Courtesy of D. Blackburn E. Stanley
Sirens are long, eel-like aquatic salamanders
with small front legs. They lack back
legs and a pelvis. The family lives
exclusively in the Eastern United States.
Sirens are found in still or slow moving
water habitats of all sizes including ponds,
ephemeral wetlands, ditches, marshes,
rice paddies, and slow moving streams. All
Sirens have external gills throughout their lives, but they also use lungs to breath air at the water surface. Instead of front teeth, Sirens have a beak like structure. Sirens are able to use their shovel shaped heads to burrow. They spend much of their time in burrows or thick vegetation. The Siren family, Sirenidae, currently consists of four species which are all believed to be common. Two of the species, called Dwarf Sirens, reach total lengths of around 7-10 inches (~20-25 cm). The other species, the Lesser Siren (Siren intermedia) and Greater Siren (Siren lacertina), are the giants of the family.
Greater Siren (Siren lacertina)
Lesser Siren (Siren intermedia)
UF123993 Lesser Siren. Scanned at YXLON (Hudson, OH). Scan courtesy of D. Blackburn and E. Stanley.
Micro CT scan of Lesser Siren (Siren intermedia)
Photo Credit: Dana Karelus
We are currently researching Sirens in Florida, click here to learn more!
Greater Sirens are the third longest salamanders in North America, reaching
maximum sizes of just under a meter(~3 feet). They live in the Coastal Plains
region of the Eastern United States. Adults have gold colored markings on
their bodies. Greater Sirens eat a number of prey items, but snails make up a
large portion of their diet. Researchers recently discovered that Greater Sirens
will purposely eat plants. Greater Sirens are eaten by American Alligators
(Alligator mississippiensis) and wading birds. Smaller Greater Sirens are easily confused with Lesser Sirens but vertical grooves along the sides of the body, called costal grooves, can be used to tell the species apart in some areas.
Adult Lesser Sirens reach
sizes of 27 inches (70 cm).
This species is more widely
distributed than the Greater
Siren. It is found in much of
the Coastal Plains, but also in
lower elevation areas as far west as Texas and as far north as Michigan. The Lesser Siren diet consists largely of aquatic insects, small crustaceans, snails, and worms. This species is also known for eating the eggs of its own species. Scientists suspect that high water conditions may help this species move between ponds.
Photo Credit: Kirsten Hecht
Southern Dwarf Siren (Pseudobranchus axanthus)