Are Salamanders Reptiles, Lizards, Or Amphibians?

Salamander Vs Lizard

Salamanders and lizards look so similar that many people just assume they are both the same thing, or at the very least related to one another. Still, have you ever wondered if that’s actually true? Ar salamander’s a type of lizard or are they something else altogether? 

While they are similar in appearance, salamanders and lizards are not the same species. Lizards are reptiles that tend to live in many different climates. Salamanders on the other hand, are amphibians who can usually be found near a body of water like a lake or a creek. 

If you’re like us, and you’re interested in learning more about how salamanders and lizards differ, you’ve come to the right place. Below we will explore the similarities and differences of both salamanders and lizards. Additionally, we will discuss which ones work as better pets, in case your interest comes from wanting one yourself. So come along and let’s find out!

Are Lizards and Salamanders the Same Thing? 

Again, lizards and salamanders are not the same things. While they have a very similar appearance, one is a reptile that usually seeks hot dry climates, while the other is an amphibian that seeks cool places with plenty of water. 

What’s the Difference Between Reptiles and Amphibians

It’s all well and good that the biggest difference between salamanders and lizards is that one is a reptile and the other is an amphibian, but what exactly does that mean? What’s the difference between a reptile and an amphibian?

In the following two sections we will lay out the criteria for an animal to be either a reptile or an amphibian, so you can better understand how salamanders and lizards differ. 

Characteristics of Reptiles

There are key characteristics that define exactly what a reptile is. For something to be classified as a reptile, it must, at the least, have some of the following five characteristics: 

    • Must have scales: The quickest way to identify a reptile is to look for scales. These are the hard protective coverings that keep their bodies safe from danger. Depending on the reptile in question, it can have different sizes and shapes of scales. Still, they all have scales of some kind. 
  • Must produce eggs: Reptiles generally produce eggs with a hard shell and soft interior. For example, most lizard eggs are actually easy to confuse with small bird eggs. These eggs usually get laid in small batches, to increase the likelihood that at least some of the young ones will survive and go on to live full lives.  
  • Must internally fertilize eggs: Some animals like birds, don’t fertilize their eggs until they’ve been laid. That is not the case with reptiles. Reptiles fertilize the eggs internally before they lay them. So if you come across some reptile eggs, just know they may hatch and you should probably leave them alone. 
  • Must be cold-blooded: One of the biggest things that separate us (mammals) from reptiles, is that they are all cold-blooded. Allegedly, some people are cold-blooded too, but strictly, scientifically speaking, we are all warm-blooded animals.  
  • Must have at least one lung: All reptiles have at least one lung. Animals like snakes and some types of lizards only need one lung to breathe. Of course, there are many reptiles that have two lungs as well. 

There are other aspects of reptiles, like them all being vertebrates or most of them having four legs, but you get the picture. Other examples of reptiles would include snakes, crocodilians, turtles, and tortoises. 

Characteristics of Amphibians 

Like reptiles, there are many criteria animals have to meet to be categorized as amphibians. An animal should demonstrate the following characteristics to be classified as an amphibian: 

  • Vertebrates: Like their reptile counterparts, amphibians are also all vertebrates. Meaning they all have a spinal column or a backbone.  
  • Smooth, slimy skin: If you ever caught a frog when you were a kid, you know that they have a mushy, slimy kind of skin. This is a trait shared by all other amphibians. That said, there are some species of salamander that have a bit of a graininess to their skin, even though it’s soft compared to other types of animals. 
  • Cold blooded: Like reptiles, amphibians are also cold-blooded creatures. We will get into this in more depth when we discuss why salamanders are not reptiles. 
  • Shelless Eggs: Amphibians lay eggs that don’t have a hard protective covering. They’re almost more like clear goo balls. They can often be found in large clusters together.
  • Many offspring born at once: Because they often lay so many eggs at once, amphibians can have many offspring from one mating. This helps the survivability rates of the young.

Salamanders are some of the most common amphibians you’ll find. Still, if you go to any small body of water you’re bound to see at least a few of these kinds of creatures. 

What is the Difference Between a Salamander and a Lizard?

There are more differences between salamanders and lizards than just their classifications as amphibians and reptiles. Many of the differences can be quickly spotted, so you can identify which type of animal you’ve found. 

Below, we’ve provided you with a handy list of the differences between salamanders and lizards so you never mistake one for the other again: 

  • Classification: Let’s knock this one out really quick because it informs nearly all the other differences. Lizards are classified as reptiles along with animals like snakes, turtles, and crocodiles. Salamanders, on the other hand, are classified as amphibians, alongside animals like frogs, newts, and even some types of water worm. 
  • Where they live: Most salamanders and lizards would never want to trade places to live. Many lizards live in hot environments to warm their cold blood. Salamanders on the other hand, prefer to find little spots that are cooler than the rest of the area they live around. They must keep their skin wet in order to be able to survive and reproduce. 
  • Their bodies are different: We will dive more deeply into this in the following section on why salamanders are not reptiles. For now, suffice to say, salamanders lack the scales and claws of lizards. When you think about it, it makes sense. Living in a different environment caused them to develop different systems of defense.
  • They tend to be smaller: While you can find some species of lizard that are smaller than your average salamander, that doesn’t tend to be the case most of the time. The largest species of lizard–the Komodo dragon–grows up to 10 feet long. The largest type of salamander–Chinese giant–on the other hand, can grow up to 5 feet long. Most salamander,s however, are much smaller. 

While the general shape of a salamander is extraordinarily similar to that of a lizard, it isn’t difficult to spot the differences if you know what to look for.     

Salamanders Are Not Reptiles 

Because they’re confused for the same thing so often, many people assume salamanders are reptiles just like lizards. Of course, they’re surprised when they discover they are not the same thing and a salamander is not a reptile. Still, this leaves the obvious question; “why aren’t salamanders considered to be reptiles?” 

Salamanders are not reptiles because they do not meet the criteria to be one. Below, we’ve listed out the major things that salamanders either lack, or do, that prevent them from being categorized as reptiles:

  • Lack of scales: Living in different environments, salamanders and lizards have evolved different mechanisms of protection. Lizards have both scales and claws, whereas salamanders do not. Lizards need these because they are often in hot, dry areas where scales act as protection. Salamanders on the other hand spend a lot of time in the water.
  • Unshelled eggs: Most reptiles have eggs with hard shells, similar to that of birds. Amphibians like salamanders on the other hand, lay unshelled eggs. If you’ve ever seen frog eggs while fishing in a small creek or pond, you know exactly what we mean by unshelled. These are eggs that are transparent to a degree, with a much softer texture than that of a reptile.
  • They require water to live: Okay, I know what you’re thinking; every animal requires water to live. But salamanders especially do, in that they require a body of water nearby because they have to keep their skin moist. This is part of what makes them amphibian rather than a reptile. 

Do Salamanders Seek Heat Like Lizards? 

We all know that lizards and other reptiles seek heat because they are cold-blooded. If salamanders are also cold-blooded as well, how does it affect which environments they choose to live in? 

Despite being cold-blooded, Salamanders generally do not seek heat the way that lizards do. Instead, they prefer places where it is a little bit cooler. Usually, they either live in a body of water or there is one nearby.

They must seek the cool and moist because their skin requires it. They are divided into the ones who live in the water full time, part-time, and not at all. Still, they all require cool water, even if they don’t require as much as each other. 

How are Salamanders and Lizards Similar? 

Aside from their appearance, there are many similarities that both salamanders and lizards share with one another. 

Though they aren’t the same thing, salamanders and lizards overlap in each of the following ways:

  • Lizards and Salamanders are vertebrates: While you could be forgiven for thinking salamanders don’t have a spine because of how willy they can be, they actually do in fact have them. Both lizards and salamanders are vertebrates.
  • Both are cold-blooded: Though it informs their behavior differently, both lizards and salamanders are cold-blooded creatures. 
  • They can use similar self-defense mechanisms: While not every type of salamander or lizard can detach its tail when a predator makes contact with it, there are many in each category that can. 
  • Both have species that cannibalize their own kind: This aspect of salamanders and lizards is a fun factoid, even if it is kind of sick. Both salamanders and lizards have some members who eat others of their own. Meaning there are lizards that eat other lizards and salamanders that eat other salamanders. 
  • Both lizards and salamanders can make great pets: If you’re looking for a cool indoor pet, you can find one in both salamanders and lizards. Just be careful not to mix up which is which, as they both can have dramatically different needs. Also, always buy them from a pet store, rather than taking one from its natural habitat. 

The similarities between salamanders and lizards just go to show how complex systems can evolve over time in different ways but still produce superficially similar results. Nature, in essence, repeats itself. 

How Many Species of Lizards and Salamanders Exist

Both lizards and salamanders are large groups, with a whole swath of species in each. So, how many species of lizard and salamander are there, really? 

    • Lizards: There are approximately 4,675 different species of lizard. They range greatly in size and appearance. You have everything from the nano-chameleon, which is only 13.5mm long, to the whopping 10-foot long komodo dragon. 
  • Salamanders: Salamanders have considerably fewer species counted amongst them when compared to lizards. There are exactly 655 species of salamander. To be fair, however, that only counts the species of salamander that haven’t yet gone extinct. 

Are Newts the Same as Salamanders?

Lizards aren’t the only creatures similar to salamanders. There’s another water-dwelling creature that looks so much like a salamander, it might just be one. That creature is the newt. So the question is, are newts the same thing as salamanders?

The answer to this one is a bit more complex than that of lizards vs salamanders. That’s because all newts are salamanders but not all salamanders are newts. 

That is because newts are simply a type of salamander. They are distinguished from other salamanders in that they are more likely to live in the water–at least part of the time–even when they are adults. They also typically have shorter tails and can sometimes even have a rough, grainy kind of texture to their skin. 

Are Mud Puppies the Same as Salamanders?

Are mud puppies also salamanders or are they something else?  Common mud puppies are a particular species of salamander. The scientific name for their species is Necturus maculosus. However, they got the nickname mud puppies because of the way they poke their heads out of the mud and make tiny barking-like sounds. 

Salamanders Are Not Lizards Or Reptiles 

Whew! That was a lot of info. Because we’ve bounced around discussing everything from why a salamander isn’t a lizard to how you classify what a reptile or amphibian is, a quick summary is in order.

The primary reason why lizards and salamanders are not the same things is that one is a reptile, while the other is an amphibian.

A lizard is a reptile because it is a vertebrate with scales that lays hard-shelled eggs. A salamander is not a reptile because it doesn’t have scales or lay the right type of eggs.

Instead, a salamander is an amphibian. With their soft skin that requires water, and the soft eggs they lay, there really is no other way to classify a salamander.  

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