The word amphibian comes from the Greek amphibios meaning "both lives". This description is appropriate because most adult amphibians are better adapted to life on land, while their larval phases are entirely aquatic. For much of their lives, which may last several years or a couple of months, depending on species, larval amphibians (e.g. tadpoles) bear little resemblance to their adult forms. However, in a matter of weeks or days, the fish-like larvae transform into terrestrial, air-breathing, four-legged animals. Adult terrestrial amphibians can either breathe through their skin or with lungs. The families include frogs, toads, salamanders and newts.
Shenandoah is home to ten species of toads and frogs and fourteen species of salamanders or newts. The Shenandoah Salamander is the only federally endangered animal species found in the park. It is endemic to high elevation talus slopes located in three scattered areas of the central section of the park. This salamander is closely related to the ubiquitous red-backed salamander.
The long-term health of worldwide and park amphibian populations remains in question. Acid deposition, heavy metal deposition (mercury), forest defoliation due to exotic insect pests may adversely impact amphibian populations. The park is supporting a number of amphibian related research efforts that are attempting to describe species associations, habitat preferences, distributions, and relative abundance of these animals. Research is also looking into the connection between stream water acidification and effects on park amphibian populations.