Red Salamander Pseudotriton ruber

Adult from Northern Kentucky


Adults are robust, red colored salamanders with profuse black dorsal spots. Coloration in this species varies from bright red to a dull reddish brown with older adults tending to be darker. The tail is proportionately short and chunky compared to most other plethodontid salamanders. Red Salamanders can grow to around 4-6 in (100-150 mm) in length.

Young larva from northern Georgia
Old larva from Northern Kentucky
Larva from southern Ohio

Little is known about egg deposition in this species, but nests have been found in caves where females attached clumps of eggs to the corners and edges of small rocky pools and depressions. Larval Red Salamanders grow larger than other stream dwelling larvae in Indiana and are more robust.

The size and coloration of this species makes the adults quite distinctive. Juvenile Red Salamanders could be confused with Cave Salamanders (Eurycea lucifuga), but young Pseudotriton are much more robust.

Ecology and Conservation

This large and distinctive salamander is an inhabitant of cold, headwater streams, springs, and seepages. Red Salamanders are generally associated with forested riparian corridors, but have been found in open situations well away from water as well. They are often found in the vicinity of muddy springs, seepages and pools associated with small creeks. This species and the Northern Dusky Salamander (Desmognathus fuscus) often inhabit the same habitat types in Kentucky and Ohio. Slow-moving, muddy, heavily silted sections of small streams can also provide habitat for larval Red Salamanders. Red Salamanders are active year round, though the movement patterns of adults are still poorly understood. During the winter, adults are rarely found far from a permanent water source such as a spring seepage. During the rest of the year, adults wander far from streams and are often encountered crossing roads on rainy nights. Like most salamanders, Pseudotriton feed upon a variety of small invertebrates but they will also prey on smaller salamanders. Larval Red Salamanders prey heavily on aquatic invertebrates such as chironomid midge larvae but will eat other salamander larvae as they grow larger.

For Red Salamanders, egg laying takes place underground and has been noted in caves. Females have been observed guarding their eggs in caves where they deposit clumps of eggs in small rocky pools, attaching the eggs to sheltered corners or the lip of a rock. Breeding in this species is poorly understood, but most mating occurs during the latter half of summer in the Appalachians. Females retreat underground (often in caves) to lay eggs during the fall and remain with their clutches until they hatch during the winter. The larval period is prolonged and can take 2-3 years to complete.

Red Salamanders are State Endangered due to the fact that only two specimens have ever been collected in Indiana. Elsewhere, this salamander is relatively common and it is unclear why the species is so scarce in Indiana. Red Salamanders may have been locally extirpated due to rapid urbanization of the New Albany region, but the increased silt load in streams associated with urbanized areas may actually benefit this species.


Red Salamanders are found throughout much of eastern North America; east of the Mississippi River from north Florida to Mississippi, north into New York and New Jersey. In Indiana, Red Salamanders are known from only two specimens collected on a single road, on separate rainy nights during the 1950s in Floyd County. Though ample habitat exists in southern Indiana, Red Salamanders are absent from most of the state, likely because the Ohio River prevents its northward expansion. The historic records for Floyd County indicate that a population was historically present in the area. Adequate habitat still exists in the immediate area despite extensive urbanization, but repeated surveys in the general vicinity have yet to turn up additional specimens.


There are several recognized subspecies of the Red Salamander; Indiana specimens were best described as the Northern Red Salamander (P. r. ruber). These salamanders belong to the family Plethodontidae, which is the world's most diverse family of salamanders.

Is it dangerous?

Red Salamanders were originally thought to be a harmless mimic of the toxic red eft, but more recent work has shown that this species is also unpalatable to some degree and has a toxin in its skin similar to the toxin found in newts. Newts, Red Salamanders, Mud Salamanders, and Spring Salamanders are all now considered to be a complex of Müllerian mimics. This means, that the presence of multiple poisonous orange or red salamanders will reinforce the idea that predators should avoid eating any salamander with this coloration. Although Red Salamanders are poisonous, it is unlikely that anyone would ever experience adverse effects from this poison unless the salamander was actually eaten.

Literature Cited

Brandon, R. A. and J. E. Huheey. 1981. Toxicity in the Plethodontid Salamanders Pseudotriton ruber and Pseudotriton montanus (Amphibia, Caudata). Toxicon 19:25-31.

Bruce, R. C. 1978. Reproductive Biology of the Salamander Pseudotriton ruber in the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains. Copeia 1978:417-423.

Campbell G., E. H., L. E. Green, and W. H. Lowe. 2009. Salamander Occupancy in Headwater Stream Networks. Freshwater Biology 54:1370-1378.

Cecala, K. K., S. J. Price, and M. E. Dorcas. 2007. Diet of Larval Red Salamanders (Pseudotriton ruber) Examined Using a Nonlethal Technique. Journal of Herpetology 41:741-745.

Conant, R. and J. T . Collins. 1998. Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Third Edition, Expanded. Houghton Mifflin, New York, NY.

Howard, R. R. and E. D. Brodie Jr. 1971. Experimental Study of Mimicry in Salamanders Involving Notophthalmus viridescens viridescens and Pseudotriton ruber schencki. Nature 233:277.

Miller, B. T., M. L. Niemiller, and R. G. Reynolds. 2008. Observations 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.

Minton, S. A. Jr. 2001. Amphibians and Reptiles of Indiana. Indiana Academy of Science, Indianapolis, IN.

Petranka, J. W. 1998. Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institute Press, Washington D.C.

Distribution Map
Distribution of the Red Salamander (Pseudotriton ruber)

Maps may include both verified and unverified observations. Record verification occurs periodically as time allows.