“A Mud-WHAT?!”…This slightly confused inquiry is one that I often get when I talk about Ontario’s largest salamander, the mudpuppy (Necturus maculosus).
Mudpuppies, sometimes called waterdogs, can reach 20-48 cm in length and spend their entire life in the water, as is evident by their permanent, red, feathery gills.
Mudpuppies are unique in the salamander world for their fully aquatic lifestyle. They are also secretive and nocturnal which makes spotting them a real challenge, even for the most enthusiastic naturalists.
As a keen naturalist and coordinator of the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas, I was eager to see this little-known species in its natural environment. With high hopes, I planned a visit to Kemptville Creek, below the Oxford Mills dam. This site is well known in Ontario as a place to easily view mudpuppies during winter.
After a thwarted first attempt to visit the site in December due to high water levels, I began to appreciate the challenges associated with catching a glimpse of these animals. When another opportunity came up to visit Ottawa in late February, I immediately started to plan my trip around a Friday night visit to Oxford Mills. I was determined to see some ‘puppies.
But I received an email on Thursday evening from Fred Schueler, herpetologist and coordinator of the Oxford Mills event that said, “Well, things aren’t [looking] good for seeing wild mudpuppies. Tonight there was grey-murky water bank-to-bank…no bottom visible from the bridge and about 40 cm [of water] rushing over the Vantage Point ledge, which should be 15 cm above water level on an ideal night.”
I was going to give up until I read a little further through the email—“We’ve got some captive mudpuppies…”
The next morning, driving through hail and torrential rain, I arrived in Oxford Mills and saw the mudpuppies before they were released back into the wild.
Seeing these unique animals up-close was worth the wait.
Have you been lucky enough to see a mudpuppy in Ontario? Sightings of this species are rare because of their shy, nocturnal nature. In fact, most mudpuppy records in the atlas database come from ice anglers. If you are one of the fortunate few, consider sharing your sighting with us.
Love reptiles and amphibians as much as I do? Join the Ontario Nature Atlas e-news community! You’ll learn about the issues reptiles and amphibians face in Ontario and the many ways you can get involved to help us protect them.
Emma Horrigan is Ontario Nature’s conservation science coordinator.