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Eastern Red-Backed Salamander

Plethodon cinereus (Green)

This salamander is more of a land creature. It lives in all sorts of moist forests and often invades suburban backyards. Its eggs are laid in damp places under rocks or logs, so there is no aquatic stage at all. Red-Backed Salamanders have no lungs. The animals breathe through their skins, and the lining of the roof of the mouth.

Three colour phases are known. The "red-back" is gray-black with a red to orange stripe down the back and tail and is found in all damp forests. The "lead-back" is all gray-black in colour, and is most common in evergreen and mixed woods. Least common is an all-red phase found in hardwood forests of the Cobequid Mountains and North Mountain.

No matter what the colour phase, Red-Backed Salamanders are small about four to five centimetres long and slender. They seem to be fragile. Sometimes the tails break off as you hold them. This may be an adaptation to help the salamander escape from predators that bite and hold its tail. They are not difficult to find, just carefully turn over rocks or logs in damp woods. Always carefully turn the rock or log back, too, to preserve that mini-habitat.

Additional Facts and Details

The Family Plethodontidae, the Lungless Salamanders, has 23 genera and 214 species known world-wide. Most are known only from North America. There are seven genera and eight species recorded from Canada; in Nova Scotia, two genera, each represented by a single species, are native.

These salamanders breathe through their skin and the lining of the roof of the mouth. Moisture is essential to their survival.

Characteristic of this family, but difficult to see without magnification, is the "nasolabial groove", a small but distinct groove from the nostril to the upper lip.

Of the three distinct colour phases, the all-red or erythristic phase is the least common. In large samples from localities where it occurs, it forms less than 15% of the population.

There is a lot of colour variation; in the striped or redback phase, the stripe can be red to orange brown, yellow-brown, chocolate brown or greenish-brown. In the leadback or non-striped phase, the back varies from light to dark chocolate-brown, dark grey or black, with or without grey or silvery speckles.

Size of newly hatched young, 1.8 to 2.0 cm. Of adults males, from 6.8 to 9.7 cm; females, from 7.2 to 10 cm.

Distribution In Canada, from the Maritime Provinces west to northwestern Ontario. In the United States, south to North Carolina, west to Missouri and Minnesota.

In Nova Scotia this salamander is common in all regions of the mainland and Cape Breton Island. The all-red phase has been found from North Mountain at Sandy Lake, Annapolis County, from the Cobequid Mountains at Poison Lake, Cumberland County, Simpson and West Lakes, Colchester County, and on the Pictou highlands at Upper Mount Thom, Pictou County.

The red-back phase dominates in deciduous woods; the lead-back phase is common in coniferous woods, particularly in coastal regions; the all-red phase is found in deciduous woods, particularly those dominated by maples in highlands.

The earliest spring record is April 9, in 1968, when two adults were found at the edge of Kearney Run in Halifax County.

The latest observation date is November 4, in 1982, when a juvenile was found on a wet highway at the Forties in Lunenburg County.

This salamander stays hidden during the day, under rocks and loose bark or in decaying logs and stumps. On damp or rainy nights it becomes active and is occasionally seen crossing wet highways.

It commonly inhabits back yards in suburban areas, taking cover under firewood, boards and other debris.

Adult females produce from 4 to 17 eggs in a year. The eggs are laid individually, but cling together, in a secluded cavity in a damp protected place, from late May through June.

The larval stage is spent in the egg capsule and the young hatch in August or September of the same year.

Females remain close to the eggs and protect them during the incubation period.

Adults eat a variety of invertebrates in humus and leaf litter, particularly ants, beetles, mites, spiders, springtails and small fly larvae, snails, millipedes, centipedes, moth larvae and isopods.

Salamander Species

Yellow-spotted Salamander

Blue-spotted Salamander

Eastern Red-backed Salamander

Four-toed Salamander

Red-spotted Newt

Salamander Information

Finding Salamanders