Larval Spring Salamanders
Gyrinophilus porphyriticus

Spring salamanders (Gyrinophilus porphyriticus) begin their lives as stream-dwelling larvae. The larval stage is distinguished by red feathery gills that protrude from just behind the head. Larvae will grow for two to four years, and can reach sizes over 70 mm (2.75 inches) in snout-vent-length. During metamorphosis the larvae resorb the gills and transform into adults that can live both in water and on the land. Both adults and larvae are predators. Although much of their diet consists of invertebrates, Spring Salamanders will also eat other salamanders, including Two Lined Salamanders, Dusky Salamanders, and even other Spring Salamanders!

Spring salamanders are one of the largest members of the Lungless Salamander Family, the Plethodontidae. Although all plethodontids lack lungs, they differ in many other characteristics. Some plethodontids, like the Spring Salamander, have a larval stage. But other lungless salamanders have evolved such that they no longer have a larval stage. These "direct developing" plethodontids lay their eggs on land, which then hatch into little terrestrial salamanders.

The Spring Salamanders shown here were observed in Allegany County, New York. The first two photos show a large, older larvae that was photographed in July 2015. Take a close look at its broad, paddle-like tail. Notice the big chunk missing from the top? I suspect that is an old wound where a predator tried to take a bit out of this salamander.

Big Spring Salamander (Gyrinophilus porphyriticus) Larvae, curled up.

Spring salamander larvae stretched to its full length.

The picture below shows the section of stream where I found the big Spring Salamander. This stream flows into the Genesee River. In addition to Two-Lined Salamanders and Dusky Salamanders, the stream is also home to one species of fish, the Blacknose Dace.

Spring salamander larvae stretched to its full length.

The next three photos show a smaller (and probably younger) Spring Salamander found in the same stream in May 2015.

Portrait a larval spring salamander.

External gills are visible on this image of a larval spring salamander.

Gyrinophilus porphyriticus larvae showing external gills.

Spring Salamanders are widespread in the eastern United States. Across their geographic range, some populations of Spring Salamanders colonized caves, and evolved into new species of cave-dwelling salamanders. These cave-dwelling salamanders have retained some of the characteristics from their surface-dwelling days, but have evolved other traits to adapt to subterranean life.

All text and photographs Michael F. Benard
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