Salamanders belong in the order Amphibia along with frogs and toads. Salamanders comprise 350 species out of the 4000 or so known species of amphibians, salamanders are found only in the Americas and in the temperate zones of Northern Africa, Asia and Europe. Some salamanders are fully aquatic and some are fully terrestrial animals, while some live on land from late summer through winter, entering water to breed in the spring.
Often mistaken for lizards, salamanders (sometimes called "sallies") have soft, moist skin covering their long bodies and even longer tails. They have no scales, claws or internal ear openings. Their larva are sometimes confused with the frog tad poles, but their heads do not get as large as the tad poles. They have feathery gill structures present just behind their head on the sides of the neck area, and their front legs develop first; frogs lack the external gill structures, and their hind legs erupt before their forelegs.
The majority of the salamanders and their larva are carnivorous, taking in insects, small invertebrates; the large adults eat fish, frogs and other salamanders. Secretive, essentially voiceless animals, they are chiefly nocturnal, hiding under fallen logs and damp leaf litter during the daylight hours. The larvae begin feeding immediately after hatching, devouring tiny aquatic animals.
Sallies are not suitable for holding or petting. The oils in human skin is toxic to them - they cannot tolerate the salts or the heat of our hands. In addition, many salamanders secrete toxic fluid from their skin which can cause intense irritation to human mucous membranes.
Salamanders can be found searching for food under rotten logs and other debris. Pillbugs, beetles, earthworms, small millipedes, insects, and aphids are suitable food for newly metamorphosed larvae, small moths and other night-flying insects are suitable for a terrestrial and semi-aquatic sallies; aquatic sallies require small aquatic invertebrates which can be netted from ponds and streams. Small crustaceans such as Daphnia and water fleas can be found in waters with high algal content. Since salamanders are attracted to prey by its movement, they do not take readily to killed prey. Some may be induced to eat small strips of raw beef or dead prey. Some prey may be grown at home: fruit flies, mealworms and beetles, earthworms, whiteworms and crickets. The benefit to raising your own prey is that you do not have to worry about not having to go out and collect prey, and you can ensure that your prey eats healthy foods, thus making them healthier.
Salamanders from cooler climates bury themselves in soil or in the mud at the bottom of ponds, going deep enough to avoid frost and to maintain an even temperature. During this time their metabolism is greatly reduced, thus reducing the amount of energy burned in the effort of simply staying alive. Failure to hibernate will not only affect a sallies ability to breed, but it may shorten the animals' life as well.