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At first glance, it’s hard to know what to make of this creature. A head like a dragon, gills on the outside of a fish-like body… what is this thing?
The mysterious mudpuppy is the largest member of the salamander family in Iowa. It’s mostly nocturnal, never leaves the water and unlike almost every other reptile or amphibian in Iowa, this one is actually active in winter.
The DNR, in cooperation with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and Minnesota herpetologist Jeff LeClere, is working on a first-of-its-kind study of mudpuppy populations on the Mississippi River.
As research continues, we hope to learn more about this mysterious creature and its habits on Pool 11 of the Upper Mississippi River near Guttenberg.
Historically, we’ve known these fully aquatic salamanders have existed in this area due to reports of accidental catches by local anglers, but little else is known about how many or how few exist. Researchers are hoping the information gathered will aid in better understanding mudpuppy populations in the region and what we may be able to do to help.
Iowa anglers can help out by reporting any mudpuppies they may happen to catch. Because mudpuppies are active in winter, this is the time of year that they become susceptible to being caught on a hook and line. Although they are very slimy and hard to hold onto, they are completely harmless.
If anyone would catch one, a photo and a good description of where it was caught would be a big benefit to researchers. Be sure to release it right after that photo, as mudpuppies are considered threatened in Iowa, and cannot legally be collected or killed.