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Three-Toed Amphiuma Fact File

Amphiuma tridactylum

Weight

Insufficient

Data

Length

0.5-1.1m

(1.5-3.5ft)

Lifespan

Wild Unknown

Captive 13-19 years

Diet

Carnivore

Insects, Tadpoles

Conservation Status

IUCN

Least Concern

The three-toed amphiuma is named for its three toes in line with the naming conventions for the three amphiuma species.


The amphibians are occasionally known as the Congo eel. A confusing misnomer with the species being neither an eel or found in the Congo in Africa. Instead they are found in North America.

These animals are carnivores which feed on insects, tadpoles and frogs though crayfish are their primary food source.

Three-toed amphiumas have lost some of their habitat due to development but the creation of ponds and canals has extended their range.

Read on to learn more about these amazing amphibians.

Appearance

The three-toed amphiuma is the longest species of salamander in North America though the hellbender is heavier than this species.

As an adult the three-toed amphiuma lacks both lungs and gills. Instead the absorb oxygen directly through the skin.

The body of the three-toed amphiuma has been likened to that of an eel. It is long and cylindrical with the tail flattened. This tail may account for one quarter of their length. This body is colored grey, brown or black above with a pale grey color underneath.

On either side of the body are two tiny legs each ending with three toes as their name suggests. While the legs are present they are too small to be of any assistance with moving around.

Adult three-toed amphiumas will reach a length of between 0.5 and 1.1m (1.5 and 3.5ft) long.

Females and males can be distinguished visually. Females have dark cloacal walls while the males are white. During the breeding season the males will develop swelling in their cloaca.

Diet


The three-toed amphiuma is a carnivore. They feed on worms, crayfish, tadpoles and frogs. They have been reported to be cannibalistic occasionally feeding on small individuals of their own species.

When these animals retreat to their burrow during dry weather they may go for weeks without feeding.

Occasionally they will forage by simply sticking the front half of their body out of the burrow and waiting for food.

Three-Toed Amphiuma

Range

North America is the native home of the three-toed amphiuma. Here they can be found in the south-east corner of the country. Their range takes in the following states – Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri and Kentucky.

Habitat

These amphibians live in marshes, lakes, bayous and streams. Most of their habitats feature areas with heavy vegetation and bodies of slow moving water.

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Reproduction

Mating takes place late in winter. Females court a mate by rubbing her snout against the male. Males and females wrap around one another with the aim of transferring sperm to the female. Unlike the majority of amphibians fertilization is undertaken internally.

Both males and females can mate with multiple partners each breeding season.

In spring the females deposit up to 200 eggs in strings which they then wrap around and protect for the 20 week incubation period. The eggs are opaque in color.

During the incubation the water level often drops and the larvae must make their way over land.

At birth the young are equipped with gills which reabsorb within 10 days of hatching. Their lungs are well developed at hatching and they can already breathe at the water's surface.

Sexual maturity is reached between 3 and 4 years old.

Behavior

Three-toed amphiumas spend the majority of their life in the water.

They are active at night when they will emerge to hunt. During the day they will seek shelter in a burrow within the streambed. They may make use of the burrows of crayfish. When there is heavy rainfall they may leave the water and make a brief trip across land.

During a period of dry weather the three-toed amphiuma will retreat in to a burrow.

The bite of these animals are strong and in some cases have been reported as requiring stitches.

Three-Toed Amphiuma
Three-Toed Amphiuma

Predators and Threats

Natural predators of the three-toed amphiuma include snakes such as the cottonmouth.

Their main defense against predation is their powerful bite.

These animals are captured for sale in to the pet trade or to be used in laboratory experiments.

While this species has suffered a loss of habitat but this has been offset by the creation of artificial habitats such as canals and ponds.

Quick facts

The three-toed amphiuma has also been referred to as the Congo eel a misleading name for a species found in North America. Other alternative names include the ditch eel and lamp eater.

There are three species of amphiuma with the three-toed amphiuma being the second largest of the three species.

Three-Toed Amphiuma

Photo Credits

Top, Middle One and Bottom

Peter Paplanus, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Middle Two Left

Lamb, J.Y., Davis, M.P. (2020), CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Middle Two Right

opencage, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

References

Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK

Jackson, T. and Chinery, M., 2012. The illustrated encyclopedia of animals of the world. London: Southwater.

Bird Kingdom. 2021. Three-Toed Amphiuma. [online] Available at: <https://www.birdkingdom.ca/our_animals/three_toed_amphiuma> [Accessed 30 August 2021].

Kowalski, E. and Watkins-Colwell, G., 2004. Caudata Culture Species Entry – Amphiuma. [online] Caudata.org. Available at: <https://www.caudata.org/cc/species/Amphiuma/Amphiuma.shtml> [Accessed 30 August 2021].

Tn.gov. 2021. Three-toed Amphiuma | Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. [online] Available at: <https://www.tn.gov/twra/wildlife/amphibians/salamanders/three-toed-amphiuma.html> [Accessed 30 August 2021].

AmphibiaWeb 2001 Amphiuma tridactylum: Three-toed Amphiuma <https://amphibiaweb.org/species/3855> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed Aug 30, 2021.

Fuller, P., 2021, Amphiuma tridactylum Cuvier, 1827: U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/factsheet.aspx?SpeciesID=2863, Revision Date: 4/17/2019, Access Date: 8/30/2021

Missouri Department of Conservation. 2021. Three-Toed Amphiuma. [online] Available at: <https://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/three-toed-amphiuma> [Accessed 30 August 2021].

Schnelker, A. 2011. "Amphiuma tridactylum" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed August 30, 2021 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Amphiuma_tridactylum/

Geoffrey Hammerson. 2004. Amphiuma tridactylumThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2004: e.T59076A11879742. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2004.RLTS.T59076A11879742.en. Downloaded on 30 August 2021.

Geoffrey Hammerson. 2004. Amphiuma tridactylumThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2004: e.T59076A11879742. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2004.RLTS.T59076A11879742.en. Downloaded on 30 August 2021.

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