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Eastern Red-backed Salamander Eggs Hatching

eastern red-backed salamander 043If you make a habit of looking under (and carefully replacing) rotting logs lying on the forest floor, sooner or later you will be rewarded with the discovery of an eastern red-backed salamander. These three to four-inch salamanders can be completely gray, gray with a reddish stripe down the center of the back or bright orange-red. The color of a redback is often related to elevation. Those with a stripe down the back (pictured) are usually found at upper elevations, while the gray phase often inhabits lowlands.

Eastern red-backed salamanders are entirely terrestrial, mating in the spring and fall and laying their eggs in rotting logs (particularly conifer) and leaf litter. Females remain with their eggs, defending them from predators. The larval stage of a redback is quite long –two months– and most of it takes place inside the egg, so when the eggs ( laid in the spring) hatch in the fall, the young, three-quarter-inch salamanders are within days of completing metamorphosis and transforming into adults. (This strategy eliminates the need for eastern red-backed salamanders to find standing water to complete their larval stage.)

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12 responses

  1. Kathie Fiveash

    So interesting, about the larval stage happening almost entirely within the egg! Is the salamander in the photo a 3/4 incher, just hatched? It is hard to see the scale.

    September 16, 2014 at 12:53 pm

    • No, it’s a full blown adult, Kathie. I will post about a newly-emerged newt next week…and it will provide something to judge its size by!

      September 16, 2014 at 1:12 pm

      • Kathie Fiveash

        Thanks Mary. I thought it looked like an adult. Someone I trusted, but I can’t remember who now, once told me that red-backed salamanders represent more biomass in the New England woods than any other vertebrate.

        September 16, 2014 at 2:54 pm

      • See Craig Williamson’s comment. You’re right!

        September 16, 2014 at 4:19 pm

  2. Another interesting fact about red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) is that they are the most abundant vertebrates in the northeastern USA forests according to a study done many years back. They are more abundant in terms of numbers, or biomass, than birds, deer, bear, or any other species. We just don’t see them as much unless we turn over rotting logs as Mary suggests.

    September 16, 2014 at 1:32 pm

  3. Ruth White

    Is Kathy’s statement still true? I was told the same thing!

    September 16, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    • Yes! See Craig Williamson’s comment.

      September 16, 2014 at 4:19 pm

  4. According to Cornell’s Dept. of Natural Resources,

    “Red-backed salamanders are likely the most abundant vertebrate in forests of the
    northeast. In a New Hampshire study, researchers found that the biomass of red
    -backed salamanders equaled that of mice and shrews and was twice that of forest
    birds (excluding raptors)”

    September 16, 2014 at 4:28 pm

  5. Wow, some interesting facts here, reading the comments! Is this the same salamander that I see in shallow water under rocks in the stream bed?

    September 17, 2014 at 1:53 am

    • Hi Eliza,
      I bet what you’re referring to is the Northern Two-lined Salamander – quite similar looking, but likes it wetter than the redback!

      September 17, 2014 at 1:18 pm

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