Bio Facts: Siren, Eastern Lesser
Eastern Lesser Siren
From Southeast North Carolina to central Florida, west to parts of Texas and Oklahoma, and north to southwest Michigan.
Shallow, warm and quiet waters such as swamps, sloughs and weedy ponds.
This aquatic salamander resembles an eel and measures from 7 to 27 inches long. Its two small legs are well developed and have four toes each. There are no hind legs. External gills are found on either side of the head. The general dorsal coloration is dark brown to bluish black, sometimes olive-green. Darker specimens are virtually without markings, but the lighter ones have irregularly scattered black dots that are discernible. The young have a red band across the snout and along the side of the head. Juveniles may be olive-green with tiny brown spots. These markings disappear with age.
In the wild, they eat aquatic invertebrates and plants.
This eel-like salamander spends the daylight hours burrowed in debris that accumulates at the bottoms of ditches, ponds, and other bodies of shallow water. When, and if, the water dries up, it descends into the mud, and when that, in turn, dries over, the siren becomes entombed and must wait, sometimes for months at a time, until it rains. In preparation for aestivation, skin glands secrete a substance that forms a dry, inelastic, parchment-like cocoon covering the entire body (except for the mouth) that protects the animal from dehydration. The gills become strongly reduced during this time.
Lesser sirens breed in early spring. The female lays approximately 200 eggs in a cavity. The larvae are only ½ inch long at hatching and are mature in 2 years.
Lesser sirens are nocturnal and forage for food at night.
Like other amphibians, the lesser siren is capable of absorbing oxygen through its skin and through its external gills.
Sirens were named for a temptress of mythology, and not for the warning devise used by emergency vehicles. They do make sounds, however, consisting of a series of faint clicks that are emitted when other sirens approach or when one leaves a burrow in shallow water to gulp air at the surface. They also may utter shrill cries of distress, as when seized by a water snake. The siren “yelp” is a sound similar to that of a green tree frog heard calling in the distance.
Siren reproduction is relatively unknown, and external fertilization in this family is a possibility.