Necturus punctatusDwarf Waterdog

Geographic Range

Dwarf waterdogs (Necturus punctatus) are located in the Piedmont region of the Appalachian Highlands, and more commonly in the southern Atlantic Coastal Plain in the eastern United States. They are found in rivers and streams throughout eastern Georgia and reach as far north as Virginia. The westernmost boundary of their geographic range extends into the broad lowlands of the Triassic Basin in North Carolina. Dwarf waterdogs are present in the Chesapeake Bay region, but only in southeastern Virginia. (Duellman and Sweet, 1999; Dunn, 1918; Hardy Jr., 1972; Martof, et al., 1980)


Optimal habitat for dwarf waterdogs consists of silt-bottomed stream pools with leafy cover. They are also found in open sandy areas and prefer slow-moving water over areas with high flow rates. (Jenson, et al., 2008)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • rivers and streams

Physical Description

Dwarf waterdogs are the smallest of all water dog species. Adults range in head to tail length from 11.5 to 15.9 mm. For comparison, adult black warrior waterdogs typically range in size from 175 and 200 mm. Females generally have longer tails than males of the same body length, however, males and females of a given body length are typically the same mass. Dwarf waterdogs are slate-gray or brown with small, scattered pale spots. The dorsum tends to be dark, while the venter is often pale in color. In general, waterdogs have red external gills that protrude from both sides of the organism’s head. (Bart, et al., 1997; Conant and Collins, 1998; Lannoo, 2005; Martof, et al., 1980; Meffe and Sheldon, 1987)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger


Dwarf waterdogs do not undergo metamorphosis and larvae are considered adults once their reproductive system has fully matured. The larval stage lasts for a minimum of 2 years. The smallest reported larva was only 28 mm long. As larvae, their bodies are uniformly brown in color. Juveniles are often found in more shallow water than adults and commonly occur in bundles of leaves. Like larvae, juveniles are brown, but develop a bluish white color along the venter. Dwarf waterdogs become sexually mature by 5 years of age, and when fully mature, they range in length from 26 to 116 mm. (Lannoo, 2005; Willson, et al., 1999)


There is no information available regarding the mating system of dwarf waterdogs.

Little is know of the reproductive behavior of dwarf waterdogs, however, other waterdog species reproduce aquatically. The larger a dwarf waterdog, the greater the number of oocytes in the ovaries, which contain yolked and unyolked oocytes during mid-autumn. Most pregnant females carry 15 to 55 eggs. Average egg diameter has been reported as 4 and 4.2 mm and may depend on the number of eggs being carried. Prior to mating, which occurs during winter, male testes become large, firm, and yellow with dark pigmentation. Despite gender, individuals reach reproductive maturity by age 5 or when they become 65 to 70 mm in head-body length. Although no nests have been discovered, it is thought that dwarf waters attach their eggs to the underside of logs and other objects in the water. (Folkerts, 1971; Lannoo, 2005; Meffe and Sheldon, 1987)

  • Breeding season
    Dwarf waterdogs breed during winter.
  • Range number of offspring
    15 to 55
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    5 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    5 years

There is no information available regarding parental care in dwarf waterdogs.


Only limited information on the lifespan of dwarf waterdogs exists. A single specimen captured in the wild and taken to the Cincinnati Zoo lived for 5 years and 8 months. Because they reach sexual maturity at 5 years of age, dwarf waterdogs likely live for more than 10 years. However, no information exists to confirm this. (Folkerts, 1971; Lannoo, 2005)


Little information is available concerning the general behavior of dwarf waterdogs. Numerous dwarf waterdogs are commonly found inhabiting a single area, suggesting these animals are not territorial. They do not hibernate, remaining active even during the wintertime. In order to minimize the effects of cold during winter, dwarf waterdogs often heap together in leaf litter. (Lannoo, 2005)

Home Range

The average home range size of dwarf waterdogs is currently unknown. Black warrior waterdogs in the Grand River of northeastern Ohio have an average home range of 136.1 square meters during the summer. However, this is the largest of waterdog species and thus, it likely has a larger home range than do dwarf waterdogs. (Lannoo, 2005)

Communication and Perception

There is no information available concerning communication and perception in dwarf waterdogs. (Folkerts, 1971; Lannoo, 2005)

Food Habits

Dwarf waterdogs are predatory and commonly consume gastropods, pelecypods, oligochaetes, arachnids, isopods, cladocerans, ostracods, copepods, amphipods, chilopods, and a variety of insects. In addition, adults often comsume annelids, crayfish , and even other salamanders, suggesting they may be cannibalistic. Young have been known to eat annelids, amphipod, millipedes, and insects and their larvae. Evidence suggests that males reduce, or even discontinue feeding activity during the breeding season, though larvae are thought to feed throughout the entire year. (Braswell and Ashton Jr., 1985; Folkerts, 1971; Meffe and Sheldon, 1987)

  • Animal Foods
  • amphibians
  • fish
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • terrestrial worms


Although no evidence exists suggesting predators specific to this species, dwarf waterdogs likely fall prey to predaceous organisms inhabiting the same areas. Potential predators include aquatic insects and snakes, crayfish, and large salamanders. Although no evidence exists regarding anti-predatory behavior in dwarf waterdogs, they likely hide from potential threats in the soft substrate. Their coloration camouflages them from potential predators and likely helps reduce risk of predation. (Lannoo, 2005)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Dwarf waterdogs prey upon the aquatic larvae of numerous arthropods, which may help control insect pests throughout its geographic range. Although parasites specific to this species are not known, the gills and skin of congenerics have proven to be prime habitat for a number of different endo and ectoparasites, such as trematodes. Proteochephalids inhabit the intestines of certain waterdog species. (Lannoo, 2005; Tobey, 1985)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Recreational fishermen commonly use waterdogs as bait for largemouth bass and catfish. (Lannoo, 2005)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of dwarf waterdogs on humans.

Conservation Status

Although dwarf waterdogs are classified as a species of least concern on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species, current population trends are unknown and thus, potential threats to their persistence are difficult to predict. Dwarf waterdogs occur in several protected areas throughout their geographic range. (Lannoo, 2005; Tobey, 1985)


Lindsey Hughes (author), Radford University, Gregory Zagursky (editor), Radford University, John Berini (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature


mainly lives in water that is not salty.


having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


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