Red-Backed Salamander

Red-Backed Salamander.

Scientific name: Plethodon cinereus

Mi’kmaq Translation: Translation Unknown

French Translation: Salamandre cendree

Gaelic Translation: Teine-dhealan druim-dearg (no cùl-dearg)

Physical Description

Red-backed salamanders can be seen in two main colour phases, which change in frequency across their populations. The ‘red-back’ phase is gray black with a red to orange stripe down the back and tail. The stripe varies in colour from red to different shades of brown. The ‘lead-back’ or ‘non-striped’ phase, is gray black with light to dark variations of brown, and sometimes with grey or silver spots. The third, and rarest colour to see is the ‘all-red’ phase. These salamanders breathe using their skin and through the lining on the roof of the mouth, they have no lungs.

Size

Newly hatched young measure 1.8 to 2.0cm in length

Adult males measure 6.8 to 9.7cm in length

Adult females measure 7.2 to 10cm in length

Range and Distribution

In Canada, red-backed salamanders range from the Great Lakes region and east through Quebec and into the Maritime Provinces. In Nova Scotia, they are common across the mainland and Cape Breton.

Habitat

These salamanders prefer damp, mixed forest environments with plenty of woody debris and leaf litter. They are unable to survive in hot and dry environments, and in areas with acidic soils. The ‘red-back’ phase is usually seen more in deciduous forests. The ‘lead-back’ phase is more commonly seen in moist conifer forests.

Diet

Adults eat a variety of invertebrates in the humus and leaf litter. This includes ants, beetles, mites, spiders, springtails, and small fly larvae. They will also feed on snails, millipedes, centipedes, moth larvae and isopods.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Breeding can occur in the fall or spring. Females will lay up to 17 eggs every year to every two years. The eggs are laid individually, but they cling together in a quiet, damp or protected place. Female red-backed salamanders will guard their eggs while they develop, before hatching in late August and September. These salamanders do not have an aquatic larval stage. The gills are absorbed before the hatchlings hatch, looking like smaller versions of the terrestrial adults. Sexual maturity is reached in two years. The lifespan of this species remains unknown.

Status

SARA: Of Least Concern

COSEWIC: Not Assessed

Threats

Habitat loss, road mortality, climate change, pollution and run-off from agricultural sites are all contributing hazards for this species. While they can be fatal for individuals and population pockets, red-backed salamanders are abundant throughout their range and these threats pose a minimal risk for the time being.