Eastern Red-backed Salamander
Plethodon cinereus

Common Name:

Eastern Red-backed Salamander

Scientific Name:

Plethodon cinereus



plethore is Greek meaning "fullness or full of",  odon is Greek for "teeth". Referring to  the number of paravomerine and vomerine teeth.


cinereus is Latin meaning "ash colored". Referring to the dorsal coloration of lead backed phase.

Average Length:

2.25 - 4 in. (5.7 - 10 cm)

Virginia Record Length:

Record length:

5 in. (12.7 cm)

PHYSCAL DESCRIPTION: This species is from 57-127 mm long. It usually has a straight-edged reddish dorsal stripe and a heavlly mottled black and white belly. They are unstriped uniformly dark gray or black individuals with scattered brassy or white flecks occur in some populations*1014*. Costal grooves equal 18-20 *1009*.

REPRODUCTION: The mating period extends from October to April *1014,10812*. A group of 5-12 eggs is laid in rotting logs and stumps, or in cavities under rocks from May through July; hatching occurs from August through September; Females begin laying eggs in year 4 and the males mature a year earlier *10812*.

BEHAVIOR: This species lives under rocks, leaf litter, and rotten logs in forests *1014*. They are common in forest habitats *942*, and abundant beneath old logs, back, moss, leaf mold, and stones, in evergreen, mixed, and deciduous forests. They may be found in fairly dry situations but are most abundant where there are indications of moisture *1009*. The eggs are deposited within a cavity in a well-rotted log. The female attends the eggs until hatching in late August or September *1014*. They are found in cohabitating groups of 2-7 under rocks and wood *934*. It periodically feeds in almost complete darkness on motionless prey *966*. During wet nights, this species walks on the surface of the forest floor and climbs plants *933*. They are more successful in capturing prey during periods of rain *931,898* in some areas due to existing temperatures and available moisture *917*. Dispersion is nonrandom *949,878*. This species is nocturnal *911,949,878*. The frequency of surface activity is positively correlated to the density of understory and the depth of leaf litter *10816*.

ORIGIN: This species is native *883*.

References for Life History

  • 878 - Burger, J.W., 1935, Plethodon cinereus (Green) in eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Am. Nat., Vol. 69, Num. 725, pg. 578-586
  • 883 - Conant, R., 1975, A field guide to reptiles and amphibians of Eastern and Central North America, 429 pgs., Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, MA
  • 898 - Fraser, D.F., 1976, Empirical evaluation of the hypothesis of food competition in salamanders of the genus Plethodon, Ecology, Vol. 57, pg. 459-471
  • 911 - Grizzell, R.A., 1949, The hibernation of three snakes and a salamander, Copeia, Vol. 1949, Num. 3, pg. 231-232
  • 917 - Heatwole, H., 1962, Environmental factors influencing local distribution and activity of the salamander Plethodon cinereus, Ecology, Vol. 43, pg. 460-472
  • 931 - Jaeger, R.G., 1972, Food as a limited resource between two species of salamanders, Ecology, Vol. 53, pg. 535-546
  • 933 - Jaeger, R.G., 1978, Plant climbing by salamanders: Periodic availability of plant-dwelling prey, Copeia, Vol. 1978, pg. 686-691
  • 934 - Jaeger, R.G., 1979, Seasonal spatial distributions of the terrestrial salamander Plethodon cinereus, Herpetologica, Vol. 35, pg. 90-93
  • 942 - Lotter, F., 1978, Reproductive ecology of the salamander Plethodon cinereus (Amphibia, Urodela, Plethodontidae) in Connecticut, J. Herpetol., Vol. 12, Num. 2, pg. 231-236
  • 949 - Minton, S.A., 1972, Amphibians and Reptiles of Indiana, Indiana Academy of Science Monograph, Vol. 3, 346 pgs., Indiana Academy of Science, Indianapolis
  • 966 - Robyn, S.D., Jaeger, R.G., 1981, Prey location through chemical cues by a terrestrial salamander, Copeia, Vol. 1981, pg. 435-440
  • 1009 - Bishop, S.C., 1943, Handbook of Salamanders, 555 pgs., Comstock Publ. Co., New York, NY
  • 1014 - Martof, B.S., Palmer, W.M., Bailey, J.R., Harrison, III J.R., 1980, Amphibians and Reptiles of the Carolinas and Virginia, 264 pgs., UNC Press, Chapel Hill, NC


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