Wisconsin’s only fully aquatic salamander, the mudpuppy, is at risk of decline across the state. New funding from the NRF’s Wisconsin Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Fund is supporting a state-wide effort to learn more about these slimy amphibians.
DNR biologists search for mudpuppies in the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway, as part of an effort to learn more about their distribution across the state. This project was made possible thanks to the first distribution from the Wisconsin Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Fund. Photo by Caitlin Williamson
Mudpuppies in Wisconsin Need Love, Too!
If you’ve spent time in Wisconsin’s waters, you may have come close to encountering a unique amphibian: the mudpuppy. As the only fully aquatic salamander in Wisconsin, mudpuppies can be found in streams, rivers, ponds, and lakes all year-round. They prefer to spend time underneath flat rocks and woody debris.
Due to their behavior, searching for mudpuppies is challenging.
Mudpuppies in Wisconsin have not been thoroughly studied, but scientists think their numbers may be declining. They are officially listed as a “species with information needs.” Minnesota lists mudpuppies as a species of special concern, and Iowa and Illinois list the species as threatened.
The most likely time to see a mudpuppy this winter? While ice fishing. Mudpuppies can be a common bycatch during the winter ice-fishing season, and the DNR is asking the public to report any observations of mudpuppies they may catch while fishing this winter.
Searching for Mudpuppies
Thanks to the first distribution from NRF’s Wisconsin Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Fund, a team of biologists from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are working to learn more about mudpuppy distribution across the state.
Surveys currently underway across the state have already located mudpuppies in multiple new locations. This time of year, the work involves sloshing through cold winter waters in waders.
We have also been working to compile as much baseline mudpuppy data as we can get our hands on to document what we know about their distribution to compare to what we collect through this effort. We are scouring databases and doing press releases and social media outreach to have citizens submit records of mudpuppies they have encountered while ice fishing or through other means.
The goal: learn more about where mudpuppies used to be found, and where they are now. This project will also develop and test various protocols for mudpuppy surveys, which will lead to more effective monitoring in the long term.
A close-up of a mudpuppy being held in a researcher’s gloved hand. Photo by Heather Kaarakka, WDNR
Helping Wisconsin’s Amphibians and Reptiles
Wisconsin is home to 55 species of amphibians and reptiles, half of which are endangered or at-risk. These animals are critically important to the health and balance of our ecosystems, yet limited funding is available to support their conservation.
The Wisconsin Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Fund was created by NRF in 2017 to show some love for our state’s turtles, toads, frogs, lizards, snakes, and salamanders. The Fund provides ongoing support for conservation, education, research, and monitoring of Wisconsin’s native and vulnerable amphibians and reptiles. After years of fundraising, the fund made its first distribution in 2022, leveraged with matching funds for a total grant of $5,000 to the Wisconsin DNR to support the mudpuppy research and conservation project.
You can support amphibians and reptiles in Wisconsin by becoming a member or donating to the Wisconsin Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Fund.
A researcher holding a mudpuppy over a net filled with water. Photo by Heather Kaarakka, WDNR
Virtual Event: Wisconsin’s amphibians and reptiles need love, too!
Thank you to all who were able to join us over the lunch hour to dive into the wonderful world of amphibians and reptiles! Please enjoy the webinar recording.
We heard from Dr. Joshua Kapfer, professor at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Certified Wildlife Biologist ®, and editor of the long-awaited Amphibians and Reptiles of Wisconsin book, and Rori Paloski, conservation biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The two shared information about the amphibians and reptiles that call Wisconsin home – including the mudpuppy. They also described what conservation efforts are underway to protect them, and what people can do to help.
When: Tuesday, February 21st, 12-1 p.m.
Thank you for your support of Wisconsin’s amphibians and reptiles!