Eastern red-backed salamander

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Photos by: Sarrah Castillo

Species: Eastern Red–Backed Salamander

Scientific name:Plethodon cinereus

Status: common

Description: This salamander is quite elusive (difficult to find). It is small (maximum 10cm) with dark sides (black or grey) and a mottled (spotted/blotchy) under belly (grey and white). There are two colour forms that can be found. The dorsal (top) of this salamander usually has a red stripe down the back, but it may also be orange, brown or yellow. The second form (called lead-backed colour phase) has a grey back.

Habitat: This salamander prefers moist soils in and around forested areas. They will live under the leaf litter or in the soil. They can be found in deciduous and mixed forests, moist white pine or hemlock forests. Due to their need for forest debris, this species is found in mature forests with lots of fallen logs, leaf litter and debris. Red-backed salamanders will move most often on rainy nights, but will not travel a long distance. This species overwinters in the soil.

Breeding: This salamander breeds in the fall, but may also breed in the spring. The females are not sexually mature until their 3rd year and will only breed every other year after maturity. Unlike other amphibians, this salamander does not need water to breed. The eggs of red-backed salamanders are deposited on land and the larval stage happens in its entirety in the egg. Clumps of eggs (3-15) are placed in moist areas, most often on the “ceiling” of a rotting log in June or July. The female will remain with the eggs, and will stay with the hatched salamanders for 1-3 weeks. Young red-backed salamanders resemble the adults, except for small gills that are absorbed soon after hatching.

Diet: This salamander eats worms, insects and other small invertebrates found on the forest floor.

Threats to species: Habitat loss is a threat to this species as they depend on old growth (mature) forests. This salamander also needs a lot of forest debris to live and survive; therefore, removal of these crucial items will negatively impact this species.  

Threat to humans: This salamander posses no threat to humans. If you happen to find some, check them out, but put them back where you found them as that is their home and they don’t travel far.

Fun facts:

This salamander may be the most abundant vertebrate species in an area, and you didn’t even know they were there.

Densities can exceed 2,500 individuals per hectare.

This species defends their territory.

One of three Ontario salamander species that have no lungs-all breath takes place through their skin, restricting them to moist environments

Sources:

Ontario Nature- http://www.ontarionature.org/protect/species/reptiles_and_amphibians/eastern_red-backed_salamander.php

Macculloch, R.D. 2002. The ROM field guide to amphibians and reptiles of Ontario.

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