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This species was once abundant throughout Canada, but densities have been reduced by forest clearing. It occurs in southern Quebec, southern Ontario and in all of the maritime provinces. In the United States it occurs around the Great Lakes and south to North Carolina.
Red-backed salamanders are common in moist, cool coniferous forests, often hiding in tree stumps, under stones or rotting logs. This species searches for food in leaf litter, decaying logs and on low bushes, catching live prey with a forward thrust of its tongue. Its favorite foods includes termites, aphids, small worms, snails, slugs, and ants.