Sunday, February 23, 2014

Mudpuppy dissection!

WARNING: The included pictures may be considered graphic or offensive by some.

You know what’s great about being hosted by a major newspaper like the Times Union? Last Wednesday I had 21 hits on my blog. A sad, lonely, 21 hits. Thursday, after being featured on the front page of the TU website brought me 536 hits. And today, 317 so far. That’s pretty awesome exposure for me. So, thanks for stopping by!

As I’ve mentioned in recent entries, I’m enrolled in a Herpetology course. Herpetology is a branch of zoology which focuses on the study of reptiles and amphibians. I’ve never been really into the “herps”, mammals and birds are more my forte in the world of wildlife, but I’m interested to know more about them. They are sensitive to environmental changes, they are abundant in New York (we have snakes, frogs, toads, salamanders, turtles, and lizards!), and they are fairly easy to come across. Especially in the few months as they are emerging from hibernation and beginning to breed.

Check out the NYSDEC’s website for
 more information:
The class is 4 hours long: 2 hours of lecture, 2 hours of lab. Friday’s lab was really fun for me, as we did a dissection of a mudpuppy! Mudpuppies are large salamanders that spend all of their time in fresh water. They have external gills, and can be found all over New York State. The only time I’ve seen one in the wild was while using a “gill net” (a type of sampling equipment for fish) in the middle of Canandaigua Lake in late May. They’re really cool!

The following pictures are kind of a walk through how my group conducted our dissection. The mudpuppies that we had to dissect came from Ward’s Natural Sciences, which is located in Rochester, NY. These animals were raised in captivity and then humanely euthanized for educational purposes. This is also true for the rats, frogs, pigs, etc that we’ve all dissected in general biology courses.

Our mudpuppy of choice!

Before cutting into our mudpuppy, Dr. Losito wanted us to do an external examination of the cloaca. All herps have only one opening for defecating, urinating, and reproduction. That’s what you see here. The males are supposed to be very puffy and swollen looking, and to us, this looked that way. We would receive our definitive answer once we cut it open.

Upon cutting it open, we immediately saw the ovary, which are those small yellowish balls.
Photo credit to lab partner: 
Lauren Richardson

Depending on the sex of our mudpuppy, Dr. Losito wanted us to follow and identify all digestive organs, and then the reproductive system. The digestive system was laying on top of the reproductive organs, so we had to get through that first!

The path of digestion is as follows: mouth > esophagus > stomach > duodenum (which contains the pancreas which creates insulin) > small intestine (nutrient absorption) > large intestine (water absorption) > colon > excretion through the vent.

We also identified the lungs, spleen, liver, gall bladder, and urinary bladder.The digestive organs that we identified include: ostium, oviduct, ovary, and the archinephric duct. Our female was considered “gravid”, because she was full of eggs. Other groups also had females that showed these parts, but the body cavity was not nearly as full as ours was.

Below my lab partners Lauren Richardson and Chelsea Gendreau are trying to sort through organs so that we can find everything. In the picture below that, you can see a nice upclose picture of what a truly gravid female mudpuppy looks like.

Lauren (L) and Chelsea (R) examine our mudpuppy.

A gravid, female mudpuppy.

A final shot: mudpuppy skin is full of mucous ducts that keep the skin moist and lubricated for water travel. They’re not scaly, but feel like frogs. They are really cool animals, and ARE found in NY, so if you’re lucky enough to see one (or catch one while fishing) consider yourself lucky!

I hope you enjoyed this brief entry, and I’m glad I got to finally post a longer entry sharing what I get to do in school. This is my LAST semester of my undergrad! I couldn’t be more happy, but I’m also a little nervous. Wish me luck this last semester and while I continue on this job hunt!


  1. I've gotta see one of these things in the wild sometime. SO hard to find. The talk around Virginia (at least in our wildlife/naturalist conversations) is herps coming out at night sometime soon. Hope to see some good ones!

    1. Brian, I don't know your "ideal" time, but anytime from mid-March through April anytime there are warm, night rains, herps can be seen migrating to vernal and perpetual wetlands to breed. Salamanders and frogs, en masse! I didn't participate last spring, but friends were moving fistfuls of salamanders, peepers, chorus frogs, and wood frogs across the road at night, in the pouring rain. We get extra credit for going out to do it! I'll be sure to post those pics when the time comes.

  2. Look at all those eggs , so long ago since I did anything close to this in Biology, I can still remember that formalin odour. So glad you are enjoying your classes. Cheers, Jean.

  3. We don't have the mudpuppies around here that I know of, cool dissection! ;-)

    check out the red fox and coyote pictures on my recent post,

    Michael :-)

  4. Cool! We have Mudpuppies over here too. Impossible to catch by hand. I've heard catching them likenend to trying to grab a "greased hotdog". They are so slimy!

    1. Doc, I assure you that they ARE just like a greasy, snotty, mucousy hot dog. I was desperately trying to save all of them out of the gill net (lost cause) as it was being pulled up and it was a like a cartoon character with a bar of soap!


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