Thursday, February 3, 2011

Creature Feature: The Mudpuppy

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I love talking about the mudpuppy (Necturus Maculosus) because it is a very cool creature. A lot of people think it is a fish because of its aquatic lifestyle and body shape (and those are great observation to make!)...BUT do fish have legs?

The mudpuppy my friends is an amphibian, like frogs and toads, but not just any amphibian, it's a salamander!

Now, amphibians share a few characteristics (and there's always exceptions to the rule, that's just part of the fun!): slimy skin for one. The mudpuppy might look like some sort of a sea snake, but snakes are reptiles and all reptiles have scaley skin. The mudpuppy's a slimy guy.

2. Amphibians lay eggs in the water, and these are also slimy. They're covered in a jelly-like substance so they don't dry out. Reptiles on the other hand lay their eggs on land. If you put a reptile's eggs in the water they'd drown!

3. Amphibian in Latin means two lives. Most of us learn this in school- baby frogs (and salamanders) hatch from the egg as tadpoles with gills and live in the water, then they grow up and go through a special transformation called a metamorphosis into an adult that lives on land. Oh mudpuppy, you're a leader not a follower. Sure, your ancestors might have lost their gills and lived on the land, but not you! You just had to be different! Adult mudpuppies don't lose their gills. Why not? That's a good question. And I don't know if anyone knows the answer.

My best explanation is that a long time ago, there was one freak salamander who had a mutation which made him never lose his gills. And he was very successful and made lots of baby salamanders. These baby salamanders also had the mutation to keep their gills as adults, and they were successful too, that's why they're still around today. (have I lost everyone yet?)

The other neat thing about mudpuppies? They bark. Yep. Don't quote me on this, but I think that's where they get their name from. Male frogs croak to attract mates and tell other males 'this is my territory', well mudpuppies communicate too, and it sounds more like a bark than a croak.

If you want the hard core biology behind these beasts, I invite you to check out the Tree of Life's description of mudpuppies (lots of cool scientific details!)

I also think it is a great idea to explore the Tree of Life web project. What's with the branches that go to two different places? What's at the root of the tree? Who are your relatives? It is so a nerdy kind of way.

Frog life cycle image from 2010. Accessed on February 3, 2011 from:

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