Added 24 September 2004

The Family Salamandridae: Newts and Salamanders

Genus Mertensiella - Caucasian and Lycian Salamanders

Mertensiella is a small genus (two species) of salamanders found in the Greek Aegean, Turkey and the Caucasus. They are closely related to Salamandra, although how close has been a matter of some debate: some have considered Mertensiella simply a subgenus of Salamandra, although the two are not extremely similar in appearance. There do appear however to be similarities in their ecology and reproduction.

The genus is characterised by a generally slim build, protruding eyes, clearly visible parotoid glands, the ability to autotomise (drop the tail, lizard-fashion) and an upward-pointing spur in males on the upper side of the tail base.

Whereas Salamandra, particularly S. salamandra, appears to be a hardy and easily keepable beast, Mertensiella seem to be much more delicate and there are few records of captive breeding that I am aware of. This and their restricted distribution does not make them good or logical candidates for most keepers.

Note: BoS&M = Biology of Salamandra and Mertensiella (see Bibliography).

M. caucasica, Caucasian Salamander M. luschani, Luschan's/Lycian Salamander  

Scientific Name Common Name Distribution Size Notes
M. caucasica Caucasian Salamander  NE Turkey south of the Black Sea, Caucasus Minor Up to 18cm  Very slender species found in isolated populations of up to 1000 animals in mountain forests around the upper sections of streams in mountain areas close to the Black Sea coast.  David Tarkhnishvili in Biology of Salamandra and Mertensiella draws a comparison between this species and Chioglossa lusitanica. The species is characterised by 12-13 costal grooves and a tail longer in length than the total snout-vent length of the body (contrast with M. luschani). It is relatively slimmer than its congeneric. In terms of behaviour the salamanders are relatively inactive, spending much of the year in shelters. These they leave in May-early July (the higher the altitude, the later within this period), the males usually first. The species is strictly nocturnal, the peak of activity being reached about 3 hours after sunset. Coloration: overall dark brown with two golden- to copper-yellow stripes, usually separated, running down the dorsum to the tail where they become one. Reproduction: mating takes place soon after the emergence of the salamanders (see above). Females depost 11-24 eggs in the water: these take about 50 days to hatch, and thus emerge usually in the autumn. This is a slow-maturing species, and larvae may hibernate for 3-4 years before metamorphosis, which usually takes place in July-August. The juveniles then enter shelters and rarely reemerge before sexual maturity, which probably takes at least 10 years. Tarkhnishvili and Gokhenashvili conducted a study of a population and found that adults ranged in age from 12-26 years.
M. luschani Luschan's Salamander 








Greece (SE Aegean islands of Karpathos, Kasos, Meis, Saria and Kastellorizo), SW Turkey (SW Anatolia) Avg. 12cm, max. 17cm  Largely nocturnal salamander. See introductory paragraph for general characteristics. The species is also characterised by 11-13 weakly defined costal grooves: tail is usually about same length as the trunk. Polymeni in Biology of Salamandra and Mertensiella notes that from the dietary observations of the Greek island subspecies, M. luschani appears to be a generalised and unselective predator on invertebrates, as these individuals took mainly insects and their larvae but also a variety of non-insect food including gastropods, diplopods and isopods. She also notes that little is known about the creature's natural enemies but suggests that these include not only such vertebrates as birds, snakes, large lizards and small mammals but also scorpions, large spiders and perhaps large Coleoptera (citing from Klewen & Winter 1987). 
M. l. luschani Turkey (vicinity of Dadurga, SW Anatolian coast) Avg. 12cm Coloration: dorsally overally shiny dark brown, appearing blackish, with irregular and variably sized yellow spots. Parotoid glands are light yellow with dark black dermal pores. Legs and tails are red. Ventrally translucent, allowing view of dark contents of digestive system.
M. l. antalyana Turkey (vicinity of Antalya, SW Anatolian coast) Avg. 12cm Özeti (cited in BoS&M) proved that this species is viviparious, bearing two completely metamorphosed young in a similar manner to the viviparous Salamandra subspecies. Coloration: dorsal part of the head (inc. upper jaw and especially the paratoids) are immaculate reddish-yellow. Paratoids have back dermal pores. There are usually black bands on the upper eyelids. The space between the paratoids and the interorbital area is dark brown. Overall the upper and lateral areas of the trunk are light yellow. The brown cranial spots extend rearwards onto the middle of the trunk in a band-like manner: the ground colour looks like two longitudinal stripes, and this pattern is interrupted by transverse brown extensions onto the upper part of the trunk. Sometimes the brown colour on the dorsal part of the trunk is very widespread, giving the overall colour appearance of irregular spots. The legs and tail are a flesh colour. The proximal half of each limb is immaculate but there are darker areas on the elbows and knees and light brown spots on the distal parts of the limbs. Some finger joints have tiny dorsal flecks. The upper part of the tail is light brown and indistinctly spotted, especially proximally. Black dermal pores come together in groups that look like spots, except on the tip of the tail. Ventrally flesh coloured but looks a little opaque due to inner contents of the body.
M. l. atifi Turkey (vicinity of Alanya, SW Anatolian coast)   Avg. 16cm Coloration: dorsally dark brown with numerous whitish spots irregularly distributed on the the head and on the sides of the head behind the parotoids. The upper surfaces of the legs are light brown, with small reddish spots on the proximal parts of the toes. The lower part of the body is lighter. The ventral surfaces of the legs and tail, including the cloacal region, are reddish. Due to the inner contents of the body, the middle part of the belly is a dirty grey, becoming ventrolaterally whitish grey. On the lower areas there are some irregularly distributed brown spots.
M. l. basoglu Turkey (between Dadurga and Finike, SW Anatolian coast)   Avg. 12½cm  Coloration: dorsally yellowish light pink with irregular brown to dark brown spotting of various sizes. The dark brown spots are bigger in some adult males. Occasionally there are diffuse small yellowish-white spots on the dark dorsum. The parotoids are lighter than the overall colour but the spotting on them are darker than either. Dark brown spots on flanks fade as they reach the abdominal area. The sides of the head, feet and tail are light reddish pink. There are brownish spots on hind legs and the dorsal parts of the toes. Ventrally an immaculate yellowish white-pink. It should be noted that the specimens from Kekova Island look like basoglu but in coloration and pattern resemble finikensis and may be an intermediate form between both populations.
M. l. billae Turkey (vicinity of Antalya, SW Anatolian coast)   Avg. 11½cm  Coloration: head and dorsum overall pinkish brown, excluding the parotoids which are lighter and usually a dirty- or brownish-yellow. There are numerous irregular spots of different sizes, especially on both sides of the dorsum. The spots may be small and grey or bigger and concentrated in groups that resemble dorsolateral bands. Head spots are smaller and fewer. There are black dermal pores on parotoids, tail and dorsum. The upper parts of the feet and tail and a dark flesh colour, with sparsely spaced greyish-white spots on the feet and fingers. The sides of the trunk betweeen the limbs are a silvery white, this colour extending past the forelimbs to below the eyes. The abdomen is an immaculate pinkish-white, the belly semi-transparent. 
M. l. fazilae Turkey (between Mugla and Fethiye, SW Anatolian coast)   Avg. 12-13cm Coloration: upper dorsal parts of the head, trunk, legs and tail are orange-red, with irregular light to dark brown spots of varying size on the head and dorsum. On the head and neck are two brown spots, one behind the other, and similar spots on the upper part of the trunk and the vertebral line. An almost continuous dorsolateral dark brown band runs between fore- and hindlimbs. The forelegs have spots only on the elbows, but there are brown spots on the upper parts of the hind legs. Tail has a few small and irregular diffused spots. Ventrally immaculate flesh colour.
M. l. finikensis Turkey (vicinity of Finike, SW Anatolian coast)  Avg. 12cm Coloration: dorsally blackish dark brown with small greyish white spots. Dorsolaterally a lighter colour, especially on the parotoids. The legs and tail are flesh coloured, with brown spots on the upper parts. Sometimes the overall colour on upper part of the tail may be obscured by brown spots. The ventrum is semi-transparent and flesh coloured with blackish spots.
M. l. helverseni Greece (SE Aegean islands of Karpathos, Kasos, Meis, Saria and Kastellorizo), Avg. 12cm Coloration: dorsum blackish brown with small irregular white spots. Parotoid glands pinkish yellow with black dots and small spots: in some individuals the black spots extending onto the anterolateral parts of the parotoids are bigger and more distinct. Upper part of tail and extremities are flesh-coloured. Dorsal surfaces of extremities have some brown spotting. The tail has black spots and often some light brown spotting: these spots continue to the end of the tail in 1 or 2 lines. The sides of the trunk and all ventral parts are an unmarked light pink/flesh colour.


Biology of Salamandra and Mertensiella, various contributors, Mertensiella 4, DGHT, Bonn 1994. Detailed look at both genera from a scientific rather than terrarium point of view but with useful general information on Mertensiella. We acknowledge our debt to this book in preparing this page.

Lurche und Kriechtiere Europas, W E Engelmann, J Fritzsche, R Günther and F J Obst, Ferdinand Enke Verlag, Stuttgart 1986. Although taxonomy is now somewhat outdated, the book gives useful information on Mertensiella.

Reptiles and Amphibians of Britain and Europe, E N Arnold, J A Burton, D W Ovenden, 1978 (Collins Field Guide). Note that this version includes only the species luschani, which is referred to as a member of Salamandra. A revised and updated edition came out in 2002.

Die Amphibien Europas, Andreas and Christel Nöllert, Franckh-Kosmos, Stuttgart, 1992. Gives details for M. luschani.


LivingUnderworld.Org has some photographs of both species.

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