Spotted Salamander

Family: 
Ambystomatidae (mole salamanders) in the order Caudata (salamanders)
Description: 

The main color is slate black, with a dark gray belly. There are 2 irregular rows of rounded yellow spots from the head onto the tail. The number of yellow spots ranges from 17 to 78. Some Missouri specimens lack most or all yellow spots. The spots on the head may be bright orange. Sides of the head, neck and body usually have small white flecks. There are 11 or 12 grooves along the side.

Size: 
Length: 6–7¾ inches.
Habitat and conservation: 
This species lives in damp hardwood forests in the vicinity of shallow ponds, usually hidden under logs or rocks, inside piles of dead leaves or in burrows of other small animals. They are often seen crossing roads on warm, rainy nights in the spring.
Foods: 
They venture forth at night in search of worms, insects, spiders and land snails.
Distribution in Missouri: 
Throughout the southern two-thirds of the state, except the eastern part of the Bootheel.
Status: 
Locally common.
Life cycle: 
An early spring breeder. In the first warm rains in late February to mid-March, they gather to breed in shallow, fishless woodland ponds. The courting salamanders, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, engage in a sort of nuptial dance in shallow water. Males deposit a packet of sperm on jellylike stalks, and the females pick it up with their cloacas. The eggs are fertilized as they are laid, within 1–2 days of courtship. The larvae hatch in a month and live in water until the end of summer.
Human connections: 
These salamanders offer much for biologists to study. The eggs seem to form a symbiotic relationship with an algae—the latter provides oxygen for the embryo and the growing larva supplies nutrients to the algae. Other evidence shows that this species may have moved to Missouri only 5,000 years ago.
Ecosystem connections: 
Like other mole salamanders, spotted salamanders are predators of smaller creatures, but though they are voracious predators of insects, worms and slugs, they, along with their eggs and juvenile forms, provide food for many other hungry animals.