fire salamander

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fire salamander
Fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra)

Fire salamander ( Salamandra salamandra )

Order : Tail amphibian (caudata)
Superfamily : Salamander relatives (Salamandroidea)
Family : Real salamanders (Salamandridae)
Subfamily : Salamandrinae
Genre : True salamander ( Salamandra )
Type : fire salamander
Scientific name
Salamandra salamandra
( Linnaeus , 1758)
  • Salamandra salamandra alfredschmidti
  • Salamandra salamandra almanzoris
  • Salamandra salamandra bejarae
  • Salamandra salamandra bernardezi
  • Salamandra salamandra beschkovi
  • Salamandra salamandra crespoi
  • Salamandra salamandra fastuosa
  • Salamandra salamandra galliaca
  • Salamandra salamandra gigliolii
  • Salamandra salamandra morenica
  • Salamandra sal. salamandra - Spotted F.
  • Salamandra sal. terrestris - Banded F.
  • Salamandra salamandra werneri

The fire salamander ( Salamandra salamandra ) is a European amphibian species from the family of real salamanders . The species was first described in 1758 by the Swedish naturalist Carl von Linné . Depending on the regional dialect, it is also known as fire newt, earth newch, earth salamander, rain newt, rain man, yellow tailor, mountain jester, road jester, rain doll or tattermandl (Bavarian). These popular names, however, do not clearly differentiate between fire salamanders and alpine salamanders . Fire salamanders typically live in larger deciduous and mixed forest areas with near-natural streams and are particularly active in rainy weather and at night. In contrast to many other central European amphibians , no eggs, but rather well-developed, gill-bearing larvae are deposited in the water ( ovoviviparia ). The fire salamander was reptile / amphibian of the year 2016 in Germany.

Distribution in Europe

Distribution of the fire salamander in Europe.
Note: The disjoint subarea on the southern tip of Spain belongs to the species
Salamandra longirostris, which has since become independent due to genetic findings .

The fire salamander is widespread over large parts of central and southern Europe. It has the largest distribution area among the European land salamanders. The northern border of its area runs through northern and central Germany, then south-east along the Carpathians to Ukraine and Romania and south via Bulgaria to Greece , the distribution being largely determined by the mountains of south-eastern Europe. In southwestern Europe, particularly on the Iberian Peninsula , the large mountain ranges provide habitats for several fire salamander subspecies. The large sub-continental plateaus, such as the Iberian Meseta , are not populated for climatic reasons.

Scandinavia , Great Britain , Ireland and Northeast Europe are also not populated . In Central Europe, the animals are differentiated according to their yellow pattern on their backs as a banded subspecies ( Salamandra salamandra terrestris ) with the main distribution area Western and Central Europe and the nominate form with a spotted pattern ( Salamandra salamandra salamandra ) with the distribution area Central / Eastern Europe. In Germany there are regions in which the areas of these two subspecies overlap, for example in the Rhine-Main area . In the total area, 13 subspecies are currently distinguished, most of them on the Iberian Peninsula.

Four other former subspecies are now addressed as separate species based on genetic studies:

Not all publications have yet taken these systematic separations into account. The occurrences, especially on the southern edge of the area, must also all be viewed as refuge habitats, which are probably largely isolated from one another.

Distribution in Germany

Cool and moist deciduous forests are its preferred habitat
Fire salamander in hiding during the day, camouflaged by vegetation

In Germany, the fire salamander is primarily found in wooded landscapes. These are mainly hill and mountain landscapes , the main areas of distribution are in western, central and southwestern Germany. There are also connected areas in the Ore Mountains and in Northern and Eastern Bavaria, among others. There are several isolated occurrences in the northwestern German lowlands, especially in the Lüneburg Heath and Münsterland . The species is absent in the northeast German lowlands, and the Elbe is not crossed to the east. In southwest Bavaria, south of the Danube, there is also the so-called “Allgäu gap”. This room is largely uninhabited by fire salamanders.

The altitude is not primarily typical for the occurrence of fire salamanders in Central Europe, but the occurrence of old, relatively stable deciduous forests, the habitat of the fire salamanders. These are between 200 and 600 meters above sea ​​level ; In addition, however, maximum heights between 650 meters above sea level are also possible. NN in the Harz Mountains and 1000 meters above sea level. Reached NN in the Black Forest and in the Alps . In Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia there are also occurrences well below 100 meters above sea level. NN known, for example near Münster and in the northwest of the Warendorf district (both about 60 m above sea level), in Hasbruch near Oldenburg (25 meters above sea level).

Some occurrences of the fire salamander are still unknown. Due to their hidden way of life and their nocturnal activity, especially in "bad" weather such as rain or fog, these amphibians can colonize a habitat for decades, despite their conspicuous coloring, without humans ever noticing them. The fire salamander is known to many people ( Lurchi ), but incorrect determinations still occur and even mountain newts or crested newts are referred to as fire salamanders because of their yellow or orange belly.


Rocky seas and rock heaps are popular retreats
Video of a fire salamander in its natural habitat

The pronounced forest animal (silvicol) is bound to deciduous forests. In forest fringe locations the population density is relatively high because the food supply is usually greater here. Where the forest has disappeared, the fire salamander can persist as a fauna relic for a long time if the climatic conditions are favorable. Oak-birch and oak-hornbeam forests are settled near the groundwater . Floodplain forests, on the other hand, are not fire salamander habitats; there are no “dry”, frost-free hiding spots here.

Habitat details

As adult animals, fire salamanders are largely independent of surface water and lead a hidden existence in niches of caves, under dead wood, flat stones, between boulders and rock heaps and in the system of gaps in the ground, for example in small mammal passages. Nevertheless, the proximity to a spawning water plays an important role in the choice of the habitat, in addition to the availability of day hiding places. Well rooms of enclosed forest springs also offer good hiding places. The rod-rich retina of the fire salamander's eyes is particularly helpful for visual orientation in low-light cave structures and mines. In regions with soft or loose soils, the amphibians may dig their own small tunnels with a depth of up to 16 cm, into which they retreat.

The mainly nocturnal salamanders can only be found during the day after or during heavy rainfall. Among the native amphibians, the fire salamander is the species with the closest ties to the forest habitat. Heterogeneously structured deciduous and mixed forests are preferred , provided they have a certain amount of soil moisture. Pure coniferous forest stands, however, are avoided by the species; At best, patchy areas of spruce forests with emerging moss and herbaceous vegetation are still accepted.

Preferred habitats

Fire salamanders have a particular preference for shadowy cemetery complexes with old trees near the forest ; With a favorable constellation, they offer the animals almost ideal life opportunities:

  • spatial interlocking with the nearby forest,
  • Structural diversity through graves, tombstones, border biotopes from hedges and bushes, old deciduous trees with ivy growth in the eaves area,
  • high soil moisture from graves lined up in close succession and regularly watered in summer with planting,
  • numerous places for tapping or scooping water, occasionally there are also enclosed spring basins,
  • No disturbance during the salamander's activity time at night.

Information on the larval habitat can be found under “Lifestyle / Reproduction”.


In addition to temperature and relative humidity, factors for the onset of activity are the amount of light irradiated. Furthermore, the animals leave their hiding places when it rains, especially after prolonged drought. The activity maximum of the species is recorded. The daily rhythm is influenced by light conditions and the relative humidity. The fire salamander is able to create small hollows by itself. A further start of activity can be observed with disturbances in the electric field, these are caused by the appearance of cumulonimbus clouds.

After an activity phase, the animals always return to their day's hiding place in the familiar terrain, covering a total of 60 to 350 m. Temperatures close to freezing point can be seen as a limiting factor in the north, whereas in southern Europe the animals withdraw when the values ​​are high.

Accompanying fauna

Mismatch between the common frog and the fire salamander

Due to their habitat requirements, adult fire salamanders are associated with comparatively few other amphibians. The salamander males are even ascribed a certain tendency towards an intraspecific territorial way of life, but this has not yet been clearly proven. There has been evidence of scuffles and "wrestling matches" between male specimens, especially during the mating season. In the salamander biotopes one can sometimes find the common frog , the common toad and the mountain newt as companion species. In rare cases, mismatches occur between male frogs and female fire salamanders.

Depending on the region can be found in spawning other species, such as the midwife toad in the southern Black Forest and the palmate newt . The strudel worms Crenobia alpina and Polycelis felina as well as the spring snail Bythinella dunkeri are often found in association with fire salamander larvae . In low-lying stream sections there are syntopically Bachflohkrebse as Gammarus fossarum , hook beetle ( Elmis rietscheli ), the dragonfly larva Cordulegaster boltonii that caddisflies Plectrocnemia geniculata and Silo nigrocornis that stoneflies larva Leuctra prima and the fish species brown trout , bullhead , brook trout and occasionally the brook lamprey . In rare cases, the water shrew can appear as an accompanying species. It also catches and eats salamander larvae.


Body size, body color

Spotted nominate form ( Salamandra salamandra salamandra )
Banded subspecies ( Salamandra salamandra ssp. Terrestris )

Adult Central European fire salamanders reach a maximum body length from head to tail tip of 23 centimeters and a body weight of around 40 grams, while in some non-European fire salamanders there are also significantly larger specimens, such as the Middle East native fire salamander ( Salamandra infraimmaculata ). However, the weight can fluctuate considerably, on the one hand because fire salamanders sometimes eat too many and large prey, and on the other hand because the adult females gain mass in spring due to the many young in their belly. A well-fed fire salamander 19 centimeters in length can easily weigh 55 grams or more, large pregnant females even significantly more. Investigations as part of a mapping in the forests around Heidelberg showed that overall lengths of over 20 centimeters were only found in the banded subspecies Salamandra salamandra ssp. terrestris can be achieved. The spotted fire salamander Salamandra salamandra salamandra is comparatively only 16 to a little over 20 centimeters long. Within the sexes, the females are on average slightly larger than the males, and with a weight of sometimes more than 50 grams, visibly heavier.

Rare orange-red color variant

The smooth, deep black skin of the fire salamander is interrupted on the back by a yellow, occasionally orange to red pattern of dots and / or lines. The animals can be individually distinguished by the variability of this pattern. In this context, the photographic documentation of the drawing pattern on the back has proven to be a reliable, individual identification method. The wide range of variation in the back drawing sometimes makes it difficult to assign individuals to one of the two Central European subspecies, especially in mixed populations. With the banded subspecies, it also seems to be the case that the individual drawing changes significantly in the first one and a half to two years of life. In exceptional cases, fire salamanders can even be found without a yellow pattern, i.e. as black-colored animals. Occasionally, albinotic salamanders, i.e. white or yellow flies , have also been described. Yellowish or light-colored spots on the upper extremities of the larvae are a good distinguishing feature of the syntopically occurring mountain newt larvae, as the photo in the “Reproduction” section shows.

As with other amphibian species, environmental factors can also influence the intensity of the body color of fire salamanders. On yellowish soils, for example in loess and Keuper areas , salamanders often appear lighter overall and the yellow more intense. The black color reaches its highest intensity on a dark background, for example on fen or raw humus soils. Under the influence of dryness and warmth, the body colors become dull, with prolonged exposure to both factors, the entire surface of the skin appears brittle and wrinkled. These external changes certainly reflect the animal's "discomfort", as the entire skin surface of adult salamanders fulfills breathable tasks, which is only possible in a moist environment. Breathing through the oral cavity is just as important for gas exchange. By raising and lowering the floor of the mouth, salamanders can inhale and exhale while simultaneously closing and opening their nostrils in a coordinated manner.

The "vomeronasal organ"

In addition to the nose, fire salamanders have another olfactory organ, the vomeronasal organ . It is an elongated, blind-ended indentation on the outside of the nasal passages, the epithelium of which contains olfactory cells that are connected to the nasal olfactory nerves. It is believed that the vomeronasale organon supports the reunification of sexual partners and helps the amphibian with orientation in the terrain. The astonishing local loyalty in finding the spawning grounds and the summer and winter roosts may be closely related to this.

The ear glands

The fire salamander's ear glands can give off toxic secretions

Characteristic are the paired, very conspicuous ear glands ( parotids ), which, for example, are missing in the newts , but can also be found in closely related alpine salamanders or in real toads . To ward off enemies, the parotids and the rows of glands located on the back can secrete a whitish, poisonous secretion. Animals under great stress are even able to expel the poison in thin rays up to a meter.

The ability to randomly squirt poisonous liquids using special glands has moved the human imagination in the past to recognize a demonic being equipped with supernatural abilities in the fire salamander.

Skin secretions

The skin poison samandarin - structure

The secretions produced in the glands of the fire salamander are one of the alkaloids . So far, the organic compounds samandarin (C 19 H 31 NO 2 ), samandaridin (C 21 H 31 NO 3 ) and samandarone (C 19 H 29 NO 2 ) have been found. All salamander alkaloids have a steroid- like structure and are derived from 3-aza-A-homo-5β-androstane .

Usually, the secretions cause a slight stinging sensation on the skin in humans, if at all. In sensitive people and young children, they can also cause nausea, difficulty breathing and vomiting. Every now and then the daily press reports of symptoms of poisoning from fire salamanders. In particular, young dogs and inexperienced cats, who usually regard the amphibian as a plaything or prey object, are “affected”. The consequences are lockjaw , stiff neck or severe salivation, in some cases even death. In addition to the defense against predators, the skin gland secretion primarily serves to inhibit bacterial and fungal growth on the moist skin surface.


Fire salamanders need to molt at certain intervals, especially the growing ones. Since the defense against skin toxins is severely limited during the moulting process , the animals mostly perform this process in hidden places. The moult is initiated by rubbing the head or the tip of the snout on wood, stones or other substrate. After the head has been freed from the old skin, it pushes together over the neck. If this bulge of skin encloses the neck too tightly, it can lead to asphyxiation in extreme cases, especially in younger specimens. Using meandering and jerky movements, the amphibian tries to pull the skin bulge from the neck over the chest to the shoulder girdle, and then step out of the rest of the skin with the front legs. If this is successful, the salamander has passed the most difficult molting phase. Getting out of the rest is like removing a stocking, whereby unevenness in the ground can provide support. In many cases, the old skin is finally eaten away. The fresh skin is still moist, soft and somewhat sensitive after the moulting process; It is not uncommon for the salamanders to stay there for some time with arms and legs outstretched. After the moult is complete, the color contrasts of the black-yellow body surface are most intense.


Fire salamanders do not have sound bladders like the frogs. Nevertheless they are capable of vocalizations; however, the interpretation of sounds like “squeaking”, “beeping” and “beeping” or “bright growling” is controversial. Some experts assume that bioacoustic phenomena in the fire salamander are more of a random nature and arise from the mechanical expulsion of air when frightened. In that case, they would not represent real communication. This is supported by the fact that tail amphibians have neither a middle ear nor a tympanic membrane .

Optical sense

Portrait of a fire salamander

The fact that adult fire salamanders can orientate themselves visually is proven by the astonishing loyalty of the animals to their location as well as the targeted retrieval of the various roosts (winter quarters, spawning grounds , foraging habitats ). Since the salamander has to orientate itself predominantly in the twilight and at night with the help of its eyes, the question arose under which light intensities a fire salamander can still perceive its environment. This question was investigated with the help of an infrared viewing device and it was found that S. salamandra can still recognize prey at 10 −4  lux and catch them successfully. The human eyes can no longer see anything at this low light intensity.

Way of life

Life expectancy

In captivity, the fire salamander can reach a very old age. For example, there is a report of a fire salamander that was kept in a terrarium at the Koenig Museum ( Bonn ) from 1863 to 1913 and reached an age of more than 50 years - the animal was already adult at the time it was caught. Life expectancy in the wild is proven to be over 20 years.

Reproduction and development

Sexual maturity and sexual characteristics

Fire salamanders reach sexual maturity at two to four years of age. The sexes are difficult or indistinguishable outside the mating season, for example in winter quarters. In summer, however, the cloaca is hemispherical in the male animal and a clearly visible gap runs in the longitudinal direction of the body. The cloacal region of the females remains flat even in the reproductive phase.

The pairing

The mating of the fire salamander differs from the amphibians native to Central Europe and is a special case. While most amphibians visit ponds and ponds for a certain period of time in spring to mate and lay eggs, fire salamanders only mate on land. The mating season extends from around April to September with a clear focus on July. The sexes are likely to find each other through smell and touch stimuli. To mate, the male slides under the female and grips around those of the partner with its forelegs. To do this, the female ingests a packet of seeds deposited by the male on the ground with his cloaca. After a successful mating, the female is able to store the male's seminal fluid in the body for several years. As a result of this strategy, it is possible for the animals to have offspring every year for longer periods of time even without a sexual partner.

The prenatal development of boys

After mating, the female bears the embryos for about eight to nine months (so-called intrauterine development). During this development phase, the larvae, which are still surrounded by the egg shell, lie in a liquid that contains considerable amounts of urea. It is assumed that the prevailing urea concentration in the mother has a decisive influence on the development rate of the larvae. In fire salamander populations that live at higher altitudes, there should only be newborn larvae every two years. This would also be a parallel to the reproduction of the Alpine salamander.

Birth and further development

Fire salamander larva
Fire salamander larva

The embryonic phase of females usually ends in late autumn. The female animals seek the spawning water for the act of childbirth and cover distances of a few meters up to 375 meters in spring. Especially in low mountain ranges, the pregnant animals migrate to running waters in order to preferentially deposit the larvae in fish-free spring areas. Still waters are also used in the lowlands. If the conditions are favorable, the larvae can also be deposited there before the start of winter. They then have a clear developmental advantage over the larvae, which are not born until spring, and they can go ashore in early summer.

When the larvae are born, the female visits the spawning water and moves her abdomen into the water in order to deposit the offspring at suitable places on the bank; this mostly happens at night. Depending on the age, body size and nutritional status of the female, an average of 30 larvae are born in batches within several days, from a few to 70. The egg shells burst open at birth. The fire salamander does not spawn, but is viviparous; one speaks of ovoviviparia or larviparia.

Contained spring pots - habitat for larvae of the fire salamander

The larvae of the fire salamander, initially 25 to 35 millimeters in size, are initially inconspicuously brown in color. They have outer gill tufts and four legs from the start. Distinguishing features of the larvae are: The head is noticeably wider than the trunk and there is a bright yellowish spot on all four thighs. With increasing growth these become darker, while the later spotting gradually becomes more and more evident.

In the circulation areas of Central Europe one finds the larvae usually in small stream headwaters, preferably in places with low flow rate, in spring ponds and pools and there where larger streams accumulate in the shade. Mounted spring pots and shaded spring horizons are also very popular . Most reproductive waters have in common cool, nutrient-poor, oxygen-rich spring water from 8 ° C to 9 ° C with a cool, humid, shady and windless microclimate, which usually comes from groundwater or pressure water on slopes . At higher flow velocities, the larvae can be found in couloirs and lenitschen (slow-flowing) bays. The so-called sieves (V-valleys) offer good conditions .

Because the habitat of the salamander larvae is cool, they take a long time to develop. The metamorphosis from gill-breathing water dwellers to lung-breathing land animals usually only takes three to six months - the maximum value is mainly for cold water in mountainous areas. Food intake after birth has proven to be particularly important. The diet includes larvae of aquatic insects; As with adults, what can be overwhelmed is absorbed. Cannibalism can even be observed in waters with little food supply . The enemies of the larvae are fish, especially trout and larger dragonfly larvae.

Under very favorable conditions, i.e. with warm water and optimal food supply, the metamorphosis can be completed after two months. At this stage, the animals are around 50 to 70 millimeters long. Salamander larvae that were only released late in the year, for example in summer, are able to overwinter in the larval water if living conditions are favorable.

Viviparia and neoteny in fire salamanders

Some populations of fire salamanders in southern Europe can give birth to fully developed young salamanders ( viviparia ), which live immediately terrestrially, while in very rare cases neoteny occurs and the animals remain in the larval stage for their entire life.

In 1928 the herpetologist Willy Wolterstorff reported on "newt-bearing" fire salamanders from Oviedo in north-western Spain that were immediately lung-breathing from birth , which he then described as the subspecies Salamandra maculosa taeniata forma bernardezi . In the 1970s, the "Oviedo fire salamander" ( Salamandra salamandra bernardezi ) was confirmed, which, thanks to its compulsory complete young animals, lives completely decoupled from water, especially in the middle of an urban landscape.

It makes sense to interpret the evolution to “live birth” in both the Alpine and the Fire Salamander as an adaptation to changed, extreme living conditions. The viviparity of the fire salamander in Spain can be interpreted as an adaptation to a dry, warm ( xerothermal ) climate and the associated scarcity of water.


Resident of a stalactite cave

The winter quarters are only visited at the beginning of frost-free nights, i.e. at the end of October / beginning of November. The overwintering takes place mainly underground, preferably in water-bearing rock and ground crevices, under tree stumps, in wells, in mine tunnels and in caves. For longer stays, for example in caves fed by spring water, the salamanders have to adapt to changing water levels at all times, especially after heavy rain or when snowmelt. The cave researcher F. Krauß reports on the amazing survival strategies of the fire salamander in the karst caves of the Swabian Alb :

“Usually during the inactive phase, the fire salamander hangs in the rubble of the cave floor. Shortly before the water comes, however, he crawls into higher crevices. If the cave stream floods all the crevices when there is a strong flood, it can even be washed out of the cave and wait for the water to recede. This is usually the case after a few hours. Then the animal crawls back into the protective cave before the next frost break. "

Occasionally, fire salamanders can be found on warmer and windless days, even during the winter months. It is reported that they are even able to withstand light frost, temperatures down to −5 ° C, unscathed for short periods of time. However, closed snow cover prevents any activity. When the snow melts, the salamanders become active again. The spawning migrations of the females can begin as early as mid-February. The length of daylight, air movement and humidity play an important role as additional factors. Optimal conditions prevail at around +10 ° C, accompanied by high humidity of 75 to 90 percent and calm, the so-called "salamander weather".

Active specimen in the Harz Mountains in winter; the entire surface of the skin is clearly dried out


Adult salamanders feed largely on invertebrate organisms such as woodlice, for example Porcellio scaber , small soft beetles and small to medium-sized specimens of the forest slug ( Arion sylvaticus ), brown slug ( Arion subfuscus ) and red slug ( Arion rufus ). The second of the three mentioned nudibranch species often sits on mushrooms and is “grazed” there by the fire salamander. In addition, earthworms (Lumbricidae) are particularly popular as prey, but spiders and insects are also sought-after sources of food; they are often sneaked in "chameleon fashion" and then, depending on their size, caught either with the tongue or with a jump and then grabbing the jaw. In general, fire salamanders consume everything that can be overwhelmed and devoured by their size, i.e. possibly other amphibians such as newts or small frogs. Once the otherwise very slow animals have "decided" to prey on, they can suddenly become very agile. Small teeth in the upper and lower jaw as well as on the palate are used to hold on and to transport the prey into the throat. Strongly pendulous body movements support the gulping process, especially when overpowering larger prey organisms. The tongue does not play a major role when eating, as it is partly firmly attached to the floor of the mouth. The mouth, tongue and throat have taste papillae.

Fire salamander when crossing loose topsoil, the moist skin absorbs the granular soil components.

The food of the salamander larvae primarily consists of larval stages of aquatic insects such as stone flies (about Protonemura auberti ), mayflies (especially Ephemera danica ), biting midges (especially Prodiamesa olivacea ), blackflies (Simuliidae), Caddisflies (Trichoptera, here primarily quiver loose, so wild Forms such as Rhyacophila dorsalis ) as well as from river flea shrimp (especially Gammarus fossarum ). But the same applies to the larva as to adult animals: What can be overwhelmed is absorbed; so the larva does not shy away from tadpoles either. Salamander larvae that grow up in the immediate vicinity of cave waters feed mainly on cave shrimp ( Niphargus puteanus ), cave isopods ( Asellus cavaticus ) and cave hoppers ( Graeteriella unisetigera ). With extremely little food and a high larval density, cannibalism can occur among salamander larvae . The initial signs are bitten off limbs and torn gill tufts. Cannibalism can also be triggered by too great a difference in age among the larvae (spring larvae / late larvae) within a common spawning water. With increasing body size, the biting increases until ultimately a weaker or already severely injured conspecific is eaten by the stronger. When entering metamorphosis, food intake is interrupted for several days until complete transformation.


Carabus violaceus often lives in damp forests. The ground beetle prey on u. a. young fire salamanders in which the venom glands are not yet developed.

The best protection of the fire salamander against potential predators are its conspicuous skin coloration - the " warning look " - and the skin gland secretions, which can be used in stages depending on the severity of the attack or the life-threatening situation. In case of danger, adult salamanders initially adopt a typical defensive stance by opposing the source of danger with the poisonous ear glands. If the attacker does not let go of his hostile intentions, the salamander secretes whitish-colored, foam-like glandular secretions in a very short time via the ear glands and the dorsally located glandular pores. The most violent form of defense is active injection of the glandular secretion. It has been observed that adult fire salamanders are able to expel their skin secretions up to a meter.

Fire salamander in defensive posture: Strongly tense trunk and erect front body, the parotids are already slightly swollen

There is no evidence in the literature that adult salamanders are deliberately sought and consumed by predators. So far only attacks by rats, chickens, ducks, dogs, cats and sometimes snakes (e.g. grass snake ) have been described, but all of them quickly refrained from attacking the fire salamander. One can therefore generally say that adult fire salamanders have no natural enemies.

The situation is different with larvae and juvenile specimens. Attacks by forest-dwelling ground beetles , especially the Carabus problematicus and the gold ridge ( Carabus violaceus ), on young fire salamanders have been observed. Accordingly, the beetles often eat the salamanders from the belly side - mostly back skin and parts of the head and tail are left over.

The salamander larvae are most at risk because they are not yet able to produce poisonous glandular secretions. The predators include the larvae of the dragonfly species two- striped spring damsel ( Cordulegaster boltoni ) and striped spring damsel ( Cordulegaster bidentata ). Other predators are the fish species already mentioned, such as brown trout , brook trout and bullhead , especially when the salamander larvae drift into deeper areas of streams. The dipper and the rare water shrew also hunt fire salamander larvae.


The infestation of adult fire salamanders by external parasites (" ectoparasites ") is neither to be expected due to the strong skin toxins nor has anything like this been observed so far. Parasites that live inside the body cavity, called endoparasites , are also found in the fire salamander. In a salamander population in the Taunus, the larvae were infested with the species Pomphorhynchus laevis , which is classified as a scratch ( Acanthocephala ). In the present case, the parasitization concerned the liver , in which up to five specimens per larva were found. Despite this infestation rate, no direct impairment of the amphibians was found. Occasionally, infections with roundworms (Nematoda) have also been observed in the intestine and oral mucosa.

Human and fire salamander


Salamander in the Vienna Dioscurides ( Constantinople , before 512) fol. 423 recto

The fire salamander has been familiar to humans for a long time due to its striking external appearance, which was not always to its advantage. In earlier centuries it was believed that the salamander's skin secretions were not only deadly poisonous, but also capable of putting out fires. The people reacted accordingly and threw the animals into the fire; the name goes back to this. The belief in indestructibility by fire is already documented in the late antique Vienna Dioscurides manuscript.

Joachim Camerarius from Nuremberg wrote in 1590 in his work "Symbolorum et Emblematum ex Aquatilibus et Reptilibus":

“See the salamander walks through the flames. The purity always remains intact. "

August Johann Rösel von Rosenhof, Nuremberg watercolor painter (1705–1759)

According to the various representations in the so-called emblem books of the late Middle Ages, the fire salamander bears more resemblance to a reptile, which is more reminiscent of a "dragon-like creature". The fire salamander escaped these representational conventions only in the middle of the 17th century through a painting by the Antwerp painter Jan van Kessel the Elder (1626–1679), which shows a naturalistically depicted fire salamander in the midst of an ensemble of 39 different insects and reptiles . Regardless of the systematically incorrect assignment to which Carl von Linné was initially subject and which is expressed, for example, in the name Lacerta salamandra - Lacerta is the Latin word for "lizard" - this painting is reminiscent of a didactically oriented teaching table on biology .

The Nuremberg watercolor painter and copperplate engraver August Johann Rösel von Rosenhof (1705–1759) created one of the most decorative and at the same time most exact reproductions of the fire salamander in his 1758 hand-colored panels "Historia naturalis ranarum nostratium" . With the publication of this work, the cornerstone of scientifically oriented herpetological research was laid.

In Zurich (CH) there has been a street called Feuersalamanderweg for many years .

Hazard and protection

Road death, fate of many fire salamanders

According to the Federal Species Protection Ordinance (BArtSchV) and the Federal Nature Conservation Act (BNatSchG), the fire salamander is "particularly protected" in Germany. This means, among other things, that the animals must not be caught, injured or killed. In the last version of 2009 of the “ Red List ” of the Federal Republic of Germany, after a temporary classification on the so-called pre - warning list (1998), it is currently not at risk nationwide, but has been a type of responsibility within the National Strategy on Biodiversity since 2017 classified by the federal government. The BfN classification from 2009 no longer corresponds to today's conditions. It would therefore be advisable to update the Red List as soon as possible.

In Switzerland, the fire salamander is on the red list and is classified as “endangered” (VU, “vulnerable”). In Austria, the “NT” (“threat to danger”) category has been in effect since 2007, which roughly corresponds to the German warning list. France updated its Red List of Amphibians and Reptiles in 2015. Here alpine salamanders are classified as endangered ( Vulnérable ) and Corsican fire salamanders as threatened ( quasi menacée ). S. salamandra, on the other hand, is on the warning list ( Préoccupation mineure ).

The fire salamander has gained a certain level of sympathy with people in the last few decades, which is expressed, for example, in the fact that it is the trademark of Salamander Schuh GmbH , which is represented by the company symbol “ Lurchi ” and the advertising slogan “ Long sounding in the forest, Salamander live high " got known. The animal is hardly threatened with willful persecution today. Existence threats arise mainly from interventions in larval waters such as drainage or the entry of foreign matter and their construction, as well as from frequent driving on paths and roads at the edge of the forest and in the woods. Bicycles on forest paths can also pose a deadly threat to amphibians.

Amphibian protection system with box passage under the street

The slow movement of the animals and the carelessness of many drivers have made the fire salamander the most frequent traffic victim after hedgehogs and common toads . High curbs are often an additional barrier. Not only fire salamanders benefit from special passages under roads, but also numerous other small animals threatened by road death. The “nurseries” of the fire salamander, that is, open, near-natural source stream regions, have experienced severe impairments over the past 50 years. Countless spring corridors have now been drained, springs built up and piped or completely dried up due to excessive water consumption. In salamander habitats today, so-called microhabitat structures , for example cavities under trees, caves in the earth, rubble, stone crevices and other ground gap systems, are to be preserved. Further protective measures are:

  • the preservation of tunnels and caves in or near the forest, especially since they are also important summer and winter quarters for other animal species in addition to the fire salamander, such as bats . Traffic safety and the avoidance of potential accidents can be achieved by means of lockable grilles at the cave entrance. The grating should be wide-meshed and not close directly to the floor so that salamanders can pass it unhindered.
Warning notice on a bike path
  • the protection of existing and the restoration of former larval waters, for example by dismantling barriers and borders. Fish pond management on the upper streams is a major encroachment on habitats and, according to conservationists, should be abandoned.
  • the development of forest edges as large as possible and with good interlocking with the environment. As fringing biotopes, they are important transition areas between forests and neighboring open land. The same applies to the edges of trees along paths and bodies of water.
  • the long-term conversion of non-site coniferous forests to typical, structurally rich deciduous forests through forestry.
  • the temporary closure of forest paths for all types of transport during the spring migration of female salamanders.
  • the establishment of an adequate inventory of dead wood as a habitat for numerous animal and plant species through natural death processes within forests, i.e. near-natural, sustainable forest management (forest management).

Sources and source areas are often part of the components of nature or landscape protection areas. They are subject to both national and international regulations. The aquatic habitats listed in Appendix I of the Fauna-Flora-Habitat Directive of the European Union, such as tufa springs and sections of watercourses with natural or semi-natural dynamics, are of particular importance . Interventions in these habitats are subject to strict regulations.

For some time now, the fire salamander has faced new dangers. A fungal disease introduced from Asia , caused by the chytricidal fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans , is spreading progressively in the south of the Netherlands as well as in Belgium and the neighboring regions of Germany (e.g. Eifel). Populations affected by this disappear completely within two to three years. So far, no signs of natural resistance have been observed in the amphibians. The skin fungus leads to deep, open ulcers and death of the salamander after just a few days. The disease was first detected in Germany in October 2015. With funding from the Hessian Biodiversity Research Fund, fire salamanders are currently being researched in the open air for a period of three years (2018–2021). Anyone interested in amphibian protection can help here. The disease has now also been proven in Bavaria. The Bavarian State Office for the Environment (LfU) is currently sampling fire salamanders and newts from the northern Steigerwald (Bamberg district). At the same time, the current stock situation is documented with the help of larvae of the fire salamander that live there in the streams.

Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans is also dangerous to other species of tailed amphibians. Pond and mountain newt can also be attacked by it.

Fire salamanders in science and research

In particular, research on the tissues of the fire salamander established a new field in the life sciences , namely the biology of the cell nucleus . The pioneering work was done by Walther Flemming , professor of anatomy and histology in the medical faculty of the University of Kiel since 1876 . He investigated the division of a cell into two parts, preceded by the division of its nucleus ( karyokinesis ). Flemming coined the word chromatin for the technically dyeable substance in the cell nucleus. He was the first to follow nuclear divisions in living cells from start to finish under a microscope. He saw how the chromatin formed compact individual loops, namely the chromosomes . After the chromosomes are divided in a bipolar manner, their structure loosens and they form the chromatin of the daughter nuclei. Flemming called this process mitosis ; in its course it counted 2n = 24 chromosomes.

The fire salamander was kept as an ideal model organism for years at the Kiel anatomy because it has particularly large cell nuclei and chromosomes. The genome size of S. salamandra is 41 pg DNA. Accordingly, a middle G1 chromosome of the fire salamander contains 3.4 pg of DNA. It is almost as heavy as the whole human genome, which consists of 1 C = 3.7 pg DNA. It is because of these considerable chromosomal DNA quantities that Flemming achieved his admired successes in the early stages of light microscopy.

Flemming also made a fundamental observation in S. salamandra to understand meiosis : Each spermatocyte performs two different divisions in direct succession. The first core division has a "heterotypical" form; because of the chromosomal recombinations ( chiasmata ) it appears different from normal mitosis. The second core division turns out to be “homeotypical” - morphologically similar to a normal mitosis.

Tribal history

Fire salamander on a forest path to the Rothaarsteig in NRW

For a long time, W. Herre, among others, has dealt with comparative anatomical studies of fossil amphibians. He succeeded in defining some of the relationships between fossil forms and the current genus Salamandra . Fossil finds from the Middle Tertiary (Miocene) already show detailed-morphological similarities with tail amphibians living today, for example the increasingly strong ossification of the skull and shoulder girdle and the toothed palate.

In the Miocene there were probably several forms of the Urodelomorpha , some with impressive body lengths of up to 80 centimeters. It is surprising that these animals, which weigh up to 10 kilograms, like the fire salamander, were predominantly land dwellers, in contrast to the giant salamanders (Cryptobranchidae) still alive today , which lead a purely aquatic way of life. The skin secretions used to ward off enemies probably already existed in the terrestrial giant salamanders of that time. No other defense mechanisms were available to the massive animals. Even the stubby, S-shaped teeth weren't good for defense.


The fire salamander has been scientifically described several times; as a result, in addition to the name that is valid today, the following synonyms were created:

  • Lacerta salamandra Linnaeus, 1758 (Lacerta means "lizard"!) .
  • Salamandra candida Laurenti, 1768.
  • Salamandra maculosa Laurenti, 1768.
  • Gecko salamandra Meyer, 1795.
  • Salamandra maculata Merrem, 1820.
  • Salamandra vulgaris Cloquet, 1827.
  • Triton corthyphorus Leydig, 1867.
  • Salamandra salamandra Lönnberg, 1896.

The synonym Salamandra maculosa - the epithet maculosa means "blotchy, speckled" - was used as a scientifically valid name until 1955. The multi-volume work " Brehms Tierleben " from the 19th century served as the literary basis .


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Web links

Coat of arms of the French commune of Pinas (Hautes-Pyrénées)
Commons : Salamandra salamandra  - album with pictures, videos and audio files
Commons : Category: Salamandra salamandra in art  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Fire salamander  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Rainman  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
 Wikispecies: Salamandra_salamandra  - species directory

Individual evidence

  1. Alfred Edmund Brehm: Animal life: The amphibians and reptiles . Bibliographical Institute, 1912, p. 131 .
  2. Overview. In:
  3. ^ Gunther Koehler, Sebastian Steinfartz: A new subspecies of the fire salamander, Salamandra salamandra (Linnaeus, 1758) from the Tendi valley, Asturias; Spain . In: Salamandra . No. 42.2006,1 , February 20, 2006, ISSN  0036-3375 , p. 13–20 ( online, PDF ( memento of October 18, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) [accessed on November 14, 2015]). A new subspecies of the fire salamander, Salamandra salamandra (Linnaeus, 1758) from the Tendi valley, Asturias; Spain ( Memento of October 18, 2014 in the Internet Archive )
  4. Walter Hellmich (1964): About a strange gap in the distribution of our grass snakes, smooth snakes and the fire salamander . Aqua. Terrar. Z. Stuttgart, 17 (10): 312-315
  5. B. Thiesmeier: The fire salamander. In: Journal of Field Herpetology. Suppl. Bochum 2004.4. ISSN  0946-7998
  6. B. Thiesmeier: The fire salamander. In: Journal of Field Herpetology. Suppl. Bochum 2004.4. ISSN  0946-7998
  7. Entry on salamander alkaloids. In: Römpp Online . Georg Thieme Verlag, accessed on September 6, 2013.
  8. B. Thiesmeier (2004): Der Feuersalamander, Laurenti Verlag Bielefeld, pp. 97-119. ISBN 3-933066-21-2 .
  9. Pedanius Dioscorides: The Vienna Dioscorides - Codex medicus Graecus 1 of the Austrian National Library. Volume 2. Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt, Graz 1999, ISBN 3-201-01725-6 (fol. 423 recto and commentary p. 64).
  10. Fire Salamander. In:
  11. Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (Ed.): Red list of endangered animals, plants and fungi in Germany. Volume 1. Vertebrates. Landwirtschaftsverlag, Münster 2009, ISBN 978-3-7843-5033-2 .
  12. Species under special responsibility in Germany ( memento of August 2, 2017 in the Internet Archive ), website of the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, accessed on June 3, 2016.
  13. Online overview. In:
  14. ^ Daniel Lingenhöhl: Aggressive fungus threatens fire salamanders. Report at from September 2, 2013.
  15. To Martel, Annemarieke Spitzen-van der Sluijs, Mark Blooi and others: Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans sp. nov. causes lethal chytridiomycosis in amphibians. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. , 2013. doi: 10.1073 / pnas.1307356110 (free full text access).
  16. , News , October 2015: A skin fungus threatens the native fire salamanders (April 21, 2017)
  19. Walther Flemming: On the knowledge of the cell and its division phenomena. Writings Natural Science Association Schleswig-Holstein 3, 1878, pp. 23-27.
  20. ^ Walther Flemming: Contributions to the knowledge of the cell and its life phenomena , Part II. Arch Mikr Anat 18, 1880, pp. 151-259 + 3 plates.
  21. Walther Flemming: Cell substance, nucleus and cell healing. Vogel, Leipzig 1882b.
  22. ^ Walther Flemming: Contributions to the knowledge of the cell and its life phenomena, III. Part. Arch Mikr Anat 20, 1882, pp. 1-86 + 4 plates.
  23. Walther Flemming: Influence of light and temperature on the color of the salamander larva. Meeting reports Physiol Verein Kiel 1896. Lehmann, Munich 1897.
  24. SN Litvinchuk, JM Rosanov, LJ Borkin: Correlations of geographic distribution and temperature of embryonic development with the nuclear DNA content in the Salamandridae (Urodela, Amphibia). Genome 50, 2007, pp. 333-342.
  25. J. Doležel, J. Bartoš, H. Voglmayr, J. Greilhuber: Nuclear DNA content and genome size of trout and human. Cytometry 51A, 2003, pp. 127-128.
  26. ^ Walther Flemming: New contributions to the knowledge of the cell. Arch Mikr Anat 29, 1887, pp. 389-463.
  27. Alfred Edmund Brehm: Animal life: The amphibians and reptiles . Bibliographical Institute, 1912, p. 131 .
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on March 24, 2005 in this version .