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> Fire Salamander

Salamandra salamandra crespoi

This amphibian is part of the order Caudata, that is, has tail and small limb that serve to walk and not jump. It is a medium-sized salamander with a length that is normally between 14 and 17 cm, although rarely reaches up to 20 cm. In the south of Portugal an individual of 25.3 cm has already been found.

It has large flat head with rounded contours. The parotid glands are large and have very visible dark pores. The eyes are relatively prominent located in the lateral position. The body is robust with ridges on the flanks and a row of glandular pores on each side of the mid-line vertebral. The tail is round and oval cross-section. The limbs are robust, with four toes on the front legs and five on the hind legs. The skin is smooth and shiny. The dorsal colour is black with yellow spots in variable numbers. In some cases, the yellow colouring may dominate over the black. In the dorsal region of the head and body there may also be red scores.

Salamandra salamandra - Photo of Vasco Flores Cruz in Anfíbios e Répteis de Portugal

Males and females are very similar except during the breeding season when the most noticeable difference is the swollen cloaca of the male. Also females may be slightly larger and more robust than males, with proportionately shorter tails.


Adults have nocturnal habits, sedentary and totally terrestrial, looking for aquatic means just to reproduce. Its annual activity is concentrated in the wetter periods, usually between September and May. This species of salamanders presents a slow locomotion.

The larvae of this species are strictly aquatic.


The breeding season occurs between September and May and mating takes place on land. During copula, the male is placed under the female's body, holding it with the previous limbs and rubbing the head in its throat. Then both intertwine their tails and the male releases the spermatophore that is collected by the cloaca of the female.

The reproduction of this species is ovoviviparous or viviparous, that is, the eggs develop and hatch inside the salamander, and when laying the small larvae are born. For this reason in the period before the birth of the larvae the females become very swollen, as can be seen in the following image.


Salamandra salamandra pregnant - Photo of Vasco Flores Cruz in Anfíbios e Répteis de Portugal

From each female can be born between 20 to 40 larvae. The larvae, then hatched inside the womb of the mother, are released directly into the appropriate bodies of water, temporary pools, as can be seen in the following image.

Larvae de Salamandra salamandra - Photo of Vasco Flores Cruz in Anfíbios e Répteis de Portugal

Larvae de Salamandra salamandra - Photo of Vasco Flores Cruz in Anfíbios e Répteis de Portugal

In general, the larvae reach metamorphosis between two and six months after birth. Young metamorphosed adults, already similar to adults in terms of colouring, are less sedentary than these, and can make considerable trips in the vicinity of temporary ponds.

Sexual maturity is reached at three or four years, and the longevity known to this species in nature is 20 years.


Adult feeding consists of terrestrial invertebrates, namely, beetles, ants, snails, slugs, earthworms, centipedes and spiders. The larvae are very voracious and feed on aquatic insects, crustaceans, small worms and larvae of other amphibians and may be of the same species.

Salamanders have few natural enemies, yet water snakes, vipers and occasionally some birds are some of them. Larvae are frequent preyed by fish (when they exist in the aquatic environment chosen for breeding), water snakes, aquatic insects, waterfowl, and larvae of the same species but larger in size.

The main defence mechanism consists of the toxic secretions of its cutaneous glands, namely of its large parotid glands. The high toxicity of this salamander is "flagged" to predators by their colouration, with bright yellow spots on a black background. Sometimes they can adopt a defensive position that consists of lowering the head and arching the body, making evident its parotid glands and colouration.

It is a terrestrial common specie that lives mostly near trees, since the salamander enjoys hiding under rocks, under fallen leaves and inside rotten tree trunks covered with moss.

Adults are usually found in moist nights slowly crossing the fields, routes or roads, during their brief migration into the places where the larvae are lain.

It is a sedentary animal that may remain in the same place for several years.


The salamander has a very wide distribution across the Iberian Peninsula and Europe, where several subspecies can be found.

In the case of the Salamandra salamandra crespoi, this specie is strictly restricted to Southwest Portugal, from Alcoutim, across the mountain range of Algarve, along the coastal regions of Alentejo, up to the Sado estuary. Additionally there is also a small nucleus in the mountain range of Arrábida/Sesimbra.


The most vulnerable populations seem to be those in the South of Portugal, where the specie is less abundant and subject to the two main threat factors: the destruction of its habitat - which may have caused its apparent extinction in the agricultural plains of lower Alentejo – and the introduction of predators in water environment, where they usually reproduce.

Loureiro, A. Ferrand de Almeida,N. Carretero, M.A. e Paulo, O.S. (eds.) (2008) Atlas dos Anfíbios e Répteis de Portugal. 1ª edição, Instituto da Conservação da Natureza e da Biodiversidade, Lisboa, 257 pp.

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