Eastern Red-backed Salamander


Scientific Name: Plethodon cinereus
Size: 2.3 – 5” (adult length)
Status: Quite common throughout Michigan.

Eastern Red-backed Salamander



Inhabit coniferous, deciduous, and mixed forests. Wide range of conditions are tolerated, with the exception of very dry, sandy soils and areas with frequent flooding.

Adult Coloration:

Two color phases: “redback” has a red, orange-red, or brownish red stripe from back of head to middle of tail, bordered by dark gray or black; while “leadback” lacks the colored stripe and is uniformly dark on back and sides, sometimes with faint white speckles. Sometimes individuals are found that appear to be intermediate between these color phases. In both, belly has gray and white mottling.

Adult Characteristics:

Small, slender salamander with very small legs and cylindrical tails. 17 – 22 (usually 18 or 19) costal grooves (grooves between rib-like ridges that run down the sides of the body).

Larvae Characteristics:

No aquatic larval stage. Young have gill buds for the first few days after hatching and have same coloration as adults.

Species Confused With:

Ambystoma salamanders are stouter than Red-backed Salamanders and do not have naso-labial grooves (groove running from the nostril to the lip).


  • Amphibians and Reptiles of the Great Lakes Region by Jim Harding
  • Harding, J.H. and J.A. Holman. 1992. Michigan Frogs, Toads, and Salamanders. MSU Cooperative Extension Service and MSU Museum. Extension Bull. E-2350, 144 pp.
  • Ruthven, A. G., H. B. T. Gaige, et al. 1912. The herpetology of Michigan, by Alexander B. Ruthven. Crystal Thompson and Helen Thompson; Memoranda towards a bibliography of the archaeology of Michigan, by Harlan I. Smith; prepared under the direction of Alexander G. Ruthven. Lansing, Mich., Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford, State Printers.
  • Holman, J. A. 2012. The Amphibians and Reptiles of Michigan: A Quaternary and Recent Faunal Adventure. Detroit, Mich., Wayne State University Press.
  • Conant, R., and Collins, J. T. 1998. Reptiles and Amphibians: Eastern, Central North America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Press.