Total length up to 144 mm for males, up to 151 mm for females. Slightly elongated head, with two large kidney-shaped paratoid glands. The body has 11-13 costal grooves on either side. The tail is square in cross-section. One double row of poison glands runs down the center of the back. One single row of poison glands runs along either side of the body onto the tail. Usually black or brown-black, but the subspecies Salamandra atra aurorae has a bright coloration on the head, back, and dorsal side of the extremities. This coloration can consist of continuous patches or be spotted or blotched. It can vary in color from whitish or yellow to greenish or gray. Males have a slightly more pronounced cloaca than females.
Distribution and Habitat
The Alpine salamander is an endemic of the alpine arc with some isolated areas in the Dinaric Alps. In earlier times, the whole Alps were considered to be inhabited by a single species. With the declaration of the new species S. lanzai, the situation in the W. Alps is no longer clear. The range of S. atra range probably does not exceed the Rhône valley in the region of the Lake Geneva (W. Switzerland). The northern limit of the area follows the chalk Alps through Central Switzerland - Säntis Massif - Wengen near Isny im Allgäu (Baden-Württemberg, F.R.G.) - Nesselwang - Lenggries - Wendelstein - Rauschberg - Wolfgangsee - Lunz - Schneeberg (50 km from Vienna). The southern limit is less exactly known; all indications from the Savoyan Alps, the Valle d'Aosta and the Swiss Ticino are uncertain or probably wrong. Some known sites along the southern limit are Passo del Spluga - Alpi Orobie - Massif of Adamello - Monte Pasubio south of Trento - southern border of the eastern Dolomites - Bosco del Cansiglio east of Belluno - S Carnian Alps. The range turns to the south through higher mountains of Slovenia and Croatia to the S Dinarids. Only some isolated massifs in Bosnia, Montenegro and N. Albania (Dragobya) are colonized. The eastern border goes through the Karawanken _ koralpe - Fischbach Alps - Schneeberg. Some parts of the Central Alps with a dry climate are avoided: Valais and Engadine in Switzerland, Valtelline and Vinschgau/Valle Venosta in Italy. An element of mystery surrounds some old and not absolutely certain records in the French/Swiss Jura, which could not be confirmed in recent times. Salamandra a. prenjensis occurs in the Cvrsnica and Prenj mountains near Sarajevo, but the validity of this subspecies is very doubtful. The range of the subspecies S. a. aurorae is extremely small (less than 50 square kilometers), situated at the southern border of the total area between Trento and Asiago in NE Italy. The habitat consists of mixed decidious and coniferous forests on cretacious limestone at altitudes between 1300 and 1800 m (a.s.l.). The typical habitats of the alpine salamander are alpine humid meadows and woodlands, where it lives in cracks, crevices or burrows, only to emerge at night or after rainfall. The species hibernates, depending on the altitude, for a period of 6-8 months (Noellert and Noellert 1992).The lowest known sites are at identical altitudes in Austria and Switzerland: 430 m (a.s.l.). South of the Alps the species is rarely found below 900 m (a.s.l.). The highest record sites are in Switzerland, at 2430 m, and in Austria/Carinthia at 2800 m (Gasc 1997).
Habitat and Ecology
Life History and Behavior
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
The subspecies Salamandra atra aurorae qualifies for listing as Critically Endangered under criterion B1ab(iii) because its Extent of Occurrence is probably less than 100 km2, all individuals may be in a single location, and there is continuing decline in the quality of its habitat in the Bosco del Dosso.
- 2004Least Concern
Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors
Salamandra atra is a fully terrestrial species. Mating involves a ventral amplexus by the male, followed by the deposition of the spermatophore. One embryo develops in each of the two uteri. The developing young first feed on fertilized, and later on unfertilized ova in the uteri. Later in development, a zona trophica develops on the border between oviduct and uterus, which continuously provides the young with a cellular material that serves as food. The young develop extremely large external gills. Gestation takes 2 years between 650 and 1000 m, and 3 years between 1400 and 1700 m elevation. The terrestrial, fully metamorphosed young are 40-50 mm total length upon birth. Longevity is at least 10 years.
This species, although cryptic, can be quite abundant. This becomes evident after heavy rainfall, when the animals become active and leave their hideouts. Densities of 2380 individuals per ha are known to occur. Population densities are lower in less suitable habitats, such as relatively dry areas. When threatened, they excrete a poisonous liquid from their skin glands (Noellert and Noellert 1992).
Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors
In the most parts of the N Alps in Switzerland, Germany and Austria, the species is still very abundant and not considered endangered. In dryer regions of the S Alps, it is much more difficult to find, with status unknown. The subspecies S. a. aurorae is highly endangered in its very small range. Possible threats to the alpine salamander are the destruction of habitats by tourism, in lower regions intensifying and expanding of agriculture, and killing by road traffic. Negative effects of air pollution, rain and soil acidification are likely though not proved (Gasc 1997).
The alpine salamander (Salamandra atra) was a shiny black salamander found in the central, eastern and Dinaric Alps, at altitudes above 700 m (2,300 ft). The western Alps are inhabited by a similar species, Lanza's alpine salamander (Salamandra lanzai), in only one small area. No differences in length are seen between sexes (9–14 cm (3.5–5.5 in)) and the sex ratio is 1:1. Their life expectancy is at least 10 years. Unlike other salamanders whose larvae are developed in water, the alpine salamander is a fully terrestrial species. Capture-recapture methods suggest the species is very stationary; 12 m (39 ft) was the maximum observed distance travelled by one individual during the summer season. About 120 individuals per hectare were counted in most suitable areas with >2000 individuals/ha also observed, suggesting this rather cryptic species is quite abundant.
- S. a. atra is a fully melanistic (black) subspecies from central, eastern and Dinaric Alps.
- S. a. aurorae, the golden alpine salamander, is classified as being Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List 2002. This subspecies has golden or yellow spots on its back and lives in a small area in the Venetian prealps near Asiago.
- S. a. pasubiensis, with less yellow spots than S. a. aurorae, lives in a different part of the Venetian prealps (Pasubio massif).
- S. a. prenjensis lives on Prenj Mountain, part of the Dinaric Alps in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Validity of this subspecies is yet to be confirmed.
Genetic analysis suggests the Corsican fire salamander (Salamandra corsica) is the closest related species, and the black-yellow coloration is an ancestral feature of alpine salamanders. Proposed colonization from south (Prealps) to Alps was carried out by the fully melanistic (derived feature) S. a. atra after the last retreat of the ice sheets.
Mating occurs on land, the male clasping the female at the fore legs, and the fertilization is internal. S. atra is an ovoviviparous amphibian, giving birth to two live young, or rarely three or four. They may measure as long as 50 mm (2.0 in) at birth, with the female measuring only 120 mm (4.7 in). The uterine eggs are large and numerous, but as a rule, only one fully develops in each uterus, the embryo being nourished on the yolk of the other eggs, which more or less dissolve to form a large mass of nutrient matter. The embryo passes through three stages:
- still enclosed within the egg and living on its own yolk
- free, within the vitelline mass, which is directly swallowed by the mouth
- with no more vitelline mass, the embryo is possessed of long external gills, which serve as an exchange of nutritive fluid through the maternal uterus, these gills functioning in the same way as the chorionic villi of the mammalian egg
Generally, at altitudes of 650-1,000 m above sea level, a pregnancy lasts two years, and at altitudes of 1,400-1,700 m, the pregnancy lasts three years.
- "'Salamandra atra'". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. 2009. Retrieved February 24, 2012.
- Body size, population structure and fecundity traits of Salamandra atra atra (Amphibia, Urodela, Salamandridae) population from the northeastern Italian Alps 68. Luiselli, Andreone, Capizzi, Anibaldi: Italian Journal of Zoology. 2001. pp. 125–130.
- Bonato, Fracasso. Movements, distribution pattern and density in a population of Salamandra atra aurorae (Caudata: Salamandridae). Amphibia-Reptilia 2003, 24, 251-260.
- Bonato & Steinfartz. Evolution of the melanistic color in the Alpine salamander Salamandra atra as revealed by a new subspecies from the Venetian prealps. Italian Journal of Zoology 2001, 72, 253-260.
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Salamander". Encyclopædia Britannica 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.