This small salamander is reddish brown above with grey sides and a white belly with black spots. It is the only terrestrial salamander that has four toes on the hind feet. It also has a conspicuous constriction at the base of the tail. The length of this salamander, including the tail, may reach 10 centimetres.
The only other Ontario salamander with four toes on the hind feet is the mudpuppy, which is totally aquatic, never loses its gills and can grow significantly larger than the four-toed salamander (Hemidactylium scutatum). All other salamander species in Ontario normally have four toes on the front feet and five on the hind feet. The four-toed salamander can be confused with the red-backed salamander, which is grey bodied and often has a red band down the length of its back, and the northern two-lined salamander, which has two dark brown lines down the length of its back and a lighter band between them.
These salamanders inhabit sphagnum bogs, bog-based streams and flood plains in woodland areas, but also forage in nearby forests. This species hibernates underground in the forest soil.
View an interactive map of the known ranges of four-toed salamanders in Ontario.
Four-toed salamanders typically mate in the fall, but the female does not lay eggs until the following spring. Two or more females may share a nest, laying about 30 eggs each in small cavities in sphagnum moss, a few centimetres above the waterline, or near the edges of open pools in bogs. The females tend the eggs until they hatch one to two months later. The larvae spend about six weeks in the water before transforming. Newly transformed juveniles may remain in the water or venture into nearby forests. Four-toed salamanders reach sexual maturity in about two years.
Like most salamanders, adult four-toed salamanders feed on insects and other invertebrates. In this species, as in many other salamander species, the tail sometimes breaks off when a predator catches the salamander, allowing it to escape. A new tail soon grows.
Threats and Trends
For all salamanders, potential threats are habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, predation and road mortality. The nature of the habitat in which four-toed salamanders live limits these threats to some extent, and no significant decline in this species has been established at this time.
Current Status and Protection
The four-toed salamander is currently listed as Not at Risk by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada and is listed as Not at Risk under the Ontario Endangered Species Act, 2007 and as having No Schedule, No Status under the federal Species at Risk Act. The species has been designated as a Specially Protected Amphibian under the Ontario Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. These acts offer protection to individuals and their habitat. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the global status of the four-toed salamander as Least Concern. The species’ status was last confirmed in January 2010.
Learn more about reptile and amphibian conservation and what you can do to help these species on our Reptile and Amphibian Stewardship page.