This is an elongated, eel-like salamander that lacks hind limbs and has a pair of virtually useless forelimbs. The hands contain 4 digits. This species is essentially a permanent larva. The adult is aquatic and has gills. The color is gray to olive with many black dots over the head, sides and back with yellow blotches on the side. The young may exhibit some striping. Adults reach total lengths of 50-98 cm. The head is shovel-like for burrowing in muddy bottoms. Reproduction is poorly documented, but it is thought that fertilization occurs externally. Breeding occurs in spring, and hatching probably occurs about 2 months later.
This species is found is shallow, muddy-bottomed ponds, swamps, and ditches. It has been collected from shallow roadside ditches, under rocks in swift flowing streams, weedy ponds and pools, muddy swamps, and weed-choked and mud-bottomed lakes.
This salamander eats a variety of prey, often consuming predominantly mollusks. Filamentous algae, crayfish, insects, and fish are also eaten.