There are two colour phases: the red-back phase has a broad, red stripe down the back and tail; the lead-back phase has a dark grey or lead-coloured back. The side of the slender body are dark grey becoming mottled with light grey towards the belly. Very rarely all-red salamanders are found.
The red-back salamander is one of three Ontario salamander species which has no lungs. Since all respiration must take place through the skin, the red-back is restricted to moist environments.
This is, in part, the result of a life cycle that can be completed free of standing water; unlike other amphibians, the red-backs complete their development on land without becoming free-swimming gilled larvae.
Larval development occurs entirely within the egg from which a tiny, fully formed, 2cm, salamander emerges.
The red-back salamander is found in woodlands, wooded ravines, and river valleys.
During rainy periods they feed on spiders and small insects in the leaf litter on the forest floor.
Look for these salamanders under logs and rocks or in moist rotting stumps. When disturbed they scurry into tunnels or wriggle deeper into the crumbling stump.
They mark their territory using a secretion from glands under their chin. These chemicals act as warnings to other salamanders that they are trespassing and may be attacked.
Courtship is in September and October. The female retains the sperm during hibernation.
In the spring she lays 6-10 eggs, which hatch in August and September fully formed.