Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute
To celebrate, we’re counting down animal keeper Matt Neff’s top six favorite salamander facts! Stop by the Reptile Discovery Center’s Jewels of Appalachia exhibit to see these awesome amphibians up close.
1. Salamanders have super-sensitive skin—and many breathe through it.
Two-thirds of all salamander species are lungless; instead, they breathe through their skin. A salamander’s body absorbs oxygen, but it can also absorb other elements, too. Because of this, they are very susceptible to pollution and toxins in the environment. Typically, salamanders will disappear from an ecosystem before small mammals or birds will. This is why some scientists compare them to a canary in a coal mine—salamander health often reflects the overall health of their environment. However, these species are masters at hiding, so if you are in their natural habitat and don’t see them right away—they may just be doing what they do best.
2. Salamanders can give you a hand—and grow theirs back.
One of the coolest things about salamanders is that most of them have the ability to regenerate body parts—including limbs, tails, eye tissue and even brain tissue. By studying how the salamanders’ macrophages are able to repair and regenerate so effectively, scientists can take what they learn and apply it to human medicine. In future, what we learn could help those who have lost limbs or are battling Alzheimer’s disease.