Florida hosts all four known species of sirens, a strange aquatic family of salamanders. With frilly gills for breathing underwater and no hind legs, these salamanders live in ponds, lakes and weedy ditches and can grow up to 3 feet.
Pretend for a moment you are a Greater Siren, one of the world’s largest salamanders, and your pond is drying up. What do you do? Luckily you have secret super powers to help you survive. As the water draws down, you burrow into the wet soil, curl up into an “S” shape and build a cocoon out of dead cells to withstand the dry conditions. While you do have feathery gills at the base of your head to breathe underwater, you can also breathe air directly through your skin and large lungs. Your body functions slow down and you can last long periods without eating until the water returns.
Pretty handy, huh? Sirens of all sizes have this ability. Larvae, which are less than an inch long at hatching, can survive months like this. Adults grow to over 3 feet long and can weather droughts for years.
Graduate Student, Herpetology
University of Florida
Greater Siren (Siren lacertina)
From St. Johns River, Florida, Dec. 2000