Home | Amphibians | Introducing the Fire Salamander, Salamandra salamandra: The Most “Personable” of All Amphibians?

Introducing the Fire Salamander, Salamandra salamandra: The Most “Personable” of All Amphibians?


Those who keep reptiles, especially turtles and lizards, are often of the opinion that amphibians make rather unresponsive pets.  True, a number of frogs and toads “come to life” at feeding time, but by and large amphibians are somewhat more retiring than are most reptiles.  This is especially true of the salamanders, many of which spend the vast majority of their lives in hiding.

A Beautifully-Colored and Responsive Salamander

The strikingly beautiful fire salamander is, however, a notable exception.  Native to cool, mossy woodlands in southwest Asia, much of Europe, and a small portion of northwestern Africa (a continent noted for its lack of salamanders), fire salamanders are as visually oriented as any turtle and eagerly anticipate regular feeding times.  Typically colored jet-black and mottled with bright orange or yellow, one subspecies, Salamandra salamandra fastuosa is largely bright yellow with bold black lines going down the body, legs, and tail (please see photo).

Forcep Feeding Fire SalamandersThe many fire salamanders I have kept would, without exception, leave their retreats in anticipation of food when I approached their terrarium.  Most feed from the fingers or forceps and are not shy about moving about in broad daylight once they are acclimatized to captivity.  They even move differently than most salamanders – holding their bodies high off the group and “stomping about” in a very determined (and most “un-salamander-like”) manner. And, as you can see from the photo, their bold personalities also suit them well as “amphibian ambassadors” to budding herpetologists!


A Caution Concerning Temperature

Fire salamanders could very well be the ideal amphibian pet for reptile enthusiasts.  Their one drawback is a distinct sensitivity to warm temperatures…a cool basement or similar situation is pretty much a necessity for success with this species.  Although individuals hailing from certain populations are a bit more heat-tolerant than others, nearly all become stressed at temperatures over 72°F.

Breeding and Longevity in My Collection and Elsewhere

However, when properly cared for, fire salamanders are among the most long-lived of all amphibians, with the captive longevity record being just over 50 years.

I received the 2 individuals pictured together here as larvae 14 years ago – they have bred several times and show no signs of slowing down.  They do not lay eggs, but rather give birth to live larvae. Some populations, particularly those living at high elevations, give birth to fully formed little salamanders, skipping the larval stage completely.

How I Keep and Feed Fire Salamanders

I keep my fire salamanders in a basement where yearly temperatures range from 55-68F.

As you can see from the accompanying photo, they feed readily from plastic tongs.  This allows me to increase dietary variety through the use of canned invertebrates – snails are particularly favored.  Field research has shown land snails to be an important part of the natural diet in many regions, so I rely heavily upon these, especially during the winter when other foods are scarce.

I also use canned silkworms, live earthworms (50% of the diet), blackworms, crickets, mealworm beetles, waxworms, sow bugs and wild-caught insects (i.e. moths gathered with the aid of a Zoo Med Bug Napper).


Further Reading

You can learn more about this salamander’s natural history and the threats facing wild populations at http://amphibiaweb.org/cgi/amphib_query?where-genus=Salamandra&where-species=salamandra


  1. avatar

    Great post, but its a bit long and most people like short and sweet posts!

    • avatar

      Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks very much for your interest in our blog and the kind comment.

      I do appreciate the trend towards short articles, but I find that a great deal is often lost in the process. This subject being my life’s work and passion, I have a difficult time cutting corners, especially where captive care is concerned. A tremendous number of reptiles and amphibians are now readily available to pet keepers, but the quality of advice given by many sellers and authors is, unfortunately, often less than adequate. I have seen a great many unnecessary deaths and well-meaning but poorly prepared hobbyists in my time, and so usually err on the side of writing too much.

      That being said, your point is well taken – my first book (before the days of “word count” on the computer) was contracted to be 33,000 words, but ran to 90,000! I’m paying for that oversight right now, in fact, as I must cut a great deal of text for the second addition. New articles on this blog will be in a slightly shorter format, and presented in 2 or 3 parts if need be.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  2. avatar

    I’ll also add that California newts, in my experience, are extremely personable and come toward me eagerly when it’s feeding time. They are not at all shy – probably due to their skin toxins which make them feel invulnerable. 🙂 Come to think of it, my Alpine newts also recognize me and approach me for food, as did the toads I’ve kept in the past, so I’d never call them unresponsive pets….

    • avatar

      Hello Raksha, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your comment.

      You are quite right – most newts are very perceptive and aware of their surroundings, California newts in particular. Toads are in a class all by themselves…I kept several marine toads at large (below exhibits at the Bronx Zoo) and was really amazed at how they predicted feeding times, maintained retreat sites, approached when I entered their area, etc.

      I’m sure you’re onto something as regards toxicity imparting a certain boldness – you see it in dart frogs and other well-protected yet tiny animals as well. Striped skunks are among the calmest and most confident wild pets or exhibit animals imaginable…they “know” they’re untouchable. I’ve live-trapped and relocated dozens during my years at the Bronx Zoo – by moving slowly, I was able to cover the trap, load them onto a golf cart, drive across the park and release them without incident.

      A California newt I kept in my youth lived for 19 years – 17 of them in the same tank with an American eel that would attack anything else, including my hand, within reach when hungry. The newt was off limits, and made not the slightest attempt to avoid the eel.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    Thanks for this post. I want to see what else you have to say. How do I find the rest of them?

    • avatar

      Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interest in our blog and for the kind words. You can use the Search Box (to right of title) to find other articles, or scroll down to “Tags” on the right side of any article. Also, please feel free to post a comment after any article asking about specific topics or animals – I can easily provide a link to any articles I may have written that might be of interest to you.

      At the top right of any article you can also click on “Subscribe” and be informed of new articles via email (3 new article are posted each week).

      I look forward to your future comments,

      Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  4. avatar

    Thanks for this post.

    • avatar

      Hello Ko, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interest in our blog and the kind words. I look forward to your future comments on crocodile salamanders or others; please feel free to post croc comments on any of my salamander articles,

      Good luck and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  5. avatar

    Your blog has gotten me very interested in the fire salamanders. I currently have dart frogs but in a position were i need to get rid of them and go to something that takes less feedings like the salamander. The first picture of the fire salamanders that are mostly yellow are those actual pictures of your or just a picture you found? Where i a good place that i can purchase a pair of these fire salamanders?? Thanks for the info!

    • avatar

      Hello Carter, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interest in our blog. The mainly yellow animals are of the subspecies fatuosa. They are not mine, the others are. I took their photo while visiting a breeder. The best source for captive born specimens of that and other subspecies is Michael Shrom; he is located in PA, USA, and well-experienced in care and shipping.

      Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  6. avatar


    I have three fire salamanders all newly imported. Two of them are doing great but will only eat crickets. The third has a snout injury that seems to be getting better treated twice daily with a qtip of diluted chlorhexidine and a drop of .3% ciprofloxacin HCI. The issue is he stopped feeding a couple days after treatment began and I noticed some bubbling around the injury for a day or so which has stopped but he sounds like he is coughing or sneezing. I will get him back to the vet ASAP but wondering if I need to raise the temps? My basement is around 55F right now.

    • avatar


      Their immune systems actually seem to work better at lower temps, 55 F ideal for most; some vets vary re this, but those at the Bx Zoo would have us keep ailing amphibians at their ideal active temperatures.

      Re crickets..try keeping them hungry for awhile; I’ve never known 1 to refuse earthworms, which are an ideal food…crickets good as well, but not as sole food.

      Please keep me posted, hope all goes well, Frank

  7. avatar

    Unfortunately one guy died. Of the remaining two one seems to eat like crazy, the other occasionally eats a cricket but has somewhat wrinkly skin despite being in a moist setting with access to a water bowl and is starting to show some round bumps on his back which I assume are from minor weight loss. I might just be paranoid from the loss of the first one but I am afraid he may start going downhill. Hoping for the best, they’ve been treated with panacure. They had a few worms hookworm, strongyle, rhabditiform, and eimeria. Hoping there isn’t more to this than the parasites. I’m using cocofiber for a substrate moistened but not soaking wet with bottled polland spirngs water, there in a ventilated sterilite container that’s only cleaned with tap water so hoping it’s not something in the environment I am doing wrong.

    • avatar

      Hi Kevin,

      Hard to say…hopefully just after-effects of Panacur, but they do tend always to have robust appetites. I prefer sphagnum moss, dead leaves or a bare-bottomed enclosure to cocofiber, at least for this species. Coco sticks readily to insects, and quite a bit may be swallowed over time. Some folks report good results with it, but impactions are a possibility. I hope all goes well. happy, healthy holidays, Frank

  8. avatar


    I found baby nightcrawlers at nightmart. They are about half the size of the full grown nightcrawlers bait shops normally carry. They seem to like them better than chopped up worms because at least one guy has taken them. The stool sample came back positive for hook worms and coccidia. I gave two treatments of panacur 10 days apart for the tape worms, My concern is about coccidia. I have to really force their mouths open to give them treatments and since they are eating and acting normally, would you risk injury by forcing open their mouths to give them albon (I have it) or do you think if I just keep cleaning out their enclosures weekly the coccidia will reduce on its own?

    • avatar

      Hello Kevin,

      Small whole worms are better than parts of larger worms, as the salamander is eating the entire animal..organs etc.

      Coccidia presents a tough questions. It is common in low levels in healthy animals, and can be transferred by most feeder insects. But if populations build, as they can in terrariums, or the animal has underlying health problems, an infection can be serious (you usually see weight loss, listlessness). Plastic spoons, with concave side turned down, are useful to assist in quickly opening the mouth. If you can do that (2 people may make task easier), I would medicate. best, Frank

  9. avatar

    Thanks for the advice, Frank. I had thought of trying canned snails before, since they eat from my fingers, but do you think there could be anything in the can like salt that would hurt them if they ate too much? It would seem to be a good, soft bodied food. Just curious how often you feed them?

    • avatar

      My pleasure; The Zoo Med product contains land snails…those sold for human consumption, fresh or canned are also land snails (other than periwinkles, conch), and would be fine; rinse before using. I wouldn’t use marine snails. Best, Frank

  10. avatar

    Hi Frank,

    It turns out my salamanders don’t fall for the wiggling motion with tongs. I was going to order live land snails but it turns out you need a permit to have them shipped outside of the state the breeder is in. Do you think it would be safe to breed one of the larger freshwater snails and just remove the snail from its shell for feeding? I do have the ability to purchase a couple of species of freshwater snails. The aquatic snails are called Mystery snails, Ramshorn snails, Rabbit snails, Trumpet snails, and Nerite snails. Curious to know your thoughts and the odds of something going wrong and/or parasites.

    • avatar

      Hi Kevin,

      Many of those snails breed well (give lots of calcium, i.e. cuttlebone)…young ones and smaller species may be taken shell and all, just watch size.

      Snails are hosts for parasites that transfer to amphibians to complete their life cycle. Many seem very specific as to their host…at the Bx Zoo, we used wild caught and farmed aquatic snails for years and so no signs of parasite transmission (fecal, necropsy, etc) . I believe there is a pre-treatment for snails, developed by another zoo, I can check. If snails are difficult you can do well without – feed earthworms a good det, offer sowbugs (easy to breed//buy/collect) and Ca supplements, plus other insects mentioned. Let me know if you need anything, Frank

  11. avatar


    I wanted to send in an update. All the fire salamanders started eating earthworms after some time. I have been able to give the adults panacur by using a 22 gauge needle and injecting the panacur into the abdomen of the crickets very slowly. They live for some time after the injection and the salamanders are taking those crickets from tongs. For the smaller fire salamanders, I’ve found a 60mm guitar pick works very well for opening their mouths.

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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