Cave Salamanders: Creatures of the Night

Have You Seen Me?

This morning I discovered this little salamander when I went to move the trash can down to be picked up on garbage day. When I rolled the can away I saw the bright orange color and stopped to take a closer look. We had a good rainfall the night before after several days with little moisture. Since I am not familiar with the salamanders of the south eastern states I had to do some research and sought advice on its identity from some herpetologists friends. They believe it is Eurycea lucifuga, the Cave Salamander, AKA: Spotted-tailed Salamander. It’s interesting to know that these two common names are often used to describe other species of salamanders as well. This is why scientists use the universal Latin names of the creatures they identify.

What’s In A Name?

Interestingly the scientific name of this creature reveals a lot about its behavior. Its Latin scientific name is Eurycea lucifuga. The species name “lucifuga” comes from two Latin words: Lucis= light, fuga= flee. In other words these creatures flee from the light. They are nocturnal and will crawl under objects to avoid the light.

Rarely Seen Unless You Go Underground:

I was very fortunate to encounter this interesting creature since they are usually underground in cave systems or outside them only at night. Some spend their whole lives underground moving around in the caves where they live. Others live outside in moist environments where they usually are hiding under rocks and logs and in crevices of outcropping of limestone. Where we live there are several underground Spring systems within the rocky underground. In talking with others who have seen them in our area it was usually after the Spring rains when they were moving rocks or boards on the ground. I find it interesting that there are several creatures we rarely see since they are nocturnal and come out at night. I wonder how many other creatures live in my neighborhood that I have never seen? Think about the advantages of having some creatures active at night while others rule the day. By having this arrangement many creatures can live in the same area sharing the same environment.

Faster Than You Think:

One thing that surprised me about these little guys was the speed at which they can crawl away. When I went to capture this salamander for a closer look it took off in its attempt to get away. While doing research I learned that they have other defensive strategies as well.

Lift That Tail!:

When threatened these salamanders often raise their tails diverting predators line of site. They intentional draw attention away from their heads which is where the majority of attacks come from their enemies. Some of these include birds, small mammals, snakes, lizards, and fish. If this tail – lifting does not work, their enemies may be likely to release their prey once they get a mouthful of noxious fluid secreted from glands in the skin of the salamanders. God has equipped these creatures well for their survival.

Unique Navigation Design:

Think of how hard it would be to move around in an underground cave with little or no light. How do they do it? Scientists have discovered that these creatures actually use the Earth’s magnetic field as a compass to navigate around the caves where they live. Some actually move to different places in the caves according to the changing seasons of the year. They also have ways of finding their mates using chemical pheromones. Pheromones are like perfume released into the air to attract their mates. Each salamander is equipped with organs called Jacobson’s organs. These are very sensitive to even microscopic particles of these substances.

It’s Time To Rub Noses:

One strange behavior witnessed during the mating season of these amphibians is when they first make contact with their potential mates. After the male rubs his nose against the female new pheromones are released which stimulate the mating process to begin. After mating they go the separate ways. The female will eventually return to the underground streams where she will lay her eggs on the bottom of the stream bed. Sometimes the eggs are laid singly and other times in small clusters. Scientists still have a lot to learn about their life stories.


As you have probably learned in your science classes, the amphibians are the only vertebrate animals that undergo metamorphosis, the changes in form from birth to adulthood. Like frogs, salamanders also go through change. The newly hatched young have gills and often are completely different in color and shape from the adults. In this stage of their lives they feed on microscopic crustaceans and insect larvae, especially the larvae of flies and mosquitos and other Diptera species. Just think how many more annoying mosquito bites we would face if these little guys were not on duty! After anywhere from 6 to 18 months the young change into their adult stage. Being larger and able to move around out of the water allows the salamanders to widen their diets. As adults they eat arachnids like spiders, ticks, and mites. They also chow down on many kinds of insects and crustaceans. They also like worms.

Beneficial Indicator Species:

If you find frogs and salamanders in the areas where you live it is a good sign of the water quality. Since amphibians have moist skin they absorb what ever chemicals are in the water. If you start seeing fewer amphibians you should take notice. This may be an indicator of potentially harmful substances like pesticides and toxic chemical waste substances in our streams, lakes and rivers. It is important for all of us to be careful in disposing of wastes so they do not end up in our water supply. Many laws have been established to prevent this from happening, but each one of us is a steward of the environment in which we live. As a Christian who believes God created the world in which we live, I take the Biblical dominion mandate to heart. God created man as the caretaker of His creation and made us responsible for how we take care for what He has given us. It’s a big responsibility in which the small things we do each day can insure the continuance of the beautiful world in which we live.

Think of the Bigger Picture:

As you explore your surroundings keep an eye out for things you have never noticed before. There are so many wonderful creatures in God’s creation. As you see new things, think of the bigger picture. Someone had to design each creature for where it would fit into the scheme of things. Each has a purpose that affects all the others. Just like God has a purpose for the salamander He has a bigger purpose for your life. Take a little time to consider what the Bible reveals about this plan. It will make your life more meaningful as well as open the door to everlasting life with the One who crested you.