Photo above: well developed salamander larva in France
It is found almost everywhere in France and is essentially a creature of woodlands where it lives in fallen leaves, dense moss and other debris and where there is a proximity to water. It is absent or rare in forests that are exclusively conifer, alluvial plains and areas where the soil is sandy in character such as coastal dunes. The food of the adults is made up of earthworms, insects and their larvae, slugs and other invertebrates to be found in the ground debris, whereas the larva are more opportunistic and voracious, eating various aquatic invertebrates including their own species. They are exclusively nocturnal spending the day under an old tree stump, in a stone wall or any other dark cavity, rainfall brings them out in large numbers and being both slow moving in combination with a tendency stay still they have a high road accident rate.
Photo above: shows a Salamander female fat with eggs/larvae making its way to a pond in France. Many become road victims at such times.
Although seemingly common in most of France there has been a decline in numbers, a situation which is more pronounced in north east France , Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany. Habitat loss and destruction along with increasing traffic are having serious consequences on populations, thousands, maybe tens of thousands are killed every year as in the photos above of a female squashed with all her young splattered on the road around her.
Photo above: Salamander egg sacs, some intact, in the edge of a pond in France.
Below: A roadside ditch that contained 40 or 50 salamander larvae.
Hibernation, if it takes place, is between October and March but is dependent on temperature and in milder winters or regions they can remain active throughout the year, hibernation can be in any underground cavity and large numbers of individuals can be found sharing the same place, up to 50 or more has been recorded. Their skin exudes a toxic substance which can burn sensitive skin and care should be taken not to touch your mouth if you have handled one - trust me, I know.
The fire salamander is a large urodele, up to 28cm in length with a wide head and thick, strong legs with non webbed digits, cylindrical thick tail which is rounded at the end. Colour is extremely variable according to habitat. There are three different sub species that are present in France, S. salamandra terrestris being the most common all over the country, S. salamandra.salamandra can be found in the extreme south east and S. salmandra.fastuosa in the Pyrenees. In general the colour is brilliant black marked with brilliant yellow or sometimes orange.
Reproduction which takes place almost exclusively on land can take place anytime from spring until autumn with late spring/early summer being favoured. The male rubs the female with his nose and then slides under her so that she is on his back, they can stay like this for quite a long period while he rubs her under the chin with his head and rubs her cloaca with his tail, then when she is ready he releases his spermatophore, which is a small slightly rigid packet of sperm which also contains some nutrients which he places on the females cloaca where she can receive it. The female can store this for several months before fertilisation takes place internally and a period of gestation follows of between 2 to 5 months. The young develop inside the female (Ovoviviparous) and when they are ready to be released the female finds some water, this can be almost anything, a ditch, pond, canal or even deep ruts left by vehicles in mud, the young are then released, sometimes over a period of days, in their small soft transparent sacs which open just before or just after release into the water. At this time they are in a larval stage, with external breathing organs for living in water, metamorphosis takes 3 to 5 months before they are able to live on land. Identification at this stage is made easy by the small white or light mark where each leg joins the body.
Photo above: Salamander releasing young into waters edge in France
Fire Salamander Salamandra salamandra