Salamanders vs. Lizards: What’s the Difference?

Salamanders and lizards have similar silhouettes, but the two creatures couldn’t be more different in terms of behaviors and lifestyles.

Apr 6, 2024By Molly Weinfurter
salamanders vs lizards what is the difference

With long tails, slender bodies, and four legs, salamanders and lizards look the same at first glance. Many people even believe salamanders are a type of lizard, but that’s not the case at all.

Despite having similar silhouettes, the two animals are very different. Their behaviors, lifestyles, and even species classifications don’t line up. However, they’re both fascinating critters.

Species Classification

lizard face close up

Lizards are reptiles while salamanders are amphibians. People often get amphibians and reptiles confused, but they’re two entirely different animal groups.

Reptiles consist of scaly creatures like crocodiles and turtles while amphibians include slimy critters like frogs and newts. Amphibians have been around for about 365 million years while reptiles have been around for about 300 million.

Skin Texture

salamander moist skin

The unique classifications of lizards and salamanders mean that their skin texture is very different. Lizards have dry skin that’s covered in scales while salamanders have smooth, slimy skin. Despite having different skin types, both animals regularly shed their skin.

A lizard’s hard skin can help them retain water in arid environments while a salamander’s skin helps them absorb water in moist environments. Salamander skin is delicate, so they should rarely be handled as pets.

Distinct Body Parts

lizard ear hole

Other than skin, there are a few other physical traits that set these two animals apart. First, lizards have five toes on all their feet while salamanders have four on the front and five on the back. Lizards also have a claw on each toe while salamanders don’t have anything sharp to defend themselves (some don’t even have teeth).

Lizards have a distinct ear hole, which salamanders lack. Since these animals live different lifestyles, salamanders evolved to not need an external ear hole. However, salamanders have internal ears, so they’re not deaf.

Also, lizards have much longer legs than salamanders, allowing them to run faster. While salamanders are slow on land, they’re much faster than lizards when swimming.


salamander water habitat

Salamanders and lizards cannot survive in the other’s habitat. Lizards typically live in dry, terrestrial environments because their scales and claws protect them. Then, salamanders live in damp forests near water. A salamander’s skin must always stay moist for them to thrive.

Since salamanders have sensitive skin, they often hide in shady spots or under logs to stay damp and out of direct sunlight. Most salamanders require a body of water to reproduce, so they stay near aquatic environments like lakes and ponds. While salamanders avoid the sun, lizards regularly bask in the sunlight.


gecko eating worm

Despite their delicate structure, all salamanders are carnivores. They eat a variety of insects and worms. Large salamanders may even eat smaller salamanders. When hunting, they typically stay completely still and lunge at prey when it gets close enough.

Many lizards are also carnivores, eating insects, worms, and small mammals. However, some species of lizards are omnivores or vegetarians. Some lizards sit and wait when hunting prey while others forage or stalk prey.

Diurnal vs. Nocturnal

salamander hiding

Most lizards are diurnal, meaning they’re active during the day. Geckos are one of the few exceptions. However, all salamander species are nocturnal, so they hide during the day and come out at night to hunt. Salamanders are typically found hiding under objects to avoid sunlight.

Breathing Methods

bright green lizard

Like most terrestrial animals, lizards breathe with their lungs. Yet, it’s not as simple for salamanders. Some salamanders have lungs, but they also breathe through their skin and mouth lining. Lungless salamanders breathe solely through their skin and mucous membranes. Salamanders can also “drink” through their skin by absorbing water.

As juveniles, many salamanders are fully aquatic, causing them to breathe with frilly gills like an axolotl instead of with lungs. Lizards breathe through their lungs, even as juveniles.


salamander lilypad

Most lizards lay eggs on land while a few species are viviparous, meaning they give birth to tiny lizards instead of laying eggs. Lizards typically lay between 5 and 30 eggs that have a soft, leathery exterior. Some lizard species may guard their eggs, but most of them abandon the eggs before they hatch.

Salamander eggs don’t look like standard animal eggs. They’re tiny and gelatinous, making them easy to miss. Salamanders can lay 10 to 450 eggs at a time, depending on the species. Salamanders enter the water to lay eggs, attaching their eggs to rocks and plants for safety.

Life Cycle

baby gecko hatching

When young salamanders hatch, they’re fully aquatic with frilly gills (except for a few terrestrial species). The young salamanders stay in the water between 2.5 and 5 months. Then, they go through metamorphosis, causing their gills and fins to shrink so they can live on land.

Young lizards don’t go through drastic changes like salamanders do. They typically look like small versions of adults and grow with age.


salamander face up close

Regardless of being sensitive, salamanders generally live longer than lizards. Most lizards live between 5 and 15 years, sometimes living as long as 30 years. However, salamanders can live 10 to 30 years, sometimes reaching 50 years. The exact lifespan of salamanders and lizards varies based on the species.


lizard tail curled

Some lizards are known for dropping their tails to escape predators. While their tails can regrow, they rarely look as aesthetically pleasing as before.

However, salamanders have incredible regeneration capabilities. They can regrow their limbs and even organs. They can also regenerate the same body part more than once.

From a distance, salamanders and lizards look the same. Yet, by observing their features closely and studying their behaviors and environments, it’s easy to see that they’re two very different creatures. What they have in common is that they’re both amazing animals.

Molly Weinfurter
By Molly Weinfurter

Molly has over 5 years of experience writing about animals for various websites. She has two pets of her own: a small dog (Mabel) and an axolotl (Wooper). She’s extremely passionate about helping animals in need, so she regularly volunteers with animal organizations by fostering pets, helping at adoption events, and educating about puppy mills.