Salamander Species in Massachusetts

There are 11 species of salamanders in Massachusetts. They belong to four scientific families—lungless salamanders, mole salamanders, newts, and mudpuppies—and come in a dizzying array of colors and patterns. 

Eastern red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus)

eastern red-backed salamander © NPS
eastern red-backed salamander © NPS

This small salamander may be the most abundant vertebrate (backboned animal) in the northeast, and it’s found all across the state. It is lungless, and breathes through its moist skin. Despite its name, its color varies; it’s often gray with a red stripe down its back, but it may be entirely red or entirely gray. Its belly is finely speckled with white and gray. Unlike our other salamanders, it spends its entire life on land, and lays its eggs on the moist forest floor. The young skip the typical aquatic stage and emerge as tiny terrestrial salamanders.


Four-toed salamander (Hemidactylium scutatum)

four-toed salamandar © Rosemary Mosco
four-toed salamandar © Rosemary Mosco

Another lungless salamander, this relatively uncommon species is the only one in our area with four toes on its hind feet (rather than five). Its back is a mix of rusty-brown and gray-blue, and its underside is white with large black flecks. It lives under cover on the floor of hardwood forests, and breeds in boggy areas, attaching its eggs to vegetation and guarding them until they hatch.


Northern two-lined salamander (Eurycea bislineata)

Northern two-lined salamander © John D. Wilson, wikimedia commons
Northern two-lined salamander © John D. Wilson, wikimedia commons

This sleek, speedy lungless salamander is often found in forest streams across the state. It has a copper to yellow back, a yellow belly, and two black stripes running down its sides. After males and females take part in an elaborate courtship dance, the females attach eggs to the undersides of rocks in water bodies and protect them until they hatch.


Northern dusky salamander (Desmognathus fuscus)

Northern dusky salamander © Rosemary Mosco
Northern dusky salamander © Rosemary Mosco

A chunkier lungless salamander, it tends to live in and near streams and seeps, and is found in the central and western parts of Massachusetts. Its hind legs are noticeably thicker than its front legs. A light-colored line runs from its eye to its chin. It lays its eggs under moss and protects them from predators.


Northern spring salamander (Gyrinophilus porphyriticus)

Spring salamander @ David Huth, wikimedia commons
Spring salamander @ David Huth, wikimedia commons

This larger lungless salamander can grow to 8 or 9 inches long. It is pinkish or reddish, with dark mottling. A light-colored line runs from its eye to its nose. A swift swimmer, it prefers clean, cold streams and lays its eggs under rocks in water. It’s found in the central and western parts of the state.


Spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)

Spotted salamander © Joy Marzolf
Spotted salamander © Joy Marzolf

Like other mole salamanders, the spotted salamander spends most of its year in the forest, under cover or in small mammal burrows underground. It emerges in the spring to breed in vernal pools, producing large jelly-like egg masses of 100-300 eggs and attaching them to twigs or rocks in a pool. This salamander can grow up to nine inches long and live for more than 20 years. No other species in our state has large yellow spots.


Jefferson salamander (Ambystoma jeffersonianum)

Jefferson salamander © Rosemary Mosco
Jefferson salamander © Rosemary Mosco

This mole salamander is grey-brown and may have small white or blue flecks. Its toes are long and it has a relatively long snout. Like the spotted salamander, it breeds in vernal pools. It’s found in the western part of the state.

Status

A Species of Special Concern under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. It’s illegal to kill, harass, collect, or possess this salamander.


Blue-spotted salamander (Ambytoma laterale)

blue spotted salamander © Rosemary Mosco
blue spotted salamander © Rosemary Mosco

Another mole salamander, this species has shorter toes and a rounder snout. As its name indicates, it has a variable pattern of blue spots. It’s found in the central and eastern parts of the state.

Status

A Species of Special Concern under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. It’s illegal to kill, harass, collect, or possess this salamander.


Hybrid blue-spotted x Jefferson salamanders

hybrid Jefferson salamander © Rosemary Mosco
© Rosemary Mosco

Some salamanders may look like a mix between the blue-spotted salamander and the Jefferson salamander. These belong to a fascinating all-female population with genetic material from both species, and its members are able to reproduce without fertilization.


Marbled salamander (Ambystoma opacum)

Marbled Salamander © Rosemary Mosco
Marbled Salamander © Rosemary Mosco

Rare in Massachusetts, it’s a relatively small mole salamander, reaching only about 4 inches long. It’s black with large silvery stripes and blotches; these markings are whiter in males and grayer in females. Unlike other mole salamanders, it breeds in the fall and lays its eggs in depressions where vernal pools will later appear. These eggs can hatch as soon as the rains come in the late fall or early winter, giving young marbled salamanders a head start over other species.

Status

Threatened in Massachusetts, and, under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act, it is illegal to kill, harass, or possess this salamander.


Eastern newt (Notophthalmus viridescens)

Eastern newt © Rosemary Mosco
Eastern newt © Rosemary Mosco

This species is found nearly statewide. It has an unusual 3-part life cycle: it begins life as a fully aquatic creature with visible gills, and then enters a terrestrial bright orange “eft” stage (often encountered by hikers), and finally returns to the water as a yellow and green adult. To pass through these stages successfully, the eastern newt needs wetlands that are adjacent to forests.


Mudpuppy (Necturus maculosus)

Mudpuppy © NPS
Mudpuppy © NPS

At up to 15 inches long, the mudpuppy is by far our largest salamander. It’s mud-colored, and as it’s aquatic throughout its lifestyle, it has feathery external gills. In Massachusetts it’s only found in the Connecticut River, and was likely introduced to the area from elsewhere.