Siberian salamander (Salamandrella keyserlingii)

GenusSalamandrella (1)
SizeLength: c. 14 cm (2)

The Siberian salamander is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The Siberian salamander (Salamandrella keyserlingii) is a widely distributed and uniquely freeze-tolerant amphibian. Its smooth skin is usually brown, bronze-brown, olive or grey with dark spots on the back and sides. The head is long with a rounded snout, while the tail is flattened, and can be longer or shorter than the body, with dark blotches on the sides and a pointed tip. The underside of the body is grey with white spots, and the legs are short and stocky, with four toes on each foot. There are well-defined grooves along both sides of the body (2) (3).

The male Siberian salamander has a longer and higher tail than the female, as well as longer front legs and a larger cloaca, especially during the breeding season (2) (3).

Some scientists recognise more than one subspecies of the Siberian salamander (4).

The Siberian salamander has the widest distribution of any living amphibian species (3) (4) (5), with its range stretching from Russia in the west to Japan in the east, and including China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (1) (3) (4) (5). The Siberian salamander is also thought to have the most northerly distribution of any cold-blooded terrestrial vertebrate (4). 

The Siberian salamander inhabits mixed, coniferous and deciduous forests within the taiga zone, as well as steppe and riparian forests in tundra. In these habitats it is mainly found close to stagnant or slow-moving water (1) (3). The Siberian salamander inhabits wet grassland, bogs, pools and small ponds at low altitudes while reproducing (1) (2). In Mongolia, this species has been recorded up to elevations of over 1,000 metres (2). 

The reproductive season of the Siberian salamander begins in mid-April or May in temperate areas and the end of May or mid-June in Arctic areas (3). After a courtship dance by the male (2), the female Siberian salamander lays a clutch consisting of a pair of egg sacs connected to each other by a stalk, which attaches them to the substrate (3). The Siberian salamander prefers slow moving, shallow water such as ponds and puddles when laying eggs (6) (7).

Each egg sac usually contains between 50 and 90 eggs. The eggs of the Siberian salamander hatch after 15 to 40 days in temperate areas and 12 to 24 days in the Arctic, and the larvae of this species usually measure between 8 and 10 millimetres in length (3). The adult Siberian salamander is terrestrial and has well-developed lungs (7).

The diet of the Siberian salamander is mostly composed of slugs and arthropods, while the larvae generally eat smaller invertebrates and plankton (3).

The active period of the Siberian salamander runs from April or May to September or October, after which it hibernates in a very unique way (3). During hibernation the Siberian salamander is able to survive temperatures as low as -35 degrees Celsius by allowing its body tissues to freeze, and it is able to survive in this state for long periods of time (3) (8). Unable to burrow through the permafrost, this species is often trapped within the ice on the surface of the ground (9), although rotten trees and logs are also used for hibernation (3). When temperatures begin to increase in spring, the ice thaws out, defrosting the salamander (6) (8) (9).

The Siberian salamander is not thought to be facing any major threats, although it is considered to be locally threatened by desiccation of its habitat, chemical pollution and the destruction of its habitat due to increased urbanisation (1) (3).

The Siberian salamander is present in many protected areas throughout its range, and is also protected in the HeilongjiangProvince in China and Shibecha Town and Kushiro City in Japan. It is listed on the Red Data Books of Mongolia and several provinces of Russia (1). 

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  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2012)
  2. Raffaëlli, J. (2007) Salamandrella keyserlingii. In: Les Urodèles du Monde. Penclen Édition, France. Available at:
  3. AmphibiaWeb - Siberian newt (April, 2012)
  4. Matsui, M., Yoshikawa, N., Tominaga, A., Sato, T., Takenaka, S., Tanabe, S., Nishikawa, K. and Nakabayashi, S. (2008) Phylogenetic relationships of two Salamandrella species as revealed by mitochondrial DNA and allozyme variation (Amphibia: Caudata: Hynobiidae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 48: 84-93.
  5. Hasumi, M. (2010) Age, body size, and sexual dimorphism in size and shape in Salamandrella keyserlingii (Caudata: Hynobiidae). Evolutionary Biology, 37: 38-48.
  6. Ashcroft, F.M. (2000) Life at the Extremes: the Science of Survival. University of California Press, Berkeley.
  7. Vorobyeva, E.I., Antipenkova, T.P., Kolobayeva, O.V. and Hinchliffe, J.R. (2000) Some pecularities of development in two populations of Salamandrella keyserlingii (Hynobiidae, Caudata). Russian Journal of Herpetology, 7(2): 115-122.
  8. Burton, M. and Burton, R. (2002) International Wildlife Encyclopedia. Marshall Cavendish, New York.
  9. Carwardine, M. (2008) Animal Records. Sterling Publishing Company, New York.