Pseudotriton ruber (Sonnini de Manoncourt & Latreille, 1801)
© 2009 Matthew Niemiller (1 of 142)
Pseudotriton ruber is a large, red, black-spotted salamander with short limbs found in the eastern United States. Total length ranges from 95 - 180 mm in adults. Eyes are yellow. The body is stout, with 16 or 17 costal grooves. Limbs are short relative to body size. Tail is also short, averaging about 38% of total length. Hatchlings have a snout-vent length of 11 - 14 mm. Larvae are stream adapted (Petranka 1998).
There are currently four recognized sub-species of P. ruber: the northern red salamander (P. r. ruber), the Blue Ridge red salamander (P. r. nitidus), the black-chinned salamander (P. r. schencki), and the southern red salamander (P. r. vioscai). Pseudotriton r. ruber is the largest, reaching 180 mm total length. It is red or red orange with black flecking on the chin. Pseudotriton r. nitidus only reaches 120 mm total length, and has no spotting on the chin or the posterior half of the tail. Pseudotriton r. schencki may reach 150 mm total length, and has heavier black flecking under the chin than P. r. ruber. Pseudotriton r. vioscai is generally purple-brown in color, has tiny white flecks on the snout, and its dorsal spots tend to fuse (Petranka 1998).
Pseudotriton ruber is similar in appearance to and overlaps in range with P. montanus, the mud salamander. The species can be distinguished mainly by eye color and spot patterns. Pseudotriton ruber has yellow eyes, while P. montanus has brown eyes. Pseudotriton montanus has fewer dorsal spots which are widely spaced and rarely overlap, in contrast to the heavy, often overlapping spotting on individuals of P. ruber. The snout of P. montanus tends to be shorter and more blunt than that of P. ruber (Petranka 1998).
The color of the dorsum in P. ruber ranges from purplish brown to red. The dorsum is covered with irregular black spots. The venter is pink or red with black spots. Individuals tend to darken with age, and the spots begin to fuse and become less distinct. Juveniles are typically bright crimson with bold black spots, and may not have spotting on the belly. Older adults are often dark orange or purple-brown in coloration. Recently hatched larvae are typically light brown dorsally, with a whitish venter. The dorsum becomes streaked or mottled as the larvae mature. Larvae may turn red as they near transformation. The adult spotting appears a few months after metamorphosis (Petranka 1998).
Distribution and Habitat
Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: United States
U.S. state distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia
Pseudotriton ruber ranges from New York in the north to the gulf coast, and reaches as far west as Louisiana. The species may be found at elevations between sea level and 1500 meters (Petranka 1998).
Adults are found under surface cover in forests, meadows, and pasturelands, or in burrows alongside streams. They often spend late fall and winter in and around small streams, seepages, and bogs, which are also used for breeding (Petranka 1998).
Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors
Pseudotriton ruber is active nocturnally, remaining under cover or in burrows during the day. It feeds on various invertebrates, and may also eat smaller amphibians. Predators include birds, shrews, raccoons, skunks, and snakes (Petranka 1998). When threatened, P. ruber assumes a defensive posture where the body is curled, and the tail is raised over the head and moved side to side (Brodie and Howard 1972; Petranka 1998).
Several salamander genera within the range of P. ruber have red coloration, including the highly toxic red eft stage of Notophthalmus viridescens. Pseudotriton, Notophthalmus, and Gyrinophilus are believed to be part of a mimicry complex, either Müllerian, in which all species are unpalatable to some degree and all benefit from reduced predation by having similar appearance, or Batesian, where Pseudotriton and Gyrinophilus both mimic the toxic Notophthalmus to reduce predation (Petranka 1998).
Pseudotriton ruber usually breeds annually, but mating season varies geographically (Petranka 1998). Courtship involves head rubbing and a tail-straddling walk, typical of plethodontid salamanders. The male then deposits a spermatophore for the female to pick up, to be used later for fertilization. Females may retain sperm for several months before oviposition. Males may deposit up to two spermatophores per night. Some males have been observed courting other males, in what may be an effort to improve their own chances with females by causing a rival male to waste a spermatophore (Organ and Organ 1968; Petranka 1998).
Eggs are laid during fall or early winter. The eggs, about 4mm in diameter, are attached in water to the underside of rocks and logs in streams, bogs, or springs. Females brood the eggs for 2 - 3 months until the eggs hatch (Petranka 1998).
Males typically begin breeding 4 - 5 years after metamorphosis, females after 5 or more years. Snout vent length at time of reproduction is 53 - 63 mm in males, 55 - 68 mm in females (Bruce 1978; Petranka 1998).
Larvae are found in slow moving regions of streams or springs, feeding on aquatic invertebrates among decaying leaves and aquatic plants. The larval stage may last 1.5 - 3.5 years, with longer larval periods corresponding to more northern populations. Transformation occurs in late spring and summer (Bruce 1972; Petranka 1998).
Trends and Threats
Pseudotriton ruber does best in mature deciduous forests with clear streams. Deforestation, pollution, stream siltation, and acid runoff (coal mining) all may result in local declines (Petranka 1998).
The species as a whole is doing well, with a wide distribution, large populations, and presence in many protected areas throughout the eastern United States (Hammerson 2004; Petranka 1998).
Possible reasons for amphibian decline
General habitat alteration and loss
The species authority for P. ruber is Pierre André Latreille, 1801 (Hammerson 2004).
The species epithet “ruber” is Latin for “red”.
Pseudotriton ruber was the first species of Plethodontid salamander found to be toxic. Skin glands produce the large toxic protein pseudotritontoxin (PTTX), which is mostly concentrated on the dorsal surface (Brandon and Huheey 1981).
Brandon, R. A., and Huheey, J. E. (1981). ''TOXICITY IN THE PLETHODONTID SALAMANDERS PSEUDOTRITON RUBER AND PSEUDOTRITON MONTANUS (AMPHIBIA, CAUDATA).'' Toxicon, 19, 25-31.
Brodie, E. D., and Howard, R. R. (1972). ''Behavioral Mimicry in the Defensive Displays of the Urodele Amphibians Nophthalmus viridescens and Pseudotriton ruber.'' Bioscience, 22(11), 666-667.
Bruce, R. C. (1972). ''The Larval Life of the Red Salamander Pseudotriton ruber.'' Journal of Herpetology, 6(1), 43-51.
Bruce, R. C. (1978). ''Reproductive Biology of the Salamander Pseudotriton ruber in the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains.'' Copeia, 1978(3), 417-423.
Hammerson, G. 2004. Pseudotriton ruber. In: IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2. www.iucnredlist.org. Downloaded on 01 April 2013.
Organ, J. A. and Organ, D. J. (1968). ''Courtship Behavior of the Red Salamander, Pseudotriton ruber.'' Copeia, 1968(2), 217-223.
Petranka, J. W. (1998). Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C. and London.
Originally submitted by: John Cavagnaro (first posted 2001-02-22)
Edited by: Ann T. Chang (2013-04-09)
Species Account Citation: AmphibiaWeb 2013 Pseudotriton ruber: Red Salamander <https://amphibiaweb.org/species/4198> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed Oct 2, 2023.
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Citation: AmphibiaWeb. 2023. <https://amphibiaweb.org> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed 2 Oct 2023.
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