Added 15 June 2000
One of the largest salamanders in the world, the Hellbender is a member of the Cryptobranchidae that includes the two giant Asian salamanders (see next page). Many find it somewhat repulsive to look at it, but it is an interesting subject. Apart from its relatively large size (about 2ft), it also has fairly demanding requirements: a large tank (refrigerated if possible - see Indiviglio), very clean water (to aid in respiration) with powerful filtration, and low light levels. Shelters are particularly important to the Hellbender, as they are to its Asian relatives. Native populations of this fascinating animal are under severe pressure due to their high sensitivity to pollution, so adopting one should not be undertaken lightly and where possible breeding should be encouraged - not an easy task. As a final caution, a thriving Hellbender can live up to 30 years in captivity.
A large and completely aquatic and nocturnal salamander, the Mudpuppy is normally about 13" long but has reached a record 17" on occasion. It is a flattened, rather slimy creature with external gills (the size of which is related to the amount of oxygen available) but also lungs, as evident by the fact that it will sometimes rise to the surface to breathe. The eyes are extremely small while the legs, although reasonably well-developed, do not assist in swimming. In nature they spend much of their lives hiding under stones and logs and have been found at depths of up to 90 ft. Indiviglio recommends large, well-filtrated (because of their high level of waste) and well-aerated aquariums for these creatures so that they can remain on the bottom without having to rise to the surface, plus dim lighting only as they shy away from bright light. An ideal diet could also be problematic, since the Mudpuppy seems very fond of freshwater lobster (crayfish) as well as the usual amphibian fare.
The larger amphiuma species are among the longest of amphibians and in some way atypical, being both fast and aggressive. This combined with their size necessitates a large tank and some care in dealing with them, as their bite is quite vicious and deep. The tank should be secure as they are also renowned escape artists and are especially active at night. They can live upwards of twenty years in captivity.
These newts hail predominantly from China and North Vietnam (Patterson). They were only described in 1935 and while popular with some hobbyists and collectors, not much is known about them. Some, and I am thinking in particular of the Hong Kong newt, Parmesotriton hongkongensis, have the reputation of being difficult. This is an area where an advanced keeper could make useful contributions to our knowledge, but they are definitely not for beginners.
The Northern Red Salamander is one of the most beautiful salamanders, but also one of the most demanding to set up in captivity. In the wild it is always found near running water - never near stagnant water. Indiviglio insists that the water used in their terrarium should be cool, clean and dechlorinated and recommends bottled water, while Mattison strongly recommends the use of a pump to recreate running water. Food items should also be small to match the size of the salamander's mouth. Indiviglio states that if these requirements are met fairly precisely then these attractive creatures prove fairly hardy.
See previous page for remarks on the siren family and the dwarf siren. The Lesser Siren (Siren intermedia and Greater Siren (Siren lacertina) constitute the other two species of the family. Both have only forelimbs, the rear limbs being absent. External gills are present, as are lungs. Sirens have no teeth but instead a sharp edge around the mouth rather like that of a tortoise or turtle: bites are apparently quite painful. In especially dry periods they can aestivate, forming a cocoon around themselves by the technique of multiple shedding and keeping the dead skin around them. Care is largely as for the dwarf siren, but obviously a considerably larger tank is needed: the water still needs to be kept fairly shallow and with a fair amount of plant cover. Indiviglio recommends obtaining where possible the origin of any siren to be kept, since this will enable the correct temperature gradient to be set up: the western subspecies can apparently tolerate somewhat higher temperatures than the other two.