The genus Salamandra is one of the better-known groups of salamanders, even to laypeople, thanks largely to the beautiful and abundant Fire Salamander, S. salamandra, which occurs throughout most of Europe and also parts of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern areas. Apart from being encountered by people in the wild, it has also proven to be a hardy and durable captive if kept properly, even exhibiting some tameness and ability to learn.
All of the Salamandra species are very similar in morphology (shape), yet exhibit just enough differentiation in their coloration or size to be distinguishable from one another. In recent years new species have been added as finds have been made in Turkey and even Iran, and former subspecies raised to species status. As the genus is not a large one, we have included here those species which fall slightly outside the European area proper, such as S. algira, so as to make this a complete listing. Their ecology is fairly similar in any case. The many subspecies of the Fire Salamander proper, S. salamandra, are linked to on another page.
NOTES: In the text, KKS refers to Amphibians and Reptiles of North Africa (see Bibliography).
|Salamandra algira, Algerian Salamander||Salamandra atra, Alpine Salamander||Salamandra corsica, Corsican Salamander|
|Salamandra infraimmaculata, Alpine Salamander||Salamandra lanzai, Lanza's Alpine Salamander||Salamandra salamandra, Fire Salamander|
|Scientific Name||Common Name||Distribution||Size||Notes|
|Fire Salamander [Fr Salamandre tachetée: D Feuersalamander]||Most of mainland Europe: north as far as North Germany, east as far as the Ukrainian Carpathian mtns and Romania, southeast to and including the Peloponnese and Turkish Thrace, and west as far as W Italy, France, the Low Countries, Spain and Portugal: absent from Scandinavia and northernmost parts of Germany and of Poland, the Donau delta, Crete, most of the Po river plain and E Italy and the Balearics, Corsica, Sardinia, Malta and Sicily, and the British Isles and Ireland.||10-12"||One of the largest amphibians anywhere, and extremely handsome, usually being liveried in some form of yellow and black pattern which in fact serves as a notice of its potential toxicity. The parotid glands behind the eyes are prominent: if seized, the Fire Salamander will use these to eject a foul-tasting fluid into the eyes or mouth of its would-be predator. Its skin is also toxic. Its habitat is usually forested hilly or mountainous country, not far from water. Although it cannot swim, this salamander likes moisture and is frequently encountered after rain. The Fire Salamander has also long been a popular terrarium subject which is also fairly hardy and thus easy to keep. There are about 15 subspecies with varying markings: most give birth to 50 or so larvae with four limbs and branchial gills, but some give birth to fully metamorphosed young, completely bypassing the larval stage. It should be noted that Fire Salamanders cannot swim and avoid water except for reproductive purposes. They also dislike hot weather, temperatures above 70 deg F. being potentially dangerous to them.|
|Salamandra atra||Alpine Salamander [Fr Salamandre noire: D Alpensalamander]||Alps, Yug. mtns S. of Albania: 700-2,800 m. altitude||6½"||Similar in appearance (apart from all-black colouring) and dietary prefences to the Fire Salamander but smaller. Inhabits high mountain forests and often hibernates en masse. Owing to shortage of flowing water in its natural environment, the Alpine Salamander gives birth to two fully formed young, thus bypassing an external larval stage. The pregnancy lasts no less than 2 years at altitudes of 650-1,000m and 3 years at 1,400-1,700m. In 2 year pregnancies the female gives birth in the summer of the 3rd year. The gestation process is interesting. 20 or more eggs form in each of the two oviducts, but only one egg developes in each: the others form a mass on which the embryos feed (Hellmich). In former times it was thought by mountaineers to presage bad weather (ibid). This species is PROTECTED throughout its range. Even if this were not so, its requirement for very cool and moist habitats would be too hard for most keepers to meet.|
|S. a. aurorae||NE Italy in the province of Vicenza||Recently described and rare subspecies of S. atra occurring in the Italian Alps: distinguished from the all-black nominate subspecies by yellow, light cream or silver spots on the back (see X. Rivera's article in the Bibliography). The amount of dorsal yellowish colouring can vary largely, even between specimens found in the same place [Nöllert & Nöllert].|
|S. a. prenjensis||Former Yugoslavia (Cvrsnica and Prenj mountains)||Validity of this subspecies is now questioned.|
|Salamandra corsica||Corsican Fire Salamander [Fr Salamandre de Corse: D Korsischer Feuersalamander]||Corsica||8"/20 cm||Very similar in appearance to S. salamandra, although the yellow patches on its back appear somewhat paler than those of the latter species.|
||Lanza's Alpine Salamander [D Lanzas Alpensalamander]||Italy (High Western Alps of W Piedmont, 700-2,800 m. altitude)||6½" ?||This little-known salamander, described only in 1988, is larger and stronger than the Alpine Salamander, which it resembles. S. lanzai can be distinguished from S. atra by its lack of glandular pores in the centre of its back, its small membranes between its toes and its rounded tail end (as opposed to the shorter and pointed tail end found in S. atra). Occasionally it is suggested that the Lanza's should be reclassified as a subspecies of the Alpine Salamander.|
||? Fire Salamander [Fr Salamandre de Corse: D Korsischer Feuersalamander]||Corsica||8"/20 cm||This little-known salamander, described only in 1988, is larger and stronger than the Alpine Salamander, which it resembles. S. lanzai can be distinguished from S. atra by its lack of glandular pores in the centre of its back, its small membranes between its toes and its rounded tail end (as opposed to the shorter and pointed tail end found in S. atra). Occasionally it is suggested that the Lanza's should be reclassified as a subspecies of the Alpine Salamander.|
||Algerian Salamander [Fr Salamandre de algire: D Algerischer Feuersalamander]||Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia||8"/20 cm||This species was formerly considered a subspecies of S. salamandra until elevated to full species status by Veith in 1994. KKS call it a relictary species, and note the threat to its existence from deforestation, pollution, overgrazing and the channelling of watercourses for agriculture. It is foudn in montane forests, especially near caves [KKS]. Like its European congenerics it is normally nocturnal but also active during rain and fog. At lower elevations it may be active, especially in caves [KKS] but hibernates at higher altitudes. The main differences between this and other Salamndra species are S. algira's more slender shape, long and laterally compressed tail, long forelegs and flatter toes. One source also claims that the Algerian Salamander is more aquatic and a better swimmer than S. salamandra. Coloration: similar to that of S. salamandra, but KKS note that there are "relatively few spots". Their colour plate of the species also shows wine-red markings adjacent to some of the yellow spots, which would make it similar to some of the Iberian subspecies of S. salamandra. Reproduction: KKS note that there have been no observations of the mating process, but assume it to be similar to that of S. salamandra.|
Pierre-Yves has some excellent photos of some of the European subspecies of Salamandra salamandra on the following pages:
The text is in French but worth following up if you can.
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