North African fire salamander (Salamandra algira)

Also known as: Algerian fire salamander, Algerian salamander
Synonyms: Salamandra maculosa algira, Salamandra maculosa var. algira, Salamandra salamandra algira, Salamandra tingitana
  
French: Salamandre Algire, Salamandre Tachetée
Spanish: Salamandra Norteafricana
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAmphibia
OrderCaudata
FamilySalamandridae
GenusSalamandra (1)
SizeTotal length: 17.7 - 23.6 cm (2)

The North African fire salamander is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The North African fire salamander (Salamandra algira) is a large, brightly coloured amphibian with a slender body, smooth skin and a relatively long tail, which has a rounded tip (2) (3) (4) (5) (6). The limbs of the North African fire salamander are quite long, with stubby, unwebbed toes (2) (4) (6). Its head is narrow and somewhat flattened, with a rounded snout, prominent eyes and large, conspicuous parotoid glands (2) (5). Like other fire salamanders of the genus Salamandra, the North African fire salamander has lines of poison glands running along its back and onto its tail (6).

The body of the North African fire salamander is usually glossy black or dark brown, with irregularly shaped yellow spots on the upperparts. Some individuals also have small red spots, particularly on the head (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7), while others may have reduced yellow spots and no red colouration (2) (3) (4) (8) (9) (10). The underparts of this species are black, sometimes with yellow spots or a reddish throat (2) (5). The eyes are also black (2).

The male North African fire salamander is usually smaller than the female, and can also be distinguished by a more swollen cloaca (3) (5) (6). In some populations, the male also develops conspicuous glandular protuberances on the back and head during the breeding season (10).

Juvenile North African fire salamanders are similar in appearance to the adults, but their upperparts are usually covered in numerous white spots (2). Newly metamorphosed juveniles may lack yellow markings, but develop them after two to six weeks (11). The larvae of the North African fire salamander are dull brown, with yellow spots at the base of each limb, black dots along the body and tail (2), and external, feathery gills (5) (12).

At least three subspecies of North African fire salamander have been described: Salamandra algira algira, Salamandra algira spelaea and Salamandra algira tingitana. These differ in size, colouration, distribution and reproductive behaviour, and are also genetically distinct. Further studies are needed to determine whether they are in fact distinct species (1) (7) (8) (9) (10) (11).

The name ‘salamander’ and the genus name, Salamandra, both come from the Greek for “fire-lizard”. This name may have arisen because of the tendency of these species to shelter in damp wood; when logs were thrown onto fires, the salamanders would have crawled out, giving the appearance of having crawling out of the flames (12).

The North African fire salamander is found in northwest Africa, were it occurs in isolated locations in parts of northern Morocco, northern Algeria and Ceuta, a Spanish city on the North African coast (1) (3) (4) (5) (6). This species also potentially occurs in northern Tunisia (1) (4) (5) (6), although it may now be extinct there (3).

The subspecies S. a. tingitana occurs in the extreme northwest of Morocco and in Ceuta (4) (8) (9), while S. a. spelaea is found in the Beni Snassen massif in northeast Morocco (2).

The North African fire salamander inhabits humid montane forest, including oak (Quercus), cedar (Cedrus) and mixed woodlands (1) (3) (4) (5) (7). It has been recorded from near sea level up to elevations of around 2,450 metres (1) (3) (4).

This species usually shelters by day under logs, stones, roots or leaf litter (1) (3) (5) (6), and has been recorded using limestone caves and rocky crevices in some areas (1) (2) (3) (5) (10). The adult North African fire salamander is terrestrial, but is often found near streams or other water bodies (2) (5).

Like other salamanders, the adult North African fire salamander is likely to feed on a range of small invertebrates, including insects, spiders, worms, slugs and snails (6) (12). The larvae of this species also feed on small invertebrates, such as aquatic crustaceans and insect larvae (2) (6), and may take frog tadpoles (2).

The North African fire salamander is usually active at night, although it is sometimes active in the daytime after rain or when breeding (6). This species becomes inactive during the hot summer months, emerging again after the autumn rains begin, around November (3) (7). The North African fire salamander’s preference for rainy conditions is reflected in its Arabic common name, ‘Arous Chta’, which means ‘bride of the rain’ (3).

Breeding occurs during the cooler winter months (3) (6), usually around November to May (2) (5) (11). Male Salamandra species are territorial, and may fight during the breeding season (6). The North African fire salamander mates on land (3), with the male depositing a gelatinous package of sperm known as a ‘spermatophore’, which may be transferred to the female after an elaborate courtship (6) (12).

Over most of its range, the North African fire salamander is ovoviviparous, the female retaining the developing eggs within her body, later giving birth to larvae rather than laying eggs (3) (4) (12). The female usually deposits the larvae in small pools or relatively shallow, slow-moving water, with this being the only time that the adult salamander returns to water (2) (6) (12). In contrast, the subspecies S. a. tingitana is viviparous, the female usually giving birth to fully metamorphosed young instead of larvae (3) (4) (8) (9) (10) (11).

The female North African fire salamander usually gives birth to around 15 to 20 larvae at a time (1) (4). The larvae generally measure around 2.5 to 3 centimetres in length (6) (7) and undergo metamorphosis at about 4 to 6 centimetres (6) (10). Young that are born fully metamorphosed have been recorded averaging around 3.4 centimetres at birth (11).

The North African fire salamander may be similar to related species in reaching sexually maturity at around three to four years old. In general, Salamandra species can be long-lived, with some reaching over 30 years old in captivity (6).

The main threat to the North African fire salamander is the continued reduction in the quality and extent of its forest habitat, due to deforestation, overgrazing by livestock, intensification of agriculture and the channelization of water sources (1) (3) (4) (13). Any human activities that directly or indirectly cause increased aridity also threaten this species, by decreasing the availability of water bodies in which the females can deposit larvae (7).

More localised threats to the North African fire salamander include mortality on roads and some collection of individuals for the international pet trade (1) (4).

The North African fire salamander occurs in small, fragmented, isolated populations in relatively restricted areas, making it particularly vulnerable to population declines (1) (2) (13). Along with other amphibians in the Mediterranean region, this species may also face a potential threat from the fungal disease chytridiomycosis, which has already affected the closely related common fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra) (14).

The North African fire salamander is protected by national legislation in Ceuta (1) (3) (9) (13) and receives protection in Europe under Appendix III of the Bern Convention (1) (15).

However, the North African fire salamander is not known to occur in any protected areas (1), and urgent conservation measures are needed to protect its vulnerable populations. These include further investigations into the impact of collection for the pet trade (1), as well as efforts to preserve its breeding sites (7). A conservation plan for this species, which includes measures such as habitat restoration, also needs to be implemented (13).

In addition to these measures, the taxonomy of the North African fire salamander needs to be revised, to determine whether it comprises more than one distinct species (1) (9) (11).

Find out more about amphibian conservation:

More information on conservation in the Mediterranean region:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
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  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Escoriza, D. and Comas, M.M. (2007) Description of a new subspecies of Salamandra algira Bedriaga, 1883 (Amphibia: Salamandridae) from the Beni Snassen massif (Northeast Morocco). Salamandra, 43(2): 77-90.
  3. AmphibiaWeb (October, 2011)
    http://www.amphibiaweb.org/
  4. Raffaëlli, J. (2007) Salamandra algira. In: Les Urodèles du Monde. Penclen Édition, France. Available at:
    http://amphibiaweb.org/
  5. Salvador, A. (1996) Amphibians of Northwest Africa. Smithsonian Herpetological Information Service, Washington D.C. Available at:
    http://africanamphibians.lifedesks.org/files/africanamphibians/Salvador_0.pdf
  6. Caudata Culture - Salamandra (October, 2011)
    http://www.caudata.org/cc/species/Salamandra/Salamandra_sp.shtml
  7. Escoriza, D., Comas, M.M., Donaire, D. and Carranza, S. (2006) Rediscovery of Salamandra algira Bedriaga, 1883 from the Beni Snassen massif (Morocco) and phylogenetic relationships of North African Salamandra. Amphibia-Reptilia, 27: 448-455.
  8. Dubois, A. and Raffaëlli, J. (2009) A new ergotaxonomy of the family Salamandridae Goldfuss, 1820 (Amphibia, Urodela). Altyes, 26(1-4): 1-85.
  9. Bogaerts, S. and Donaire-Barroso, D. (2003) Sobre el politipismo en Salamandra algira Bedriaga, 1883. Boletin de la Asociacion Herpetologica Española, 14(1-2): 47-51.
  10. Donaire-Barroso, D. and Bogaerts, S. (2003) A new subspecies of Salamandra algira Bedriaga, 1883 from northern Morocco. Podarcis, 4(3): 84-100.
  11. Donaire-Barroso, D. and Bogaerts, S. (2001) Observations on viviparity of Salamandra algira in North Morocco. In: Lymberakis, P, Valakos, E., Pafilis, P. and Mylonas, M. (Eds.) Herpetologia Canadiana. S.E.H., Irakleio.
  12. Halliday, T. and Adler, K. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  13. Pleguezuelos, J.M., Márquez, R. and Lizana, M. (2002) Atlas y Libro Rojo de los Anfibios y Reptiles de España. Dirrección General de Conservación de la Naturaleza - Asociación Herpetologica Española, Madrid. Available at:
    http://www.marm.es/es/biodiversidad/publicaciones/
  14. Cox, N., Chanson, J. and Stuart, S. (2006) The Status and Distribution of Reptiles and Amphibians of the Mediterranean Basin. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. Available at:
    http://data.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/RL-2006-001.pdf
  15. Council of Europe: Bern Convention (October, 2011)
    http://conventions.coe.int/Treaty/EN/Treaties/Html/104.htm