Southern Red-Backed Salamander

Photo of a southern red-backed salamander on an oak leaf.
Scientific Name
Plethodon serratus
Plethodontidae (lungless salamanders) in the order Caudata (salamanders)

A small, dark, slender salamander with a long, rounded tail. A distinct, narrow, red or orange mid-dorsal stripe with saw-toothed edges that correspond with the body (costal) grooves is usually present, though some specimens lack the red dorsal stripe altogether. The sides are brownish gray with some red pigment. The belly is covered with gray mottling. There are 18 or 19 costal grooves (vertical grooves on the sides of the body).

Similar species: The dorsal stripe of the Ozark zigzag salamander (P. angusticlavius) is usually very thin (less than a third of the width of the body), may be broken up into lobes, and is always widest near the hind limbs. It range overlaps but is generally southwest of the range of the southern red-backed salamander’s.


Length: 2¼–4 inches.

Where To Find
Southern Red-Backed Salamander Distribution Map

Southern, central, eastern, and southeastern Ozarks.

A terrestrial salamander that commonly lives in forests, where it hides under rocks, clumps of mosses, and rotten logs. During dry parts of summer, it may be found near seepages, springs, or in thick leaf litter in ravines. It has uncommonly been found in the dimly lit area beyond a cave entrance.

A variety of small arthropods, such as insects and spiders.

Life Cycle

Courtship and mating occur in autumn; eggs are laid the following June and July. Only 6 or 7 eggs are produced; they are fertilized as they exit the female’s body, using sperm stored since the previous autumn. The eggs are attached to a thin stalk suspended from the top of a cavity under rotten logs or in a clump of moss. Females remain with the eggs until they hatch, which is sometime in August.

Like other amphibians, this salamander depends on humans to restrain from destroying, degrading, and fragmenting their native habitat. Salamanders are both literally and figuratively voiceless. People who care about their survival must speak up for them when it comes to public policy.

These and other lungless salamanders are integral parts of the forested areas they occupy. As predators, they help control the numbers of the insects and other creatures they eat. As prey, the adults, eggs, and young help feed larger predators.

Media Gallery
Similar Species
About Reptiles and Amphibians in Missouri
Missouri’s herptiles comprise 43 amphibians and 75 reptiles. Amphibians, including salamanders, toads, and frogs, are vertebrate animals that spend at least part of their life cycle in water. They usually have moist skin, lack scales or claws, and are ectothermal (cold-blooded), so they do not produce their own body heat the way birds and mammals do. Reptiles, including turtles, lizards, and snakes, are also vertebrates, and most are ectothermal, but unlike amphibians, reptiles have dry skin with scales, the ones with legs have claws, and they do not have to live part of their lives in water.