Key Characters: Reddish or yellowish back stripe broadly zig-zagged (east), or narrow and straight edged (west); orange marks around bases of front legs.
Similar Species: Four-toed salamander, juvenile dusky salamander, redback salamander.
Subspecies: Eastern zigzag salamander, P. d. dorsalis.
Description: A slender salamander (up to 11 cm TL) similar to the redback salamander, but not quite as dark. Costal grooves 17-18. Black and white belly markings. Striking geographic variation in back stripe that extends from head to tail tip: in eastern counties, it is a broad reddish (sometimes yellow) zigzag or has wavy edges; in some individuals, it is yellow, gray, or black. In counties bordering the Mississippi River, the back stripe is narrower, nearly straight sided, and either red or absent (lead phase).
Habitat: Moist, rocky forests. Seasonally abundant in woodlands around rocky springs and cave entrances.
Natural History: In late autumn and spring, during rainy periods, it may be abundant under rocks on forested hillsides. During mid-summer, individuals move deeper into soil, sometimes encountering moist cave passages where they accumulate in large numbers. Females have been observed brooding eggs in rock crevices in a southern Illinois cave June through September.
Status: No current concerns.