Golden alpine salamander (Salamandra atra aurorae)

SizeTotal length: up to 13 cm including tail (3).

The golden alpine salamander is classified as Least Concern (LC ) (as Salamandra atra) on the IUCN Red List (10). It is also listed on Appendix II of the Bern Convention  (9), Annexes II (priority) and IV of the EC Habitats Directive (2).

The golden alpine salamander (Salamandra atra aurorae) is small and robust with large parotoid glands visible on the head. It is jet black in colour with whitish, greyish-yellow or intense yellow markings along the back that vary from restricted diffuse spotting to a broad, irregular band (1). The yellowish markings are usually the dominant colour, although a new population (discovered in the Pasubio Massif) consists of predominantly black salamanders (11). Captive observations have shown that the yellowish colour can change within four months to dark brown-black (8).

The golden alpine salamander is known only from an area between Trento and Asiago in northeastern Italy. This subspecies (Salamander atra aurorae) occupies a highly restricted range (less than 50 km²) at the southern boarder of the larger area (3). Recently, a new but also isolated population has been discovered in the Pasubio Massif, southeast of Rovereto (6). This population may in fact represent a distinct subspecies and at present is only known from an area of less than 1km² (11).

The golden alpine salamander is found in subalpine regions; associated with open forests where the fir Abies alba dominates, and where there is herbaceous ground vegetation (11).

Studies on specific biological aspects of this fully terrestrial salamander are lacking. It is likely that life-history characteristics are similar to those of the subspecies Salamadra atra atra, in which one embryo develops in each of the two uteri. Gestation takes 3 years at altitudes of 1,400 to 1,700 metres. Young are born fully metamorphosed and terrestrial; they are around 4 - 5 cm long. The golden alpine salamander lives for at least 10 years (1).

Due to its small distribution area, habitat destruction (in the form of deforestation) is the main threat to the golden alpine salamander. The collection of specimens for scientific studies or private keeping can also significantly affect the vulnerable small populations (7), and the drainage of water from the area is a further threat to survival (11).

The collection of the golden alpine salamander is prohibited and visitors are forbidden from leaving the paths in the core habitat area of Bosco del Dosso (11).

For more information on slamanders see:

Information supplied by Sergé Bogaerts and Kurt Grossenbacher.

  1. Trevian, P. (1982) A new subspecies of alpine salamander. Boll. Zool., 49: 235 - 239.
  2. IUCN Red List (April, 2003)
  3. Berne Convention (April, 2003)
  4. Habitats Directive (February, 2002)
  5. Arnold, E.N. & Ovenden, D. (2002) Collins Field Guide: Reptiles and Amphibians of Britain and Europe. [2nd edn.] Harper Collins, London.
  6. Grossenbacher, K. (July, 2003) Pers. comm.
  7. Steinfartz, S. (1998) Über eine interessante Farbkleidveränderung bei Salamandra atra aurorae. Salamandra, 34: 69 - 72.
  8. Bonato, L. (2000) A new interesting population of the Alpine salamander, Salamandra atra in the Venetian Alps. Atti. Mus. Civ. Stor. Nat, Venezia, 50: 231-239.
  9. Grossenbacher, K. (1995) Was ist mit Salamandra atra aurorae los? Elaphe (N.F.), 3: 6 - 8.