The alpine salamander (Salamandra atra) is a shiny black salamander found in the central, eastern and Dinaric Alps, at altitudes above 700 m (2,300 ft). The western Alps are inhabited by a similar species, Lanza's alpine salamander (Salamandra lanzai), in only one small area. No differences in length are seen between sexes (9–14 cm (3.5–5.5 in)) and the sex ratio is 1:1. Their life expectancy is at least 10 years. Unlike other salamanders whose larvae are developed in water, the alpine salamander is a fully terrestrial species. Capture-recapture methods suggest the species is very stationary; 12 m (39 ft) was the maximum observed distance travelled by one individual during the summer season. About 120 individuals per hectare were counted in most suitable areas with >2000 individuals/ha also observed, suggesting this rather cryptic species is quite abundant.
- S. a. atra is a fully melanistic (black) subspecies from central, eastern and Dinaric Alps.
- S. a. aurorae, the golden alpine salamander, is classified as being Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List 2002. This subspecies has golden or yellow spots on its back and lives in a small area in the Venetian prealps near Asiago.
- S. a. pasubiensis, with less yellow spots than S. a. aurorae, lives in a different part of the Venetian prealps (Pasubio massif).
- S. a. prenjensis lives on Prenj Mountain, part of the Dinaric Alps in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Validity of this subspecies is yet to be confirmed.
Genetic analysis suggests the Corsican fire salamander (Salamandra corsica) is the closest related species, and the black-yellow coloration is an ancestral feature of alpine salamanders. Proposed colonization from south (Prealps) to Alps was carried out by the fully melanistic (derived feature) S. a. atra after the last retreat of the ice sheets.
Mating occurs on land, the male clasping the female at the fore legs, and the fertilization is internal. S. atra is an ovoviviparous amphibian, giving birth to two live young, or rarely three or four. They may measure as long as 50 mm (2.0 in) at birth, with the female measuring only 120 mm (4.7 in). The uterine eggs are large and numerous, but as a rule, only one fully develops in each uterus, the embryo being nourished on the yolk of the other eggs, which more or less dissolve to form a large mass of nutrient matter. The embryo passes through three stages:
- still enclosed within the egg and living on its own yolk
- free, within the vitelline mass, which is directly swallowed by the mouth
- with no more vitelline mass, the embryo is possessed of long external gills, which serve as an exchange of nutritive fluid through the maternal uterus, these gills functioning in the same way as the chorionic villi of the mammalian egg
Generally, at altitudes of 650-1,000 m above sea level, a pregnancy lasts two years, and at altitudes of 1,400-1,700 m, the pregnancy lasts around three years (1140 days).
- "'Salamandra atra'". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. 2009. Retrieved February 24, 2012.
- Body size, population structure and fecundity traits of Salamandra atra atra (Amphibia, Urodela, Salamandridae) population from the northeastern Italian Alps 68. Luiselli, Andreone, Capizzi, Anibaldi: Italian Journal of Zoology. 2001. pp. 125–130.
- Bonato, Fracasso. Movements, distribution pattern and density in a population of Salamandra atra aurorae (Caudata: Salamandridae). Amphibia-Reptilia 2003, 24, 251-260.
- Bonato & Steinfartz. Evolution of the melanistic color in the Alpine salamander Salamandra atra as revealed by a new subspecies from the Venetian prealps. Italian Journal of Zoology 2001, 72, 253-260.
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Salamander". Encyclopædia Britannica 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Media related to Alpine salamander at Wikimedia Commons
- Data related to Salamandra atra at Wikispecies
- European Field Herping Community. "Picture gallery of S. a. atra, S. a. aurorae and S. a.pasubiensis subspecies".
- Emina Šunje. "Salamandra atra prenjensis". (in Bosnian)