Fire Salamander Care
One of the most instantly recognisable amphibians, the fire salamander got its name as it was believed that they could either start or extinguish fires with their skin. As amphibians that like it decidedly cool and damp, this is not the case – but it’s easy to see how the rumour could have got started, if a damp log was thrown on the fire and a brightly coloured salamander crawled out!
Incredibly widespread, subspecies of fire salamander are found across Europe, the Mediterranean, and even North Africa and the Near East in lowland forests, woodland, around ponds and streams and some are even alpine. The basic pattern is black with bright yellow spots, stripes or bars; some subspecies have orange rather than yellow markings, and some are almost speckled. They are between 15 to 25cm, although some individuals have been recorded to touch 30cm – so they are quite a substantial animal.
Their bright colours are a warning to predators that they are toxic. They secrete a neurotoxin from glands along their back, and this toxin can be sprayed at predators. Whilst it is not usually fatal, it can make a predator very ill indeed. If you handle your salamanders, it’s wise to wear gloves – and always wash your hands!
Despite coming from some very warm parts of the world, the fire salamander cannot cope with heat. Above all things, their habitat must be kept cool! If you only have a room that gets very hot in the summer, then perhaps it’s worth keeping a different species. Temperatures should be kept between 18 and 21ºC (64 to 70ºF), as fire salamanders will begin to show distress at temperatures over 24ºC (75ºF), and if they rise above 27ºC (80ºF) it can be fatal. A deep heat projector or other source of heat is usually unnecessary unless you live in a very cold house, but an accurate digital thermometer is essential.
Even for a nocturnal amphibian UV light can be beneficial, so we do recommend providing low levels of UVB light in order to help with the metabolism of calcium from the diet. There are some excellent low output T5 UV units on the market that are ideal for amphibians like this.
Fire salamanders are generalist feeders, and will take just about any prey item they come across in leaf litter; worms, insects, spiders, and anything else that they might find. It’s very important to offer them a good variety of foods in captivity, with locusts and crickets as a staple but mealworms, earthworms, calci worms etc should all be offered from time to time. All food items should be gut loaded, and sprinkled lightly with either calcium or a multivitamin/multimineral powder.
Due to their adult size, a glass terrarium of at least 60 x 45 x 30cm should be regarded as the minimum size for a single individual. They do appear to be happy to live in mixed sex groups, although the more you have the larger the enclosure should be. A mixture of coir, orchid bark and sphagnum moss makes an excellent substrate that holds moisture well, although this should never be allowed to become too wet. A shallow water bowl is fine, although as fire salamanders reproduce on land don’t be surprised if your female drops her babies in the water bowl!
Long lived and brightly coloured, the fire salamander is a fascinating terrarium subject, and can make an excellent first amphibian pet.