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The fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra) is probably the best-known salamander species in Europe. It is black with yellow spots or stripes to a varying degree; some specimens can be nearly completely black while on others the yellow is dominant. Shades of red and orange may sometimes appear, either replacing or mixing with the yellow according to subspecies. Fire salamanders can have a very long lifespan. A salamander lived for more than 50 years in Museum Koenig, a German natural history museum.
Habitat, behavior and diet
Fire salamanders live in central European forests and are more common in hilly areas. They prefer deciduous forests, since they like to hide in fallen leaves and around mossy tree trunks. They need small brooks or ponds with clean water in their habitat for the development of the larvae. Whether on land or in water, fire salamanders are inconspicuous. They spend much of their time hidden beneath stones, wood or other objects. They are active in the evening and the night, but on rainy days they are active in daytime as well.
The diet of the fire salamander consists of various insects, spiders, earthworms and slugs, but they also occasionally eat newts and young frogs. Small prey will be caught within the range of the vomerine teeth or by the posterior half of the tongue, to which the prey adheres. The fire salamander can grow to be 15–25 cm long.
It is possible that the common name of this species, fire salamander, derives from old tales of these amphibians. The salamanders hide within holes and crevasses in damp wood and tree trunks. When humans cut down wood to use for heating, the salamanders often remained hidden within. When a fire was lit, the heat forced the animals to leave the wood and crawl to safety. Because of this they appeared as though they were "crawling from within the flames".
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.
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.
Fire Salamanders are found in most of southern and central Europe. They are most commonly found at altitudes between 400 and 1000 m, only rarely below (in Northern Germany sporadically down to 25 m). However in the Balkans or Spain they are commonly found in higher altitudes as well.
Nominae Herpetofaunae Europaeae: Salamandra salamandra (Linnaeus, 1758)
Common names, by countries in alphabetical order:
- Belgium - Vuursalamander (Flanders)); Rogne (Wallonia)
- Bosnia and Herzegovina - Daždevnjak
- Bulgaria - Дъждовник
- Croatia - Pjegavi daždevnjak
- Czech Republic - Mlok skvrnitý
- France - Salamandre commune or Salamandre Tachetée; Cateddu muntaninu in Corsica
- Germany - Feuersalamander; Tåttermandl in Bavaria; Eerdpüüster in Low German
- Greece - Σαλαμάνδρα, σαλαμάνδρα της φωτιάς
- Hungary - Foltos szalamandra
- Israel - סלמנדרה כתומה
- Italy - Salamandra pezzata
- Lebanon- سلمندر النّار
- Netherlands - Vuursalamander
- Norway - Ildsalamander
- Poland - Salamandra plamista
- Portugal - Salamandra-de-fogo, Salamandra comum, Salamandra-de-pintas-amarelas
- Romania - Salamandra comuna
- Serbia - Šareni daždevnjak
- Slovenia - Navadni močerad
- Spain - Salamandra común; Arrabio in Basque Country; Salamandra comuna in Catalonia; Píntega común in Galicia
- Turkey - Lekeli Semender
- S. s. alfredschmidti
- S. s. almanzoris – Spotted Fire Salamander
- S. s. bejarae
- S. s. bernardezi
- S. s. beschkovi
- S. s. crespoi
- S. s. fastuosa (or bonalli) – Yellow Striped Fire Salamander
- S. s. gallaica – Portuguese Fire Salamander
- S. s. gigliolii
- S. s. morenica
- S. s. salamandra - Spotted Fire Salamander, Nominate supspecies
- S. s. terrestris – Barred Fire Salamander
- S. s. werneri
Some former subspecies have been lately recognized as species due to genetic reasons.
- S. algira Bedriaga, 1883 - African Fire Salamander
- S. corsica Savi, 1838 - Corsican Fire Salamander
- S. infraimmaculata Martens, 1885 - Arouss Al Ayn (Near-Eastern Fire Salamander)
- S. longirostris Joger & Steinfartz, 1994 - South Iberian Fire Salamander
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- Griffiths, R. 1996. Newts and Salamanders of Europe. London: Academic Press.
- Kuzmin, S. et al. (2004). Salamandra salamandra. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. www.iucnredlist.org. Retrieved on 12 May 2006. Database entry includes a range map and justification for why this species is of least concern
- Manenti, R., Ficetola, G. F., De Bernardi, F. 2009 - Water, stream morphology and landscape: complex habitat determinants for the fire salamander Salamandra salamandra. Amphibia-Reptilia 30: 7-15.