Spring Salamander Larvae

Gyrinophilus porphyriticus (duryi?)
Monday, June 20, 2011

Spring salamanders are notoriously secretive creatures which rarely emerge in the daytime. The larvae, being especially secretive, are rarely seen.

Spring Salamander adults are recognizable by their pinkish, brownish, or reddish skin. This is typically mottled with a darker overtone and flecked with dark markings. They are different from Red or Mud Salamanders, in that Spring Salamanders have a distinct light line, possibly bordered by a darker one, running from the eyes to the nose. Spring Salamanders typically have flesh- or salmon-colored ventrals, and those of this particular subspecies are unmarked. Spring Salamanders have four toes on their front legs and five on their rear legs.

Unusually among salamanders, which mostly breed in spring, the Spring Salamander breeds from October throughout the winter months. During courtship, the male and the female push each other and roll around in the water. The male will then deposit sperm into the water, which are collected by the female and stored until the springtime, when she begins to produce her eggs. A female can make as many as 100 eggs, attaching them individually to the underside of submerged stones. When the larvae hatch in late summer, they are no longer than a penny. It will take them 2-4 years before they reach the length of 10.2 cm (4 in) and transform into an adult, and they will not become sexually mature for 4-6 years. Larvae can have different colorations than the adults, but are most notable for their gills, which confine them to aquatic environments. Recently transformed Salamanders are a much brighter salmon-red color than their elders, and may lack the darker mottling, as is present in this specimen. It is thought that this is used to protect the young by mimicking other, more toxic salamanders, such as the Red Eft stage of the Eastern Red-spotted Newt. While this salamander still possesses gills, it is assuming the coloration of a transforming or adult specimen, leading one to believe that it is several years old.   

Adult Spring Salamanders generally inhabit springs, wet caves, and cool mountain streams. They have also been known to follow underground springs some distance from their breeding grounds. They belong to the family Plethodontidae, meaning that they are lungless and must absorb oxygen through their skin. They are semi-aquatic, and when the adults spend time out of the water it is usually in very moist places, such as under rocks or logs. In the wintertime, Spring Salamanders inhabit shallow burrows in the moist soil near a water source.

Adult salamanders are generalists, consuming snails, annelids, centipedes, millipedes, arachnids, insects, and other salamanders. They have also been shown to be cannibalistic. Larvae generally consume small invertebrates and the eggs of other salamanders. Spring Salamanders’ chief threats come from garter snakes, water snakes, and conspecifics. While one of this salamander’s main defenses consists of mimicking more toxic species, adult salamanders can also produce noxious skin secretions to deter potential predators.

This specimen was collected by the Field Methods class in Hunters’ Branch.

Article by Hazel Galloway


  • A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians: Eastern and Central North America. 3rd Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company,1998.
  • animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Gyrinophilus_porphyriticus.html
  • amphibiaweb.org
  • herpcenter.ipfw.edu/Accounts/amphibians/salamanders/Kentucky_Spring_Salamander/Spring% 20Salamander%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf