If you ever spend time turning over logs in High Park’s more damp areas, you might be surprised to find a Red-backed Salamander, wriggling around in the soil!
Red-backed Salamanders are sensitive little amphibians that mostly inhabit deciduous or mixed forests. Due to their lack of lungs, they need to live in damp or moist environments in order to breathe and are often found in or under fallen logs, coarse woody debris, and leaf litter. At a first glance, Red-backed Salamanders can easily be mistaken for a blunt-headed, pointy-tailed worm, especially if you can’t see their legs but in taking a closer look, you’ll start to notice more of the details.
Their small and slender bodies come in two different colour phases. The most common is black or dark grey with a stripe that goes down the back from head to tail. This stripe is usually red or brownish-orange but can also be yellow, pink, or grey. The other colour phase is referred to as the “leadback” phase, in which the salamander is solid black or dark grey. In both phases, this salamander has black and white spotting on the belly and lower sides.
Red-backed Salamanders communicate with each other through body posture and scent marking. Scent marking is especially important since they are aggressively territorial and will mark their territory with their scent and dung to notify other salamanders of their presence, range, and size.
On your next spring visit to High Park, keep an eye out for Red-backed Salamanders!
FUN FACT: Red-backed Salamanders can evade predators by dropping all or part of their tail in the event of an attack. In its place, a new tail will eventually grow, though this new tail may be duller in color and the individual will have lost much of the fat reserves on which it relies to survive the winter.