Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra)

by Paul White TWP Founder & Director

Description - Black with yellow or orange markings that occur in patterns varying from discrete spots to large splotches or bands (partiularly in the subspecies Salamandra s. terrestris). With a body length from 15 to 20 cm (even up to 35 cm) it is the largest species in the family. Nocturnal.[1]

Distribution & Range - This species is present across much of central, eastern and southern Europe. In the former Soviet Union, it is known only from the mountains and foothills of the Ukrainian Carpathians. The populations of this species in Iberia are very fragmented (there is a small Area of Occupancy within the wider Extent of Occurrence). The populations of Salamandra species reported from western Anatolia, Turkey, require further investigation into the species involved and are not evaluated in this account. It occurs from lowland areas up to 2,500m asl (in central Spain).[2]

Reproduction - Males and females look very similar except during the breeding season, when the most conspicuous difference is a swollen gland around the male's vent. This gland produces the spermatophore, which carries a sperm packet at its tip. The courtship happens on land. After the male becomes aware of a potential mate, he confronts her and blocks her path. The male rubs her with his chin to express his interest in mating, then crawls beneath her and grasps her front limbs with his own in amplexus. He deposits a spermatophore on the ground, then attempts to lower the female's cloaca into contact with it. If successful, the female draws the sperm packet in and her eggs are fertilized internally. The eggs develop internally and the female deposits the larvae into a body of water just as they hatch. In some subspecies the larvae continue to develop within the female until she gives birth to fully formed metamorphs. Breeding has not been observed in neotenic fire salamanders.[3]

Copyright © 2012 Victoria Hillman

Diet - Consists of invertebrate prey and is generally a mixture of the most abundant species available in the salamander's particular habitat. These include soft-bodied prey such as earthworms and slugs, and harder-bodied prey such as flies, millipedes, centipedes, and beetles among others. Young Fire Salamanders seem to imprint on their preferred prey types during the first few weeks following metamorphosis from the larval stage to the adult. S. salamandra appears to employ different hunting strategies for different situations. When some light is available, it uses prey movement as its cue and ignores stationary prey. However, when hunting in the dark, it uses olfaction as its primary cue since vision is impaired. In this situation it will attack prey, if the prey is stationary, as long as it can detect the odor of the prey item. (Griffiths, 1996)[4]

Toxicity - Salamanders may actively defend themselves once they are grasped by a predator. Besides various antipredator postures, S. salamandra adults are able to exude toxic skin secretions such as the neurotoxic alkaloid Samandarin. This alkaloid causes strong muscle convulsions and hypertension combined with hyperventilation in all vertebrates. The poison glands of the Fire Salamander are concentrated in certain areas of the body, especially around the head and the dorsal skin surface. The coloured portions of the animal's skin usually coincide with these glands. Compounds in the skin secretions may be effective against bacterial and fungal infections of the epidermis; some are potentially dangerous to human life.[5]

End notes:-


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Gasc, J. P. , Cabela, A., Crnobrnja-Isailovic, J., Dolmen, D., Grossenbacher,K., Haffner, P., Lescure, J., Martens, H., Martinez Rica, J. P.,Maurin, H., Oliveira, M. E., Sofianidou, T. S., Vaith, M., and Zuiderwijk, A. (1997). Atlas of Amphibians and Reptiles in Europe. Societas Europaea Herpetologica and Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris.

Kuzmin, S. L. (1995). Die Amphibien Russlands und angrenzender Gebiete. Westarp Wissenschaften, Magdeburg.

Kuzmin, S. L. (1999). The Amphibians of the Former Soviet Union. Pensoft, Sofia-Moscow.

Szczerbak, N. N. and Szczerban, M. I. (1980). Zemnovodnye i Presmykayushchiesya Ukrainskikh Karpat [Amphibians and Reptiles of Ukrainian Carpathians]. Naukova Dumka, Kiev.

Griffiths, R.A. (1996). Newts and Salamanders of Europe. T. and A. D. Poyser, London.

Bannikov, A. G., Darevsky, I. S., Ishchenko, V. G., Rustamov, A. K. and Szczerbak, N. N. (1977).

Opredelitel Zemnovodnykh i Presmykayushchikhsya Fauny SSSR. Prosveshchenie, Moscow.

Greven, H. and Thiesmeier, B., eds. (1994). Biology of Salamandra and Mertensiella (Mertensiella Supplement 4). DGHT, Bonn.

Klewen, R. (1988). Die Landsalamander Europas, Teil I, Die Gattungen Salamandra und Mertensiella. A.Ziemsen, Wittenberg Lutherstadt.

Freytag, G.E. (1955). Feuersalamander und Alpensalamander (Die Neue Brehm Bücherei Bd. 142). A. Ziemsen, Wittenberg-Lutherstadt.

Thiesmeier, B. (1992). Okologie des Feuersalamanders. Westarp Wissenschaften, Essen.