Salamanders are amphibians. They have a body shape similar to that of lizards or small crocodiles but are not related to them. They are more closely related to newts and frogs.
All salamanders have an elongated body with a tail and bare skin. In addition, a body part grows back if it was bitten off, for example. Salamanders do not lay eggs like other amphibians, but give birth to larvae or even live young.
The salamanders are very different among themselves. The Japanese giant salamander lives permanently in the water. It grows one and a half meters long and weighs up to 20 kilograms. Two main species live in Europe: the fire salamander and the alpine salamander.
How does the fire salamander live?
The fire salamander lives almost all over Europe. It is about 20 centimeters long and weighs 50 grams. That’s about as much as half a bar of chocolate. Its skin is smooth and black. It has yellow spots on its back, which can also light up slightly orange. As it grows, it sheds its skin several times like a snake.
The fire salamander prefers to settle in large forests with deciduous and coniferous trees. He likes to stay near streams. He loves the moisture and is therefore mainly out and about in rainy weather and at night. During the day it usually hides in crevices in rocks, under tree roots, or under dead wood.
Fire salamanders do not lay eggs. After fertilization by the male, small larvae develop in the abdomen of female. When they are big enough, the female gives birth to about 30 small larvae, in the water. Like fish, the larvae breathe with gills. They are immediately independent and develop into adult animals.
Fire salamanders prefer to eat beetles, snails without shells, earthworms, but also spiders, and insects. The fire salamander protects itself against its own enemies with its yellow-colored spots. But he also carries a poison on his skin that protects him. This protection is so effective that fire salamanders are rarely attacked.
Nevertheless, the fire salamanders are protected. Many of them die under car wheels or because they cannot climb curbs. Humans are also taking away many of their habitats by transforming the natural mixed forests into forests with one and the same tree species. Larvae cannot develop in streams that flow between walls.
How does the alpine salamander live?
The alpine salamander lives in the mountains of Switzerland, Italy, and Austria to the Balkans. It grows about 15 centimeters long. Its skin is smooth, deep black above, and slightly grayer on the ventral side.
The alpine salamander inhabits areas that are at least 800 meters above sea level and makes it up to an altitude of 2,800 meters. He likes forests with deciduous and coniferous trees. Higher up, it lives in damp alpine meadows, under shrubs, and on scree slopes. He loves the moisture and is therefore mainly out and about in rainy weather and at night. During the day it usually hides in crevices in rocks, under tree roots, or under dead wood.
Alpine salamanders do not lay eggs. After fertilization by the male, the larvae develop in the abdomen of the female. They feed on the yolk and breathe through the gills. However, the gills begin to recede in the womb. That takes two to three years. At birth, the offspring is already about four centimeters tall and can breathe and eat on its own. Alpine salamanders are born alone or as twins.
Alpine salamanders also prefer to eat beetles, snails without shells, earthworms, spiders, and insects. Alpine salamanders are only occasionally eaten by mountain jackdaws or magpies. They also carry poison on their skin that protects them from attacks.
Alpine salamanders are not endangered but are still protected. Since they take so long to reproduce and then only give birth to one or two young, they cannot reproduce very quickly. They have already lost a lot of habitat due to the construction of mountain roads and reservoirs.