Recognized Subspecies in VA: None
Size: 2 - 4 inches
Range: Statewide minus the Cumberland Plateau, though seemingly quite rare in the southern Piedmont
Status: Least Concern
The Eastern Red-backed Salamander is considered the most abundant terrestrial vertebrate in Virginia. This means if one searches in good habitat, then they should find many. This species is highly variable, and often misidentified as other salamanders species. This species has several sister species that patrol only a small area, and can likely only do so because the Red-back does not thrive at very high altitudes.
Red-backs get their name from their very common “Red-backed” phase, though have other notable phases. “Lead-backs” are very common, which is a phase that lacks the dorsal stripe all together. There are also “Gold-backs”, with a yellow-gold stripe, and “Ivory-backs” with white stripes. All of these small Plethodons have salt-n-pepper flanks and venters and a coastal grove count of 18-20.
Similar Species: Several small Plethodon species across the state look similar Eastern Red-backed Salamanders. There are too many to go through great detail here, but all of these species will have more discriminatory information on their own pages, but I will attempt a “lightning round” approach below.
Northern Zigzag Salamander: Red patch on shoulder
Big Levels Salamander: Tiny range; the two exclude one another
Peaks of Otter Salamander: Dramatic gold flecking; black flanks and belly
Ravine Salamander: Costal groove count is normally 20-23; the two usually exclude one another
Valley and Ridge Salamander: Costal groove count is normally 21
Shenandoah Mountain Salamander: Costal groove count is normally 20-23; tiny range
Shenandoah Salamander: More similar to a Wehrle’s in body shape; dark belly; thin dorsal stripe
White-spotted Slimy: Only the juveniles are similar, which as juveniles they have a disproportionately large head
Northern Gray-cheeked Salamander: Larger; no salt-n-pepper flanks or belly
Four-toed Salamander: Belly is white with large black spots
Maps and External Sources
Herping Virginia encourages all naturalists to practice ethical, safe, and sustainable herping. The use of proper herping methods and techniques is beneficial to both wildlife and herpers. Visit the links below for more information.