Salamandrina perspicillata — Overview

Northern Spectacled Salamander learn more about names for this taxon

IUCN threat status:

Least Concern (LC)

Comprehensive Description

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Description

Salamandrina perspicillata is a tiny salamander of about 35 mm SVL and 85 mm total length, respectively (Romano et al. in press; Zuffi 1999). Total length up to 92 mm in largest males (Vanni, 1980) and up to 130 mm in largest females or little more (Romano and Mattoccia 2005; Bovero et al. 2006). On the Lepini mountains (Latium, Central Italy) populations are characterised by large size salamanders (Romano and Mattoccia 2005 and references therein; Bovero et al. 2006; Angelini et al. 2008). The body is dorsoventrally flattened, with clearly visible ribs, giving the salamander a very skinny appearance. No parotoids. Four toes on both the front and the hind feet. Salamandrina is usually deep brown or grey-blackish on the dorsal side of body and tail. Tail is also partially reddish dorsally. The underside of the tail and the feet, and frequently the distal part of the belly, are bright red. The rest of the ventral region is white, whitish or greyish, with dark grey to black spots. On the head a V-shaped, more or less evident, whitish or yellowish spot between the eyes, forms a sort of "spectacles" which give rise to both the common name (Spectacled Salamander) and scientific name ( perspicillata is a Latin neologism which means "with spectacles"). Variation in dorsal coloration includes semialbinism, completely red back, or a yellowish spotted pattern (see Lanza and Canestrelli 2002, for a review).

While the sexes do not show any variation in external body features, there is some sexual dimorphism. Males are smaller than females, slightly different in the ratio of tail length to body length, have relatively more developed feet, larger head and eyes, and more distant nostrils (Vanni, 1980). Unfortunately, because the biometric parameters of males and females overlap each other partially (Vanni, 1980), they cannot be used to distinguish the sexes (Lanza 1983; Zuffi 1999). In living males the cloaca seems just slightly more prominent than in females (Vanni, 1980; Lanza, 1983), however this character is not unambiguously discriminant.

Salamandrina perspicillata can be distinguished from S. terdigitata on the basis of mtDNA haplotypes and allozyme profiles (Mattoccia et al. 2005; Nascetti et al. 2005; Canestrelli et al. 2006), but they differ also in body size and dorsal coloration (Romano et al. in press) and in the ventral pattern (Costa et al. 2008). Salamandrina perspicillata has a larger size and less extended red coloration on the back tail, and a median reddish dorsal line is very rare in this species (Romano et al. in press). At the moment, the only way to definitively distinguish between the two species is on the basis of mtDNA haplotypes and allozyme profiles because any distinction on the basis of body size and dorsal coloration is only statistical and is not definitive for any given specimen. In other words, to attribute individuals to either of the two species, morphometry, dorsal and ventral patterns can be very useful, but not determinative. However the percentage of correct classification using these non-genetic approaches is very good (> 90% in both methods).

View a video of Salamandrina perspicillata feeding (note this video was made before S. terdigitata and S. perspicillata were split into separate species).

Salamandrina (Lacépède, 1788) was previously considered a monotypic genus (with Salamandrina terdigitata as the sole species: see also the taxonomic notes on this species). Subsequently this genus has been split into two species on the basis of analysis using both mitochondrial and nuclear genetic markers (Mattoccia et al. 2005; Nascetti et al. 2005; Canestrelli et al. 2006). Salamandrina perspicillata (Savi 1821) was considered a junior synonym of S. terdigitata. However, after the split into two species, the name S. perspicillata has been upgraded because the two type localities of S. terdigitata and S. perspicillata are different and S. perspicillata (type locality: Mugello, Tuscany, Central Italy) is the first description of the central-northern species.

Featured in Amazing Amphibians on 13 January 2014

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