. The female lays 50–90 eggs in cave streams, springs, or rocky streams outside of caves. The eggs are laid singly under rocks or on the stream bottom. The larvae are gilled stream-type and live 1–2 years in the water. Though cave salamanders are usually active only at night, after heavy rains they often rest on rocks or boulders during the day. When pursued, a cave salamander scampers quickly, often waving its tail to distract attention away from its head.

Missouri’s Ozark landscapes, including springs and rocky streams, are genuine treasures — of geology, cool, clear groundwater, ferns, trees, birds, and fish. The cave salamander is a valuable component of these places and thus is valuable to us as well.

Well-adapted to life in darkness and semidarkness, cave salamanders are predators of small organisms and food for larger creatures such as fish, birds, reptiles, and mammals.

Media Gallery
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About Reptiles and Amphibians in Missouri
Missouri’s herptiles comprise 43 amphibians and 75 reptiles. Amphibians, including salamanders, toads, and frogs, are vertebrate animals that spend at least part of their life cycle in water. They usually have moist skin, lack scales or claws, and are ectothermal (cold-blooded), so they do not produce their own body heat the way birds and mammals do. Reptiles, including turtles, lizards, and snakes, are also vertebrates, and most are ectothermal, but unlike amphibians, reptiles have dry skin with scales, the ones with legs have claws, and they do not have to live part of their lives in water.