Photo Credit: Roger Birkhead
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Pseudotriton ruber vioscai
OTHER NAMES: Along with other aquatic salamanders, this species is commonly called “spring lizard” by many, due to its association with spring-fed pools.
STATUS: Uncommon to rare. Believed to be declining. Southern portion of Dougherty Plain and Southern Pine Plains and Hills of Coastal Plain. Intergrades with northern red salamander north of this region. Low Conservation Concern.
DESCRIPTION: This large, stout salamander reaches a maximum total length of 16 cm. The back is an orange-red to brown color with numerous bold black spots; head and mouth region has white flecking; underside has dark spots beneath hind limbs. With age, individuals turn a dull purple-brown color, and the spots become less defined. This species is often confused with the Mud Salamander (Pseudotriton montanus), as these species look similar and co-exist throughout much of their ranges. However, Red Salamanders generally differ in having more spots, a dark horizontal bar through each eye, and golden irises, although the iris color can be less pronounced in this form. Larval Red Salamanders tend to have less pronounced gills than larval Mud Salamanders.
DISTRIBUTION: New York south through Appalachia to the Florida panhandle and Mississippi. Unlike the Mud Salamander, Red Salamanders occur at high elevations throughout Appalachia. In Alabama, this particular form occurs uncommonly in and near the Lower Coastal Plain. Throughout central and western Alabama, the Northern and Southern Red Salamanders intergrade, appearing morphologically intermediate.
HABITAT: Found near spring-fed pools and small streams in forested areas underneath logs, rocks, and leaf-litter. This species is fossorial, often occupying tunnel systems in the vicinity of the preferred wetland habitats. Juveniles (larvae) live in slow-moving springs, seepages, or floodplain ponds.
FEEDING HABITS: Adults consume a wide variety of invertebrates and other salamanders (e.g., Eurycea, Desmognathus, Plethodon, etc.), while larvae eat aquatic invertebrates and other salamander larvae.
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: Eggs are laid singly beneath rocks or other structures in springs, head-water streams, and seeps. Some evidence suggests that clutches may range from 29 – 130 eggs. Female Red Salamanders are known to attend eggs sites, probably to protect them from predators.
Throughout much of their range, Red Salamanders hatch in late autumn and winter and have an aquatic larval period of roughly 27 - 31 months. However, Southern Red Salamanders may have a shorter larval period. Larvae live within the leaf-litter of their aquatic habitats, breathing through gills. Often these pools will dry up during warm summer months; larvae presumably recede to underground cavities when this occurs. Upon reaching a suitable size (6 – 9 cm total length), larvae stop feeding, absorb their gills, and metamorphose to the adult form. Red Salamander larvae grow more slowly than the closely related Mud Salamander larvae.
In the fall, adult Red Salamanders concentrate in springs or streams, eventually overwintering in these aquatic sites. Some evidence suggests that males outnumber females as adults, and male competition for mates may be stiff. Adults are known to be sexually dimorphic: females tend to be longer than males. Red Salamanders are known to be preyed upon by birds, mammals, and snakes.
Bruce, R.C. 1974. Larval Development of the Salamanders Pseudotriton montanus and P. ruber. American Midland Naturalist 92: 173-190.
Miller, B.T., M.L Niemiller, and R.G. Reynolds. 2008. Observation on Egg-laying Behavior and Interactions Among Attending Female Red Salamanders (Pseudotriton ruber) with Comments on the Use of Caves by This Species. Herpetological Conservation and Biology 3: 203-210.
Mount, R. 1975. The Reptiles & Amphibians of Alabama. Auburn Printing Co., Auburn, AL.
Petranka, J.W. 1998. Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press.
AUTHOR: Brian P. Folt, Ph.D. Student, Auburn University