Lesser Siren

Siren intermedia

An eel-like denizen of slow, sluggish bodies of water such as muddy ditches, ponds, and bayous, the Lesser Siren is found in the northwestern and southwestern corners of Tennessee. 

Description: The Lesser Siren has a long slender body, up to 27 inches in length, with a very small dorsal fin that runs from the vent to the tip of the tail.  It has only a pair of front legs, each foot has four toes, which are greatly reduced in size.   

The rear legs are completely missing.  The head is somewhat flattened, and there are bushy external gills located on each side of the head.   The Lesser Siren varies in color from light grayish green to olive or black; there are also small irregular dots that are visible on lighter-colored individuals.    Juveniles are more brightly marked and have a red band across the nose and along the side of the head.

Similar Species: The Three-toad Amphiuma lacks external gills and has hind legs.

Voice: Named for the temptress of mythology,   Lesser Sirens are very vocal, which is unusual for salamanders.   They communicate with clicks when other sirens are around.   When approached or attacked by a predator they often emit a very shrill call.

Habitat: This species lives in slow, sluggish, and shallow bodies of water with plenty of aquatic vegetation, including marshes, ponds, ditches, and canals.   

Though they require a permanent or semi-permanent body of water they can move short distances over land if they must.   Also, they can encase themselves in a cocoon of slime during dry periods.

Diet: Lesser Sirens feed mainly on aquatic invertebrates such as crustaceans, insects, worms, and snails.   They will also eat young amphibian larvae and even their own eggs.   They often filter feed by gulping large quantities of material that is strained through the bronchial openings.

Breeding information: Eggs are laid in early spring in a shallow depression at the bottom of the water in highly vegetated areas.   The female will lay from 12 to 300 eggs, and she may lay multiple clutches throughout the season.

Status in Tennessee:  Research is lacking and the status of the Lesser Siren in Tennessee is not well known.   It is not threatened over much of its range.

Fun Facts:

  • Lesser Sirens can surround themselves with cocoons for months at a time during periods of drought
  • Unlike most salamanders, Lesser Sirens are quite vocal and can produce a shrill call when attacked

Best places to see in Tennessee: Slow muddy bodies of water in the West Tennessee are home to this species.