Salamander: A Nocturnal Black and Yellow Amphibian

GardenBy Jul 05, 2024

Salamander: A Nocturnal Black and Yellow Amphibian

The common or spotted salamander (Salamandra salamandra) is a small animal that belongs to the amphibian family and is sometimes found in our gardens. It is also often depicted on historical monuments, as King Francis I made it a royal emblem! Recognizable by its shiny black skin dotted with yellow or orange spots and/or lines, it is a valuable ally to have in the garden.

Who is the Common or Spotted Salamander?

  • Order: Caudata
  • Family: Salamandridae
  • Genus: Salamandra
  • Species: salamandra

Measuring about 20 centimeters long – up to 30 cm at most – and weighing an average of 19 grams, the common or spotted salamander is easily recognizable. Its body has a shiny black skin with yellow and sometimes orange shapes in lines and/or spots. Males and females are identical, except that females are slightly larger.

With its large black eyes, the salamander has excellent vision, especially in twilight and at night, as it is primarily a nocturnal animal. However, they do not have ears and do not croak. They can only emit small sounds when frightened. Another characteristic of the salamander is that it does not swim.

Not very agile on land, the salamander cannot move as quickly as a lizard, which makes it unable to escape predators. However, if threatened or injured, it can secrete a neurotoxin called samandarine to ward off or poison its aggressor, or to regenerate certain injured or missing body parts. Behind its eyes, parotoid glands also allow it to spit out a poisoned substance containing alkaloids, always for the purpose of defending itself against any enemy. Anyone who touches it, including humans, can suffer from burns, nausea, and even vomiting.

Finally, the salamander’s nose has a vomeronasal organ that forms a characteristic bump with powerful olfactory cells, giving it an excellent sense of smell that it uses to locate its nighttime prey.

Where Does the Common Salamander Live?

The salamander lives in Europe, in the west, center, and south of the continent, as well as in southwest Asia and northwest Africa.

This small animal thrives in moist environments, in plains, deciduous forests, and even in hills and mountains. It roams among the soil covered with moss, leaves, and branches, near streams, ditches, ponds, or springs. It usually takes shelter under tree stumps, rocks, or in rocky crevices.

A Varied Diet

The salamander feeds on many small invertebrates, including woodlice, beetles, slugs, earthworms, spiders, and a wide range of insects in general. It often approaches them slowly before capturing them with its tongue or jumping on them to deliver a jaw blow.

It eats all kinds of prey that are small in size, at least smaller than itself. It sometimes ingests small frogs or tadpoles as well.

Equipped with small teeth and strong jaws, the salamander uses them to lock its prey against its palate before swallowing them by oscillating its body. When the ambient light is sufficient, the salamander hunts by movement and is not interested in immobile prey. At night, it detects their odor, allowing it to attack any possible prey, including those that manage to remain hidden.

Salamander Reproduction

Salamander mating for reproduction always occurs outside the water, from spring to late summer, specifically from April to September, with a peak in July. The male seeks out a partner and once he has found his chosen one, they mate outside of the water by depositing a spermatophore that the female’s cloaca receives. To do this, the male positions himself on top of the female and holds onto her with his legs during the act.

The ovoviviparous female lays her larvae in the following spring. On average, she lays about thirty eggs (10 to 70), which immediately hatch. Interestingly, the female retains the sperm for future fertilization, so there is no need to mate again.

In their larval state, measuring between 2.3 cm and 3.5 cm in length, the salamander can be mistaken for a newt. However, the small yellow spots already present at the base of its legs allow for clearer identification. The larvae become adults in just 3 to 6 months, and these young salamanders immediately begin their terrestrial life, but they have to wait until they are 2 to 4 years old to reach sexual maturity.

The salamander can theoretically live for a very long time, with individuals aged between 30 and even 50 years having been identified. However, as they move very slowly, it is unfortunately common for cars to run over them. When the first frost arrives, salamanders hibernate in damp but protected places such as wells, cellars, or tunnels. However, even outside the hibernation period, it is not easy to come across them as they are nocturnal and their preferred habitat is humid forests.

The Salamander: A Useful Assistant in the Garden

Salamanders feed by capturing spiders, woodlice, beetles, slugs, earthworms, and various insects, as mentioned earlier. They can also feed on newts and small frogs! Salamander larvae, on the other hand, feed on insect larvae. As you may have gathered, they do not cause any harm to your garden, and they can even be valuable allies in naturally combating certain pests that affect flowers and vegetables.

We mentioned that the shiny skin of the spotted salamander is equipped with numerous glands that secrete mucus. These secretions contain a neurotoxin that acts upon contact with mucous membranes. In principle, the toxins do not penetrate a human’s skin, so handling a salamander is not a problem, unless the person is particularly sensitive, as is the case with any substance. However, it is advisable to avoid rubbing the eyes or mucous membranes, as well as applying the substance to an open wound.

It is important to be cautious with animals, especially dogs and cats, which may touch the salamander with their mouths. In this case, they start to salivate excessively and may experience tremors and stiffness. In the most severe cases, death is possible.

Lastly, it should be noted that the spotted salamander is a protected species under the law on nature conservation of July 10, 1976. Therefore, it is prohibited to destroy, mutilate, capture, remove, live or dead, transport, sell, or destroy its eggs or nests.

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I'm Jennifer. My hands are often covered in soil, and my heart is full of passion for nature. Through my writings, I share my personal gardening journeys, tips, and the joy of cultivating both plants and a community of fellow garden lovers. Every plant I grow adds a story to my life, and I love sharing those tales with my readers.