Species Profile: Fire Salamander

Photo credit: Rob Gandola

Photo credit: Rob Gandola

Name: Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra)

Range: Throughout Central and Southern Europe. Habitat is typically upland deciduous forests.

Diet: Insectivorious

Conservation Status: IUCN – Least Concern

The fire salamander is one of Europe’s most striking amphibians. The contrast of bright yellow spots/stripes against a glossy black background gives this species a very distinctive appearance.

The species name is likely a reference to the old myth that salamanders were born from flames and to this day the name salamander is frequently bestowed on individuals with an unhealthy obsession with fire. So where did the myth originate? The most likely explanation is that people sitting around fires within this species’ range would sometimes see unfortunate salamanders crawling out of the fire. Considering this species’ propensity for hiding within logs, it’s hardly surprising that this should be a relatively common occurrence. So, over time, the apparently spontaneous generation of salamanders from within a fire (into which no salamanders had been deliberately introduced) led people to believe that this was how salamanders were born. The fact that  salamander chill-out spots are our go-to fire fuel appears to have escaped everyone’s notice for quite some time.

Mating is performed on land, but this species is still dependent on water bodies for the birth of their larval offspring. S.salamandra is quite a long lived species often reaching 15-20 years.

This species protects itself by secreting toxins such as the alkaloid samandarin. Ingestion of this toxin leads to undesired side effects such as muscle convulsions as well as interfering with normal respiratory function. It is possible that these skin secretions also serve an anti-microbial function, however a recent study has given cause for concern in terms of potential microbial threats to wild salamanders. The study found that a population of the subspecies Salamandra salamandra terrestris is undergoing catastrophic declines due to the emergence of a new species of chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bs). Worryingly, this fungus thrives under thermal conditions that are quite different to those preferred by the more infamous Batrachochytrium denrobatidis (Bd) and as such, habitats that were thought to be resistant to outbreaks of Bd may now be vulnerable to Bs.

 

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