How Do Salamanders Breathe?

One thing super weird about salamanders is how they breathe. The unique breathing technique of salamanders have always intrigued newbies as well as experienced breeders.

Salamanders can breathe through their gills, lungs, skin, mouth and throat.  The respiratory organs of salamanders are quite unique compared to those of other animals.

The process of breathing can differ from type to type of salamanders. Some breathe just like fish, while other ones breathe like mammals. So, how do they do it and which salamander uses which process?

Can Salamanders Breathe Underwater?

Salamanders can breathe underwater. In fact, they spend most of their lives in the water. Out of the three types, aquatic salamanders spend their whole lives underwater, which means they breathe underwater at all times.

How Do Salamanders Breathe Underwater?

At the early stage of their life cycle, salamanders remain as just tadpoles. At this stage, they have gills. These gills are used to breathe underwater.

As they grow into adult form, some salamanders lose their ability to breathe underwater through their gills as the gills transform, and their lungs appear like the tiger salamanders. Meanwhile, other salamanders, such as the siren, keep their gills all their lives and have the ability to breath underwater stored permanently.

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Another way they can breathe underwater is using their skin as a respiratory system.

Can Salamanders Breathe Through Their Skin?

Salamanders can breathe through their skin by using it as a respiratory system. Their skin has the ability to consume oxygen and exert CO2 directly from the air or the water.

How Do Salamanders Breathe Through Their Skin?

Salamander skin is very thin and has a huge number of blood vessels flowing right under it. The blood vessels and capillaries then absorb the water around the salamander and take in everything that is in the water. When they do so, oxygen enters their body, and then it gets carried directly by their blood.

This process is called cutaneous respiration.

The salamander skin always needs to be kept moist in order for the process to happen. Because of the thin skin, if it gets too dry, then the process cannot happen. Also, it can pose a great threat to the salamander’s life.

California slender salamander

What Are Lung Less Salamanders?

These salamanders do not have lungs in their body. Rather, they are completely dependent on their skin to breathe. These types of salamanders are found in America and the Korean peninsula.

Though these salamanders are born with gills during their embryonic development, they become useless before they can turn into lungs. Having lungs would make these salamanders breathe air, so they would float on the water due to their low weight. It would make their survival harder as underwater salamanders. Thus, it is for their own survival that the lungs do not develop.

Lung less salamanders like the California slender salamander also use the thin membrane of their throat and mouth to absorb oxygen.

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What’s So Special About Salamanders Breathing Through Their Skin?

When the salamanders breathe through their skin, they absorb all the things that are in the water. Therefore, they also absorb pollutants. Which can be harmful to salamanders.

But it also has its merits. The salamanders who breathe through their skins can spend whole winters underwater. As at this time, their metabolism rates slow down, it helps extremely to be able to breathe in just water.

They can rise up to land and breathe without lungs, which gives them an adaptive advantage. That is, they can breathe water or air.

Some salamanders have excessive skin on their bodies, such as the wide caudal fins of many newts. As they have more skin, they can absorb oxygen faster and in larger quantities.

Can Salamanders Breathe Through Their Lungs?

Salamanders can breathe using their lungs. When they are floating in the water, they use their nostrils to take in air. They then close the nostrils and take in the air through their mouth to the lungs.

When air reaches the lungs, the diffusion of oxygen and CO2 happens. Salamander lungs are different from mammals. Mammal lungs are spongy in nature with a lot of alveoli. But the salamander lungs have way fewer alveoli in comparison, which means the diffusion rate is slower for them.

Salamanders do not have diaphragms. Thus, they have to rely on their mouths to create a movement similar to swallowing to push the air into their lungs.

This process of breathing through the lungs is known as pulmonary respiration.

How Does A Giant Salamander Breathe?

Giant salamanders do not have gills. They have noses, but they don’t even use them much to breathe. It is because most of their lives are spent underwater, where their noses are pretty much useless.

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These salamanders have numerous folds in their skin that help them oxygenate their bodies directly, bypassing their lungs.

In order to get a higher concentration of oxygen, they choose areas with colder water, such as the fast-moving Asian streams and rivers.

Can Salamanders Drown?

Not all salamanders can breathe underwater. Terrestrial salamanders have to moisten their skin like all other salamanders, but if the water is too deep, there is a possibility they might drown.

Why Is Moisture So Important For Salamander Breathing?

The salamanders that breathe through their skins have to have at least 77% of humidity in the air in order to breathe properly. That is why salamanders live in damp places and in swamps.

In this case, when the humidity falls too low, the skin of the salamanders shrinks and loses moisture. That leads to the salamander’s skin having whiskers, thus posing a problem taking in gas molecules into the skin.

Salamanders Don’t Need To Breathe That Much Anyway.

Salamanders are cold-blooded creatures. They always keep their bodies at a constant temperature.

Being cold-blooded hey do not spend energy heating up their bodies, which means that they do not need to spend as much oxygen in that factor. And it also means that their cells do not have to work as much as the cells of warm-blooded animals have to.

Thus, a huge amount of oxygen use, which is a necessity for other animals, is not a problem for salamanders.

Muntaseer Rahman

About Author

Hello, I’m Muntaseer Rahman, the owner of I’m passionate about aquarium pets like shrimps, snails, crabs, and crayfish. I’ve created this website to share my expertise and help you provide better care for these amazing pets.


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