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).
The 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).
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