The Red-backed SalamanderWisconsin status: abundant
length: 3-4 inches
This salamander is different than most. Not only does it live on land its whole life, it doesn't have lungs or gills and breathes right through its skin! To help absorb oxygen, it needs moisture and has to keep its skin wet. It hangs out in humid areas that are shaded, and underneath leaf litter, rotten bark, or decaying logs on the ground. You'll know the red-back by its reddish stripe from head to tail along the entire backside. It is 2-5 inches long.
During the spring and summer, the red-backed salamander is active at night and walks along the forest floor under leaves, rocks, and stumps. You might see one climbing a tree or shrub in search of food. In the fall, the male redback lays a jelly-like mass and the female picks it up and then lays 3-14 eggs in a cavity in a rotting stump or rock crevice. The female guards the eggs during development and secretes slime on the eggs to keep them from drying out and to keep fungus from growing on the eggs. Unlike all other Wisconsin salamanders, red-backed salamanders change to adults while they are in the egg and they don't go through a free-swimming larval stage. In the winter, redbacks bury themselves in a rock crevice or climb "down under" about 15 inches in decaying roots in the soil.
The mixed coniferous-deciduous forest is the perfect place for the red-backed salamander to live with lots of rocks, decaying logs, leaf litter and stumps. You'll find them throughout Wisconsin and in the eastern United States from Maine south to Georgia. These salamanders eat lots of slimy critters like insects and their larvae, mites, spiders, and slugs. Other forest animals: birds, shrews and snakes, make a meal out of this salamander.
You can see a red-backed salamander and watch kids help a researcher who is studying salamanders by viewing this red-backed salamander video .