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It is a salamander, no it is a lizard. Are they different?

December 8, 2020
Tiger salamander and skink lizard.

Top photo is the tiger salamander, photo by Brian MacGowan. Photo on bottom is the skink lizard, photo by Dr. Rod Williams.

Salamanders are often mistaken for lizards, but the two groups are very different. Though they both have similar body shapes, lizards are reptiles (along with turtles, snakes, crocodiles, dinosaurs and, yes, birds) while salamanders are amphibians (along with toads, frogs, and a weird and rarely seen group called caecilians). This means lizards have dry scaly skin, while salamanders have moist, porous skin. Lizards all must breathe with lungs, just as humans do. Salamanders, on the other hand, can breathe through their skin, via gills, via lungs, or in some cases via their skin and lungs!

Another major difference between lizards and salamanders is their reproduction. Lizards have leathery, partly calcified (shelled) eggs that are typically buried in sand or dirt, but in a few species are hatched while still inside the mother before birth. Salamanders, as amphibians, mostly lay their eggs in water where the larvae hatch and after some time usually metamorphose and return to land. Lizards can be found most anywhere on land, while salamanders must stay where they won’t dry out: under logs or leaves, underground, or directly in water. We have about 6 species of lizards and 23 species of salamanders here in Indiana. Several of the salamander species are listed as Special Concern or State Endangered. Regardless of their legal status, all wildlife should be left where you find it unless it’s in immediate danger, such as on a road.

For more information on how to identify Indiana salamanders and lizards:
The Salamander of Indiana The Snakes and Lizards of Indiana

Place keywords in the search field at the Purdue Extension resource center for more information, The Education Store.

View Help The Hellbender web site for more information on salamanders.

Visit Got Nature? to submit your natural resource and wildlife questions to our experts and receive the information you need.

Steve Kimble, Post Doctoral Research Associate
Department of Forestry & Natural Resources, Purdue

Rod Williams, Associate Professor of Wildlife Science
Department of Forestry & Natural Resources, Purdue

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