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Topic: Large Salamander Identification

I was recently moving some large posts out of the corner of an old chicken house (they had been there for many years).  When I moved the very last post, I noticed movement.  I had to do a "triple-take", thinking my eyes were deceiving me.  There was a large "salamander" (not sure of even that) trying to wiggle himself deeper into the loose soil.  I've lived in Arkansas most of my life and have never seen anything even remotely like this.  My first thought was "huge mud puppy", then hellbender (I'm vaguely familiar with them from a trip to West Virginia).  But this was in bone-dry conditions.  By the time I had time to process what I was seeing and decided I needed to take a picture, it had decided it needed to leave so it made its way through a hole in the side of the chicken house that is covered on the outside by a pile of bricks.  Not wanting to harm it in any way, I left it alone.

Description:  I'd estimate it to be around 2" wide, maybe even a little wider.  The width stayed the same from it's head through most of its body.  I'd estimate it to be around 10" in total length, maybe even longer.  It had four short legs that weren't terribly effective.  I don't think the toes were webbed, but not 100% sure of that.  Coloring was similar to a hellbender, mostly different shades of brown.

I've tried to research what this thing is and I can't figure it out.  Any help would be appreciated.  Whatever it is, I don't think it's common.

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Re: Large Salamander Identification

Hm, a picture would definitely have been a tremendous help here.  If it was covered with dirt, obscuring any coloration, maybe one of these?  What part of AR?

E. Tiger Salamander

Prairie Racerunner

Broad-headed Skink

Kory Roberts: Email | Facebook | Flickr | YouTube

3 (edited by troyblan 2017-11-16 12:41 am)

Re: Large Salamander Identification

Yeah, it sucks that I didn't get a picture.  It blended really well into the dirt.  It wasn't covered though.  It tried to cover itself, but it was too big to completely bury.  All of the examples you linked to are too brightly colored.  This thing was dull splotchy brown, and big.  It may sound crazy, but I'm not exaggerating -- this thing was BIG for a salamander.  It was wide and quite flat.  Big head with a big, wide mouth (reminded me of a catfish head).

I think it had to be an Ozark Hellbender.  I can't find anything else that looks like it.  I just can't figure out why it was in my chicken house.  There are no streams close to me.  I can say that it looked plenty healthy.  I didn't see any kind of deformities or lesions.  It was certainly eating well.

I live in NW Arkansas.

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Re: Large Salamander Identification

Well, I have no idea at this point.  But it was 100% definitely not a Hellbender.  Someone may have lost a pet Bearded Dragon or something?  That's all I can possibly think of.

Kory Roberts: Email | Facebook | Flickr | YouTube

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Re: Large Salamander Identification

After doing quite a bit of research on this, I now understand how crazy I sound.  I know what I saw.  It's unlikely, but maybe I'll get to see another one before I die.  If there is a next time, I will know it's something special.

6 (edited by caro 2017-11-16 11:07 pm)

Re: Large Salamander Identification

I think I'd have to stake out that pile of bricks, lol...hey Kory, is there any color variation among the E. Tiger salamanders,
as in sexual dimorphism or just local population differences that could explain the dull coloration?  Just looked them up, &
they can potentially reach a max of 14"...my money is on a dull (or dusty) E. tiger salamander.  As for why it would be in
your chicken house...well, they eat insects, worms & small frogs & baby mice, most of which they could find there, not to
mention the nice shelter.  I just read they like to burrow (often as deep as 2' deep") and are rarely seen in the open.  They
are also "very loyal to their birthplace" so I'd just enjoy the fact that he's there & hope he stays, eating the insects for you.
I assume you aren't keeping any chickens?  I think they'd get in a huff about such a room-mate.

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Re: Large Salamander Identification

Thanks for the reply.  I'd say that a really dull colored tiger salamander is the closest thing I've seen pictures of to what I saw in person other than a hellbender.  A few differences though, the one I saw:

  • was wider

  • had a shorter tail

  • the legs were smaller relative to its size

It didn't seem to use its legs for much.  It mostly used its body to propel itself.  It certainly wasn't fast.  I could have easily reached down and picked it up -- not something I normally do when I see a creature I don't recognize, especially when it's the size this thing was.

The chicken house probably was built in the 40's and I own no chickens.

Believe me, I've looked through those bricks and around the chicken house.  My #1 concern at this point is I don't want to harm it in any way.  Of course, knowing what I know now, I'd sure like another shot at seeing it again.  That seems doubtful at this point.

By the way, I do have a small pond within 50 yards of that corner of the chicken house.  I have no livestock and purposely use very little pesticides, herbicides, or chemicals on my property, so it's always full of frogs.  They get so loud in the spring that it's hard to hear myself think.

8 (edited by caro 2017-11-17 01:02 pm)

Re: Large Salamander Identification

A few things come to my mind...  Shorter tail:  partial loss to a predator (even a frog!) or other damage?
Wider:  how about overweight (eating too many frogs?) or reproductive female? (& older reproductive females of many species retain weight)
And that could make the legs appear relatively smaller?  An out-of shape salamander might have settled on shelter in your chicken house when physically unable to dig a deep enough burrow? 

Thank you for thinking of nature, I do the same in my yard & gardens (no pesticide, other than the rare emergency of a wasp nest
on my gate), in fact I don't use pesticide in my house either.  (it may not kill us outright but who needs cancer?)  Your small pond
sounds very attractive to wildlife too...I hope you get a chance to see it again & maybe get a photo.

An old, out-of-shape (from pigging-out on abundant frogs, lol) E. tiger salamander is my best guess for what you saw...very cool!
Let's hope for your sake there are more around...for "noise-cancellation" effects?  ha....

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Re: Large Salamander Identification

Caro, it's possible, I guess.  When I look through the pictures, the only thing that really looks like it is the hellbender.  I understand that that shouldn't be (or isn't) possible, but that doesn't change what I saw.

I've been pretty obsessed over this since I figured out that this wasn't something normal.  The more I research, the more I realize what a missed opportunity it was.  However, I really need to just move on.  I am super lucky to have had the opportunity to see something so special, even if I have no proof of it.

Thank you all for your help.

10 (edited by caro 2017-11-17 06:29 pm)

Re: Large Salamander Identification

I'm afraid I have to agree with Kory, it just cannot be a hellbender...they don't survive on dry land.  So either it's something that looks
similar, or you've found an entirely new species.  Have to say the latter isn't too likely though, & I hope you see it again.  I'd stay out of
the area for a while, so it feels safe to return to the chicken shelter for winter.  If it's forced to leave (by your activity) it might not make it,
especially if my guess is correct.