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Red Salamander Fact File

Pseudotriton ruber

Credit: Brian.gratwicke, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Weight

19.7g

(0.7oz)

Length

10-18cm

(4-7in)

Lifespan

Wild 20 years

Captive 20 years

Diet

Carnivore

Invertebrates

Conservation Status

IUCN

Least Concern

The red salamander is accurately named with its body covered by smooth, bright red skin patterned with black spots. As they age this color darkens becoming almost purple.


They are carnivores which feed primarily on invertebrates though they also consume smaller salamanders. Feeding takes place at night.

Juveniles hatch from eggs and spend the first two to three years of life as a larvae in a stream or spring before metamorphosing in to an adult which is able to move around on land.

Red salamanders face a range of threats including pollution, habitat fragmentation, vehicle strikes and more.

Read on to learn more about these aquatic amphibians.

Appearance

What does the Red Salamander look like?

After their metamorphosis the red salamander takes on the spectacular red coloration they are known for. As they age though they will darken becoming almost purple with age. The base color of red is patterned with black spots.

Their body is thick around its middle with short legs and a short tail. The skin is smooth across the body.

They have a yellow iris with a black, horizontal pupil.

On the front foot they have four toes while on the hind legs they have five.

An adult measures 10-18cm (4-7in) long with a weight of 19.7g (0.7oz).

This species is commonly confused with the mud salamander which has a similar appearance but can be distinguished as only the red salamander has a yellow iris.

Diet

What does the Red Salamander eat?


The red salamander is a carnivore. It primarily feeds on invertebrates but will also consume other salamanders.

To aid in hunting their fast tongue can leave the mouth and return in just 11 milliseconds.

Red Salamander

Credit: Athene cunicularia at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Range

Where can you find the Red Salamander?

North America is the native home of the red salamander where they are found exclusively in the United States.

They are found along the eastern coast of the country.

Habitat

What kind of environment does the Red Salamander live in?

These animals are found in forests and shrublands. They are found near water in springs and cold, clear streams.

They will make use of logs, stones and leaf masses for shelter.

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Reproduction

How does the Red Salamander produce its young?

Both the male and female will have multiple partners during the breeding season. Breeding may occur year round though a short pause over winter is common.

Males deposit a spermatophore once they have found a suitable mate and work to position her over it. She will pick it up in her cloaca and the two then separate with the male having no further involvement with the young.

Observations have been made of males courting other males which causes them to release their spermatophore which is then wasted. This increases the chances the other male will successfully mate.

Females will deposit up to 70 eggs individually under a log or rock and occasionally in the water.

Young hatch in to a larvae in early winter. They will spend the next 2-3 years living in a small stream in this form. Those in coastal areas tend to have shorter larval stages than those in mountainous areas. As a larvae they feed on aquatic invertebrates.

They will undertake their metamorphosis from a larva to an adult salamander between April and November.

Sexual maturity is tied to length and is reached between 5.3 and 6.3cm (2-2.5in) for males and 5.5 and 6.8cm (2.2-2.7in) for females. This tends to occur between 4 and 5 years old.

Behavior

What does the Red Salamander do with its day?

Red salamanders are considered nocturnal and will emerge at night to find food. They are especially active during or after periods of rain.

They spend winters underground.

These animals are ectothermic and rely on the surrounding environment to maintain their body temperature.

Red Salamander

Credit: Brian.gratwicke, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Predators and Threats

What is impacting the survival of the Red Salamander?

Natural predators of the red salamander include skunks, fish, snakes, racoons and birds or prey.

When threatened by a predator the red salamander will wave its tail above its body.

It is thought that as they resemble the toxic eastern newt juvenile they may be protected from being eaten. Glands on their body also produce their own toxic secretion which can protect them.

The population of red salamanders is currently believed to be secure. They face threats including deforestation, acid draining in to their waterways, stream siltation and pollution.

Many subpopulations are already considered extinct but the species is considered secure overall.

In their environment they act as an indicator species as they are sensitive to pollution and will indicate their presence before it begins to affect larger animals.

When highways are built in their environment it often causes habitat fragmentation as they rarely successfully cross roadways without being hit by a vehicle.

Quick facts

They are the official state salamander of Virginia.

Their species name ruber is taken from the Latin word for "red."

Red Salamander

Credit: The Vault Dweller, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

References

IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group. 2014. Pseudotriton ruberThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2014: e.T59404A56253351. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2014-1.RLTS.T59404A56253351.en. Downloaded on 25 September 2021.

Chesapeakebay.net. 2021. Northern Red Salamander | Chesapeake Bay Program. [online] Available at: <https://www.chesapeakebay.net/S=0/fieldguide/critter/northern_red_salamander> [Accessed 25 September 2021].

Miller, R. 2016. "Pseudotriton ruber" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed September 24, 2021 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Pseudotriton_ruber/

Smithsonian's National Zoo. 2021. Northern red salamander. [online] Available at: <https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/northern-red-salamander> [Accessed 25 September 2021].

Explorer.natureserve.org. 2021. NatureServe Explorer 2.0. [online] Available at: <https://explorer.natureserve.org/Taxon/ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.101775/Pseudotriton_ruber> [Accessed 25 September 2021].

Virginiaherpetologicalsociety.com. 2021. Virginia Herpetological Society. [online] Available at: <https://www.virginiaherpetologicalsociety.com/amphibians/salamanders/northern-red-salamander/northern_red_salamander.php> [Accessed 25 September 2021].

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