One of the more interesting and simultaneously repulsive animals I have ever encountered is the Mudpuppy, (Necturus maculosis, for you science geeks out there). The Mudpuppy, known in some places as the Waterdog, is a large, wholly aquatic salamander. How large? The can grow to about 16 inches long, which is about the length of the one we had.
|It’s bigger than it looks!|
It’s a shy creature, spending its days hiding in crevices, beneath logs, under rocks. It forages by night for small aquatic vertebrates and invertebrates, and pretty much gulps them down in its extremely large mouth. The most distinguishing characteristic of the creature is the ruff of feathery gills around its neck. Amphibians in general lose their gills when they reach maturity; the mudpuppy is one of the exceptions.
We had a mudpuppy, purchased from a biological supply company, that we used to take our to schools to educate children about wildlife and the environment. On the morning of the program I’d track it down in its tank and corner it. On a good day I could get it in a net. On a bad day, I had to use my hands.
Like most amphibians, the mudpuppy’s skin is coated with a layer of slime that lubricates and protects the mupuppy from injury. It also makes the creature extremely difficult to hold. The body of the mudpuppy, quite frankly, is icky. Picking it up, it’s got a soft, squishy quality, like picking up a rotting cucumber. Blech.
Actually holding onto the animal was even tougher than picking it up in the first place. First, there’s the body shape, which is long and slim. Its legs are stubby. When the animal pulls its legs tight to its body it becomes eel-like. And then there’s that slippery skin and slimy coating. But the real tough part is the body, as soft and squishy as it feels, is really all muscle. That’s the thing about animals, by the way: there’s no wasted muscle on them. They are strong (ever have a little canary or parakeet sit on your finger? What a grip they have). When the mudpuppy pulses its muscles in a wriggling attempt to get out, it’s hard to hold. The only time I ever picked this creature up was to move it from its tank to its travel bucket. And I never handled it in a classroom – it would surely have slipped my grasp and slithered around the classroom floor, and probably ended up injured or dead as a result.