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The largest member of its family, the fire salamander reaches a length of 6-12 inches, with females slightly longer than males. Its body is black, with yellow or orange markings that occur in patterns varying from discrete spots to large splotches or bands. The underside is usually dark gray with fewer spots.
Large paratoid glands behind the eyes and rows of poison glands extending lengthwise down the animal's body secrete neurotoxins. The fire salamander is capable of actively spraying these chemicals at predators to discourage attack, as opposed to simply relying on an unpleasant taste to convince a predator that it will not make a good meal.
Distribution and Habitat
The fire salamander's range extends throughout most of central and southern Europe, extending into northern Africa and the Middle East. It prefers woodland habitats, especially those with much shade and nearby ponds or streams for breeding.
Fertilization is internal via deposition of a spermatophore by the male. The female may retain the sperm for some time before ovulation and fertilization occur. The eggs develop internally and the female deposits the larvae into a body of water just as they hatch. In some subspecies the larvae continue to develop within the female until she gives birth to fully formed metamorphs. Fire salamanders can live for over 14 years in the wild, with lifespans of up to 20 years not uncommon.
Habits and Behaviors
The fire salamander spends much of its time hidden in shady crevices, under logs, or any other such spots that provide protection and moisture. Its main periods of activity are on mild nights, and is inactive during seasons of temperature extremes, such as the winters in its European range and the summers of its Middle Eastern range.
Fire salamanders typically stay loyal to the same home range for many years, and will also continually revisit the same overwintering spots. Fire Salamanders have been observed to follow paths with landmarks for orientation, but it is not known if these landmarks are more significant for their visual or their olfactory cues.
The fire salamander's diet is generally a mixture of the most abundant species available in a particular habitat. These include soft-bodied prey such as earthworms and slugs, and harder-bodied prey such as flies, millipedes, centipedes, and beetles among others. Young fire salamanders seem to imprint on their preferred prey types during the first few weeks following metamorphosis from the larval stage to the adult. Fire salamanders appear to employ different hunting strategies for different situations. When some light is available, it uses prey movement as its cue and ignores stationary prey. When hunting in the dark, however, it uses olfaction as its primary cue since vision is impaired.
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This page was last updated on June 20, 2018.