Fire salamander

The Fire Salamander, Salamandra salamandra salamandra (LINNAEUS, 1758), belongs to the genus Salamandra, family Salamandridae, order Caudata, class Amphibia. The Fire Salamander, in the Austrian dialect also called “Regenmandl”, “Erdsalamander” or “Gelber Schneider”, is a black amphibian with yellow spots or stripes to a varying degree. In some subspecies, the coloration also shows continuous orange and red parts. There are 14 subspecies of the Fire Salamander. With the big head and clearly jutted eyes, the Fire Salamander matches the Lorenzsche scheme of childlike characteristics (“Lorenzsche Kindchenschema”). The Firesalamander is probably the best-known salamander species in Europe.

Ancestors of salamanders are already known from the Upper Paleocene and the Lower Eocene of France and Belgium.

The Fire Salamander is distributed in large parts of Middle-, West- and Southern Europe. Not populated are Great Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia, Poland, White Russia, the Baltic states and Russia. Salamandra corsica lives on Corsica. The Fire Salamander cannot be found on other big Mediterranean islands such as Sardinia, Crete or Cyprus. In 1998, the Fire Salamander was rediscovered on Sicily. In Switzerland and Austria, the Fire Salamander is widely distributed at altitudes between 200 and 700 m. The core area of the Fire Salamander distribution in Austria is located in the hill country and limestone Alps between the North of Salzburg and the Vienna Woods, as well as in Styria and Carinthia. The distribution area in Austria largely corresponds with the occurrence of the copper beech (Fagus silvatica). There are no Fire Salamander reports from Vorarlberg, most of the Inn valley, the High Alps, Murau, northeastern and eastern Lower Austria and northern South Tyrol. Fire Salamander reports in Austria are existent at altitudes between 200 and 2000 m. The core area of distribution in Salzburg is located in the region of the flysch-zone (foothills of the Alps) on the western border area of the “Osterhorn”-mountains, in the outer “Salzach”-valley, as well as in the foreland of the “Untersberg”. Some mountain valleys (Kleinarltal, Habachtal, Hollersbachtal)  in the South are not or no more populated.

Fire Salamanders can have a very long lifespan. A salamander lived for more than 50 years. They grow up to 20 cm in our regions. The differentiation of male and female is really difficult for the unpracticed eye. Males are smaller 40g and have a longer tail than females. Male forelegs are about 20% longer than in females. Pregnant females have massy corpulence and weigh up to 50g. Males are posing during the mating season with completely outstretched forelegs. The most obvious difference between male and female is found in the cloacal region. The male cloaca is very thick and swollen and forms a right angle to the underside of the tail. See more about reproduction here.

The typical habitats of Fire Salamanders are humid mixed deciduous forests (mostly beech- and beech mixed forests) at altitudes of 200 to 400 meters. The can be found up to 1600 m a.s.l. The forests have to be pervaded with small headstreams. The species S. s. salamandra shows great plasticity according to their habitats. Salamanders use crevices under stumps or acclivities, holes under large stones, deadwood or fallen leaves as hideouts. They are mostly active during the night, in the early morning hours or after rainfalls. They love temperatures around 15°C and high air humidity (90%). The yearly activity starts in March and lasts until November, depending on temperatures and weather. The first maximum can be observed from March till the end of May, when females lay their larvae. The second maximum is in autumn, when the animals migrate to their hibernation places. They hibernate underground in groups of up to 100 animals, for example in crevices, caves, tree-holes or in mine tunnels because of the stable temperature (between 9 and 12°C). Fire Salamanders are food-generalists in all states of their development. They mostly eat snails (gastropods), arachnids, centipedes, beetles and annelids.

The Fire Salamander is endangered in Germany and Austria. Like most other amphibians, Fire Salamanders suffer from severe habitat destruction brought about by modern agriculture, road building and river regulation.

For more infos check out the very nice description on wikipedia. Here are some very nice movies

Böhme, W., B. Thiesmeier & K. Grossenbacher (eds.) 2003. Salamandra Salamandra (Linnaeus, 1758) – Feuersalamander. Handbuch der Reptilien und Amphibien Europas, Bd.4/2B : Schwanzlurche (Urodela) IIB; Salamandridae III: Triturus 2, Salamandra: BD 4/IIB: 969-1028. Wiebelsheim.

Buckley, D. & M. Alcobendas & M Garcia-Paris & M. H. Wake 2007. Heterochrony, cannibalism, and the evolution of viviparity in Salamandra salamandra. In: Evolution and Development: 9:1, 105-115.

Köhler, G. & S. Steinfartz 2006. A new subspecies of the fire salamander Salamandra salamandra (LINNAEUS, 1758) from the Tendi valley, Asturias, Spain. In: Salamandra: 42, 13-20.

Nöllert, A. & Nöllert C. 1992. Die Amphibien Europas: Bestimmung, Gefährdung, Schutz. Franckh-Kosmos Verlag, Stuttgart.

Thiesmeier G. & R. Günther 1996. Feuersalamander – „Salamandra salamandra.“ (Linnaeus, 1758). In: Die Amphibien und Reptilien Deutschlands. Gustav Fischer, Jena: 82-104.

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