Salamandra salamandra

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Geographic Range

The Fire Salamander occurs in central and southern Europe, with parts of its range extending into northern Africa and the Middle East. (Griffiths, 1996)

Habitat

S. salamandra prefers woodland habitats, especially those with much shade and nearby ponds or streams for breeding. It spends much time beneath rocks or logs, or hiding in crevices to stay protected and moist. (Griffiths, 1996)

Physical Description

Salamandra salamandra is the largest species in the family Salamandridae, ranging from 15 to 25cm long, with some individuals exceeding 30cm. Its body is black with yellow or orange markings that occur in patterns varying from discrete spots to large splotches or bands. The underside is usually dark grey with fewer spots. Body length exceeds tail length, and the limbs are stout. Females tend to be slightly larger than males, but little other sexual dimorphism exists. (Griffiths, 1996)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Average mass
    19.1 g
    0.67 oz
    AnAge
  • Range length
    15 to 30 cm
    5.91 to 11.81 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    0.00857 W
    AnAge

Development

Reproduction

Fertilization is internal via deposition of a spermatophore by the male. The female may retain the sperm for some time before ovulation and fertilization occur. This helps to account for the long gestation between the peak of mating season in the summer and the birth of the larvae in the following spring, after the winter hibernation. This seasonal pattern shifts in the warmer Middle Eastern populations, where breeding occurs October-January, with larval birth occuring the following November-December, after the period of inactiviy that occurs during the arid summer. Breeding occurs on land, and the females deposit their young in water.

S. salamandra is considered viviparous. The female retains the developing eggs, and the embryos derive their nourishment from the yolk. At birth the larvae are usually quite advanced, although some populations deposit young that have already metamorphosed.

Fire Salamanders may live in excess of 14 years; therefore, females have the chance to breed multiple times during their lives. (Griffiths, 1996; Lanza, et al., 1998; Pough, et al., 1998)

  • Breeding interval
    Breeds once per year

Lifespan/Longevity

  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    24 years
    AnAge

Behavior

S. salamandra is a shy species and spends much time hidden in shady crevices, under logs, or other such spots that will provide protection and moisture. Its main periods of activity are on mild nights; it is inactive during seasons of temperature extremes, such as the winters in its European range and the summers of its Middle Eastern range.

The Fire Salamander typically will stay loyal to the same home range for many years. They will also continually revisit the same overwintering spots: one experiment found individuals returned to the same cave to hibernate for up to 20 years. These journeys require some mechanism for homing; Fire Salamanders have been observed to follow paths with landmarks for orientation. It is not known if these landmarks are more significant for their visual or their olfactory cues, although some experiments indicate that the visual cues may be important.

The main defense of S. salamandra against predators is its toxicity, and its aposematic coloration warns predators. The large paratoid glands behind the eyes and rows of poison glands extending lengthwise down the animal's body secrete neurotoxins. The Fire Salamander is capable of actively spraying these chemicals at predators to discourage attack, rather than relying on escaping once the predator realizes it makes an unpleasant meal. (Griffiths, 1996; Pough, et al., 1998)

Food Habits

The diet of S. salamandra 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)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • mollusks
  • terrestrial worms

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The Fire Salamander has been a popular species in the pet trade, and has also been utilized as an animal model in research (Griffiths 1996).

Conservation Status

Better legislation has helped to reduce the numbers of Fire Salamanders that are caught in the wild for both the pet trade and for research.

Perhaps more of a threat is the crucial issue of habitat preservation. Like all amphibians, the Fire Salamander is susceptible to pollutants in its environment. Habitat fragmentation is also a potential problem since these animals are so loyal to their home ranges and overwintering sites. The ecological requirements of the species must be taken into consideration for any habitat protection effort (Griffiths 1996).

Other Comments

Traditional folklore held that salamanders could survive in fire; the term "salamander" actually comes from an Arab term for "lives in fire." The Fire Salamander in particular owes its name to these myths. The stories probably originated because salamanders, including S. salamandra, were frequently seen to crawl out of logs tossed onto cooking and campfires. Of course, their thin permeable skin offers no such protection. (Lanza, et al., 1998)

Contributors

Rose Sydlowski (author), Michigan State University, James Harding (editor), Michigan State University.

Glossary

Palearctic

living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

delayed fertilization

a substantial delay (longer than the minimum time required for sperm to travel to the egg) takes place between copulation and fertilization, used to describe female sperm storage.

ectothermic

animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

hibernation

the state that some animals enter during winter in which normal physiological processes are significantly reduced, thus lowering the animal's energy requirements. The act or condition of passing winter in a torpid or resting state, typically involving the abandonment of homoiothermy in mammals.

insectivore

An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

metamorphosis

A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.

molluscivore

eats mollusks, members of Phylum Mollusca

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

poisonous

an animal which has a substance capable of killing, injuring, or impairing other animals through its chemical action (for example, the skin of poison dart frogs).

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

sperm-storing

mature spermatozoa are stored by females following copulation. Male sperm storage also occurs, as sperm are retained in the male epididymes (in mammals) for a period that can, in some cases, extend over several weeks or more, but here we use the term to refer only to sperm storage by females.

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

References

Griffiths, R. 1996. Newts and Salamanders of Europe. London: Academic Press.

Lanza, B., S. Vanni, A. Nistri. 1998. Salamanders and Newts. Pp. 60-75 in H Cogger, R Zweifel, eds. Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Pough, H., R. Andrews, J. Cadle, M. Crump, A. Savitzky. 1998. Herpetology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.