Salamanders are amphibians – relatives of frogs and toads who live in or near water. But for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, people thought that salamanders lived in fires!
How could such a ridiculous belief have begun? Well, salamanders often take refuge inside logs. When our ancestors put these logs on a fire, the salamanders inside rushed out so as not to get burned. People saw them and assumed (wrongly) that salamanders were ‘born’ from the flames.
That belief was completely untrue, so let’s find out some real facts about salamanders:
- There are approximately 500 different species of salamander. There are more of them in the Americas than in the rest of the world combined
- The smallest species is (appropriately) the minute salamander. It’s only 3cm long
- The largest salamander is also the largest amphibian. It’s the Chinese giant salamander which can be 2 metres long
- Salamanders are carnivores. They feed on small invertebrates like worms, flies or insect larvae
- Some salamanders have very long tongues which they use to catch their prey. These can be 10 times longer than their bodies!
- They have amazing regenerative powers. If a salamander loses a leg it can grow a new one in a matter of weeks!
- They breathe in a variety of ways. Some have gills, some have lungs and others breathe through their skin
- Salamanders have four toes on their front feet but five on their hind feet
- They come in a variety of colours. Most are quite bright but some (those that live underground) are white or pale pink
- For defence, some salamanders secrete liquids from their skin. These can be either foul-tasting or even poisonous
- In Slovenia there is a type of brandy which is flavoured by putting live salamanders into the barrel as it ferments. This was said to make it an aphrodisiac. Whether this works or not, it isn’t a nice way for the salamanders to die!
I hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about salamanders. You can find out about more amphibians and cold-blooded vertebrates in this section of Nature Matters. Have a look – there’s bound to be something there to take your fancy.