Are Salamanders Poisonous?

Although salamanders appear to be relatively inoffensive creatures, all species are poisonous. It should also be noted that their is a very big difference between a poisonous animal and a venomous one. “Poisonous” animals are toxic or harmful if you eat them, or ingest their secretions. Poisoning may also occur after handling the animal and then rubbing the eyes or placing the hands in the mouth. “Venomous” refers to animals that inject a toxin directly into their prey to subdue them, or in self-defence against a predator. Venoms are injected through bites (i.e. snakes) or stings (i.e. scorpions). The poisons that salamanders possess are produced in parotoid or granular glands. It is believed that salamanders obtain their toxicity by ingesting or acquiring strong bacteria (such as Vibrio spp). All salamander species secrete toxins over their skins, which if ingested can be poisonous, generally speaking though, juveniles are far more toxic than adults. Toxicity also varies between salamander species, and can vary among the same species between different populations. All the species within the genus Taricha possess tetrodotoxin, one of the most potent toxins known to science. Of the Taricha species, the Rough-Skinned Newt (Taricha granulosa) is the most toxic.

Venomous Salamanders

Certain salamander species (genera Pleurodeles and Tylototriton) have tubercles running down the sides of their bodies. If the animals are grasped or attacked, they can push their sharp ribs through these as a defence mechanism. As the ribs pass through the skin, the salamanders begin to secrete toxins from special glands on its body. The toxin coated ribs create a highly effective stinging mechanism, injecting through the thin skin and then into the predator or attacker. The process is not harmful to the salamanders, effective immune system response and collagen coated ribs mean the pierced skin quickly regrows without infection. As the salamanders are actively using these ”stinging ribs” to inject their toxins, such species could be considered venomous as opposed to poisonous.

Sharp Ribbed Salamander (Pleurodeles waltli).

Are Salamanders Dangerous To People?

Salamanders are not dangerous to humans, they are shy and cryptic animals, and are completely harmless if they are not handled or touched. Handling any salamander and then rubbing your eyes or mucous membranes has the potential to cause irritation and discomfort. This is why enjoying salamanders by observation only is the best policy. This is not only for our safety, but for the salamanders as well. Salamanders have very absorbent skin and the oils and salts from human hands can seriously harm them. Chemicals on the hands such as insect repellents, sunblock, and lotions can further cause damage. The risk of skin damage that could result in secondary skin infections, as well as bone and muscle injuries from struggling are also a threat. This is why salamanders should never be handled, except during conservation related efforts. Proper hand washing or vinyl gloves eliminate the threat of poisoning during these instances.

The toxic abilities of salamanders is one fascinating attribute of these amazing amphibians. Many people find poisonous and venomous animals ”cool” and enthralling. Such interesting aspects are another reason that salamanders should be protected. Find out how you can help here.