Eastern Red-backed Salamander

Plethodon cinereus Eastern Red-backed Salamander

This species belongs to a family of salamanders without lungs. It breathes through its skin and mucous membranes.


General description: The red to red-orange stripe running from the head to the tail of this salamander is distinctive. Their sides are dark, often with gray-blue spots.

Size: Usually less than 3 inches long


Red backed salamander: Eggs can be seen through the skin of this plump, gravid female.
Eggs can be seen through the skin of this plump, gravid female.

Salamanders have jelly-coated eggs and aquatic larvae. Salamander larvae look very different from tadpoles. They have external gills (to breathe oxygen dissolved in water) and front legs even as very young larvae. Older larvae look similar to adults with the exception of their gills.

After three to four months, the larvae go through metamorphosis: They lose their gills, leave the pond, and start using their lungs to breathe. They will return to the ponds only to mate and lay their eggs. If they are lucky, they will repeat this cycle for 25 years.

Habitat and range

Unlike most salamanders that spend at least part of their life in the water, Eastern red-backed salamanders are completely terrestrial.

Four-toed and Eastern Red-backed Salamander ventral (bottom) view.
Four-toed salamanders (top) can be easily distinguished from the similar appearing Eastern Red-backed Salamander (bottom) by looking at their bellies.