The Real "Water Lizard"
Eastern Lesser Siren, Siren intermedia, Linnaeus

Captured from Donavan Lake, April, 2008

Text by Thomas Wilson, Biologist

Images by Bill Mathews, VP

Judson College, Marion, AL

Two large native species of aquatic salamanders occur in southern Alabama and we have both of them in the Donavan lakes. I recently collected the Eastern Lesser Siren, Siren intermedia, from a Club lake and decided to share the fun with members. I pulled my john boat out of the water and discovered scores of 12 inch long Lesser Sirens had made their home under my boat. I finally managed to capture one of the slimy little critters and I took it to Judson College to make photos and to teach my students about a strange salamander.
Manager Wilson collecting the Eastern Lesser Siren
Lesser Siren in Wilson's hands
Siren intermedia
Sirens, along with other salamanders, newts, amphiuma, waterdogs, and mudpuppies all are amphibians and belong to the order Caudata (Urodela). Sirens are the only salamanders without hindlegs. They also have external gills as adults and they have no eyelids. Adult Lesser Sirens grow to about two feet in length and can bite the mess out of you. They have a sharp ridge on their jaws with no teeth.
Siren intermedia
Lesser Sirens feed at night and they eat crayfish, small fish, tadpoles, earthworms, snails, and other small aquatic animals. These predators creep into bass and bream beds and have a feast on the eggs. Now you know why fishing with an 8 or 10 inch long plastic lizard is effective, especially during bass spawn.
Gills and 4 toes of Siren intermedia
Sirens are the most primitive members of the order Caudata. Males lack glands that make a spermatophore and females lack a spermotheca for storing sperm, however, external fertilization is assummed for these interesting salamanders.
4 toes and gills of Siren intermedia
Notice the four toes each with a cornified tip that functions as a claw. Sirens have lungs and will occassionally gulf air. Predators of the Lesser Siren are Largemouth Bass, turtles, raccoons, water snakes, alligators, wading birds and especially Cottonmouth Water Moccasins.

The spots or platelets of pigments on the body are iridiophores that reflect blue and yellow colors. This is why your plastic lizard has metalic flects impregnated in the body.
Lesser Siren - image by Michael Graziano

This is an adult Eastern Lesser Siren in an aquarium established by Michael Graziano, biology department, U. of Nebraska (photo with permission - copyright Michael Graziano).
Siren intermedia distribution map
Eastern Lesser Siren
The Eastern Lesser Siren is found in the Upper Coastal Plain and is common in swamps, ponds and wetlands.

Plowing close to wet areas commonly turns up both the Lesser Siren and the larger Three-Toed Amphiuma.
Three-toed Amphiuma

Three-toed Amphiuma
Anna Davenport with 3-toed amphiuma in Dr. Wilson's biology lab at Judson College The Three-toed Amphiuma, Amphiuma tridactylum, can reach a length of over three feet. Notice the hind legs which are absent in sirens.

This big boy (left) was collected on the Black Belt Prairie from a wetland in Perry county by Dr. Wilson. Anna Davenport, biology student at Judson College, took a liking to this giant salamander.
For more information, contact:
Dr. Thomas Wilson