The fire salamander is a relatively large salamander living in the forests of Southern Europe and a little bit in Northern Africa. This salamander may have gotten its name from a certain ancient belief that these amazing amphibians lived in fire. Fire salamanders often find shelter in hollow logs, and if these logs were used to fuel fire, the salamanders would crawl out of the logs to see who turned up the heat. This made it look like the salamanders were crawling out of the flames, therefore the name “fire salamander.”
These salamanders, like the poison-dart frog, have a toxin on their skin to deter predators. Their bright yellow warns against this, telling the enemy to think again before it attacks this harmful animal. Fire salamanders also have another defense against predators not warned away by the bright colors. This animal has glands, called paratoid glands, behind its eyes. These glands produce an extremely irritating liquid that is squirted into a still determined predator’s mouth or eyes. This predator repellent can be squirted up to 6.5 feet (2 m)!
Because fire salamanders are amphibians, they hibernate during the winter. During one experiment, scientists found that some fire salamanders will go yearly to the same place for over twenty periods of hibernation! This is partially due to the fact that these salamanders will live in the same range for many years. They have been noticed to even use the same path and keep landmarks to find the right place. While scientists do not yet know if the salamanders find these landmarks with sight or with smell, some experiments have shown that visual landmarks are more important.
These salamanders, being nocturnal, hunt their prey at night. This prey includes many soft invertebrates including worms, beetles, slugs, insect larva, and centipedes. Fire salamanders have been seen using different methods of catching prey depending on how light it is when they are prowling. If it is light enough, they will skip over prey that is still and go only for the prey that is easy to see because it is moving. If it is darker outside, they will attack only non-moving prey which stays still long enough for the salamanders to smell it. Any prey that is found will be ambushed with the long sticky tongue of the fire salamander.
Within the past year or so, the population of fire salamanders in the wild has been declining rapidly. Scientists captured some wild specimens in order to do a study. What they found was a deadly fungus that eats the skin of these salamanders until they die. This species of fungus, with a scientific name of Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, meaning salamander-eating, is closely related to Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, which is known to have affected over 200 species of amphibians. The plan of scientists involved is currently to breed the salamanders safely in captivity and then, once there are enough, release some of them into a possibly safer area in the wild.
Fire salamanders can be large, reaching up to one foot (30 cm) in length. Despite being so long, they weigh hardly anything at only .7 ounces (20 g) or about as much as one DVD! The females of this species are normally slightly larger than the males. Both males and females are extremely long-lived for animals, and in captivity can live for over 50 years! In the wild they live a shorter but still impressive 30 years.
After these animals mate, the females carry up to 50 eggs inside her body even after they have turned into larvae. At this point the young may be cannibals, eating smaller siblings. When the females eventually give birth to these babies, they will have fully developed legs, but still have their gills. Occasionally, the female will give birth to a lot fewer young, but on these occasions, the young will be fully developed. Any young that is born with gills will live in the water until just before they mature, because adult fire salamanders cannot swim.
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- Smithsonian Handbooks Reptiles and Amphibians. Mark O’Shea and Tim Halliday, Smithsonian Institution, ISBN: 978-0-7566-6009-3
- Animals of the world. Tom Jackson, ISBN: 978-1780191089
- Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide. David Burnie and Don E. Wilson, Smithsonian Institution, ISBN: 978-0-7566-6002-4
- Fire salamander: public domain
- Mystery animal:Wikipedia user mtkopone