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A relatively small newt. Females are larger than males. The total length is around 80 mm for females and 60~65 mm for males, and the snout-vent length is 45 mm and 40 mm, respectively (Li et al. 2005; Fei et al. 2006). Males possess a shorter tail with higher caudal fin. Head is flat, but not broad. The rounded snout is somewhat truncated (Fei et al. 2006). Eyes are large and situated anterior to the angle of the jaw, where the upper labial fold is evident. Parotoid glands are well developed. Two lines of vomerine teeth orient in a ¦«-shaped manner, converging anteriorly. The skin is smooth, yet densely covered with small granulae. A vertebral ridge is noticeable. Limbs are gracile. When forelimb and hind limb are pressed towards each other against the flank, fingers overlap with toes. No webs are present between these slender digits (Fei et al. 2006). The lengths of fingers are 3 > 2 > 4 > 1, and the lengths of toes are 3 > 4 > 2 > 5 > 1. Tail is laterally compressed and attenuates towards the tip, which is rounded and blunt. Sexually mature males have dark brown papillae (0.5~2.6 mm) at the swollen cloaca (Yang and Shen 1993).
Cynops orientalis has a dark black dorsum in life. Most animals are uniform dark in background color, whereas some individuals have lighter flecks and some are tannish gray. Dorsal color may switch among above variations from time to time. Unlike C. cyanurus and C. chenggongensis, this species lacks an orange spot behind the eye. The ventral side is bright orange or red, scattered with black markings. The base of each limb, the anterior part of the cloaca and the ventral caudal fin are orange, while the posterior part of the cloaca is black. The orange coloration becomes ivory white in alcohol-stored specimens (Fei et al. 2006).
Hatchlings are about 10~12 mm in length. Larvae have a brown dorsum and lighter ventral side. It takes from 50 to 80 days from hatching to metamorphosis. Newly metamorphosed juveniles are around 30 mm in total length (Yang and Shen 1993).