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Salamanders are amphibians that retain their tail as an adult. They are animals that begin their lives in the water breathing with gills; as they mature, they develop lungs and breathe air. Salamanders look like lizards without scales.

Salamanders are mostly found in the Northern Hemisphere (North America, Europe, and Asia); only a few are found in the Southern Hemisphere (in northern South America and far-northern Africa).

Anatomy: On average, adult salamanders are about 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm) long. Most have four short legs, but some species only have front legs. There are four toes on each of the front legs, and five toes on each of the hind legs. The tail is laterally compressed (it is taller than it is wide) and often has a crest. In some arboreal (tree-dwelling) salamanders, the tail is prehensile (able to grasp). As salamanders grow, they lose the outer layer of the old skin and eat it.

Life cycle: Like all amphibians, salamanders spend their lives near water because they must return to the water to lay their eggs. Salamander eggs are laid in the water. When they hatch, the larvae breathe with gills and swim. As they mature, they develop lungs for breathing air and go onto the land, but remain in the water.

Diet: Salamanders eat insects, worms, snails, and small fish.

Classification: Kingdom Animalia (animals), Order Chordata (animals with notochords), Class Amphibia (amphibians), Order Caudata (or Urodela, 10 families, 63 families, and about 440 species of salamanders and newts)

Evolution: Salamanders evolved during the Jurassic period, about 150 million years ago (during the time of the dinosaurs).

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