May 20, 2015Once believed to be born out of fire, immune to it, even able to extinguish it. Maybe even representing the element of fire itself… I'm talking about the fabled fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra): both Aristotle and Pliny the Elder wrote about their mythical abilities and hence influenced naturalists in the many centuries to come. Asbestos (which doesn’t burn) was once thought to be made of the skin of fire salamanders, hence the poor thing kept being illustrated as having fur. Even Leonardo Da Vinci supposingly wrote: "This has no digestive organs, and gets no food but from the fire, in which it constantly renews its scaly skin." Hard to believe this comes from the same guy known – among other things – for his detailed drawings of human anatomy. Maybe a bad hair day.
Anyway, sorry to disappoint you all, but nothing of those mythical abilities are true. There… glad we cleared that one up! What is true though is that it is poisonousness. Not poisonousness enough to reportedly taint a well and kill 4,000 soldiers and 2,000 horses from Alexander the Great his army… but poisonousness enough for any animal trying to eat it. It can also cause a whole bunch of nasty effects to humans. It’s a true salamander and not a newt and they spend most of their life on land. They prefer moist deciduous forests in Europe, are mostly active at night but also during the day if it is rainy. Some females deposits the larvae into undeep water, while with some subspecies the female gives birth to fully developed offspring. While on assignment for the European Wilderness Society in Kalkalpen National Park in Austria we came upon this beauty.
Unfortunately, fire salamanders in Western Europe are threatened in their survival by Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, an chytrid fungus related to Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (the one that affects amphibians worldwide). Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans caused a decline of 96% of the Dutch population in the last four years. So enjoy it when you do actually see one!