Red-backed Salamander (Plethodon cinereus)

Description: A thin bodied little salamander that occurs in two common color phases. The "redback" phase has a reddish or orange stripe down the back and tail, bordered by darker sides. The "leadback" phase lacks the stripe, and has a dark colored back, sometimes speckled with faint light spots. In both the belly is mottled with a white and gray "salt and pepper" pattern. Adults are 2.3 to 5 inches (5.8 to 12.7 cm) long. (Note that these salamanders sometimes lose portions of their tails during encounters with predators.)

Red-backed Salamander
Photo © Jim Harding

Habitat/Habits: Found state wide in woodlands, especially deciduous woods with thick leaf litter and many decaying logs or stumps. Food is mostly small insects and other invertebrates.

Breeding: Unique among Michigan salamanders in not requiring water to reproduce; young go through larval stage in the egg. (See notes on this species under "Salamander Reproduction" above.) Eggs laid in early summer usually hatch in August.

Conservation: This common salamander is a "key" species in the woodland ecosystem; their abundance can signify a healthy forest environment. If their woodland habitat is severely modified or destroyed, these salamanders soon disappear.

Related Documents
Red-backed Salamander Occurrences Map PDF icon