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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
This larger lungless salamander can grow 8–9 inches long. It's pinkish or reddish in color, 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 Massachusetts.
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 9 inches long and live for more than 20 years. No other species in our state has large yellow spots!
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.
Listed as "Special Concern" under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. It’s illegal to kill, harass, collect, or possess this salamander.
Blue-spotted Salamander (Ambystoma laterale)
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.
Listed as "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
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)
Rare mole salamander in Massachusetts. Reaching only ~4 inches in length, it's black with large silvery stripes and blotches, which 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.
Listed as "Threatened" under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. It's illegal to kill, harass, or possess this salamander.
Eastern Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens)
This species is found nearly statewide, and it has an unusual three-part life cycle. An Eastern Newt begins life as a fully aquatic creature with visible gills, then enters a terrestrial bright orange stage called a "Red Eft" (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)
At up to 15 inches long, the Mudpuppy is by far our largest salamander. It’s mud-colored and, since it's remains aquatic throughout its lifestyle, has feathery external gills. In Massachusetts it's only found in the Connecticut River, and was likely introduced to the area from elsewhere.