Neuse River Waterdog

Photo: Jeff Hall

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Scientific Name: Necturus lewisi

Classification: Nongame species; state listed as special concern

Range/Abundance: Rare; found only in the Neuse & Tar River systems (brown)

Species Profile (PDF)



Neuse River Waterdog (juvenile) (Photo: Jeff Hall)

Neuse River Waterdog (Photo: Melissa McGaw)

Additional Information

The Neuse River Waterdog, also called Carolina Mudpuppy, is one of three species of mudpuppy occurring in the state. The Common Mudpuppy (Necturus maculosus), the largest and actually the least common of the three in the state (though widespread and much more common farther north), occurs only in a few river systems in the Mountains. The Dwarf Mudpuppy (N. punctatus), the smallest of the three, is widely distributed throughout the Coastal Plain. 

Neuse River Waterdogs have somewhat stocky, cylindrical bodies and rather flattened, elongate heads with squared-off noses. The dorsal coloration is a light rusty brownish, with the belly being a paler brown or grayish. There are conspicuous roundish, dark brown or blackish spots on both the dorsal and ventral surfaces, and a dark line through the eye. The skin is smooth and slimy. The limbs are rather small, and the front and hind feet have four toes each (unlike most salamanders, which have five toes on each hind foot). The laterally compressed tail is finned dorsally and ventrally. Three dark red, feathery gills project from either side of the head. The sexes are similar in appearance, and adults can be distinguished externally only by the shape and structure of the cloacal area.

The Neuse River Waterdog is found only in North Carolina. Neuse River Waterdogs inhabit rivers and larger streams, where they prefer leaf beds in quiet waters. They are carnivorous, foraging along the bottom for invertebrates, small vertebrates or carrion. Much activity apparently takes place at night. They are most active during winter and are difficult to find during the summer months, when they typically burrow in deep leaf beds. Larvae and juveniles are often collected by seining or dip netting in leaf beds. Adults readily enter minnow traps baited with chicken livers, shrimp, crushed crayfish or similar bait. Like many other amphibians, Waterdogs produce skin secretions that are probably distasteful to some potential predators. Few records of predation are available, but they are almost certainly preyed upon by various fishes.

Learn more by reading the Neuse River Waterdog species profile.

The Neuse River Waterdog is classified as a nongame species with no open season. It is state-listed as a species of special concern. Though still fairly common in some of the more pristine sections of the Neuse and Tar drainages, the Neuse River Waterdog has suffered serious declines in some areas, particularly in the Neuse River around Raleigh. Because of its limited range and sensitivity to pollution and habitat alteration, the Neuse River Waterdog was listed as a species of special concern by the state in 1990. Specimens may not be legally killed, collected or possessed without a special permit from the Wildlife Commission. The salamander also is a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in the N.C. Wildlife Action Plan.

There are no reported problems with this species.

Conservation Plan for Five Rare Aquatic Species Restricted to the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico River Basins in North Carolina - 2020 (~6 MB PDF)

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, in partnership with several other agencies and universities, conducted a rangewide assessment of the Neuse River Waterdog. These surveys showed an overall 50 percent decrease in detections of the species in areas surveyed 30 years ago. A graduate study through N.C. State University is continuing this work looking more at abundance of waterdogs. This work should help guide future conservation efforts for the Neuse River Waterdog.

Neuse River Waterdogs are seldom encountered except by those who specifically seek them out. Occasional specimens are caught on hook and line by fishermen using live bait (most of the specimens upon which Brimley based his description of the species were taken in this fashion). They are completely harmless to humans and do not bite. Any specimens accidentally captured should be released unharmed.