Tricky to spot, the Alpine salamander stands out for its unusual reproductive style and ability to handle the cold.
Whereas other amphibians typically lay eggs or larvae, female Alpine salamanders give birth to one or two fully-developed juveniles after a two-to-four-year(!) gestation period. These measure 3-5 centimetres in length, compared to the adult size of 13-16cm.
Amphibians in general have been protected in Switzerland since 1967 and are among the species most under threat. Although the Alpine salamander is a “least concern” species in Switzerland, biologists highlight the importance of preserving their preferred habitat: rocky and not-too-dry landscapes with moderate vegetation.
The shiny black creatures, which prefer shady and moist places, can be found north of the Alps and in canton Graubünden, at elevations ranging from 800-2,500 metres. The critters also live in the cracks and gaps in stone walls.
“It’s a really cool species,” says Lukas Keller, a professor at the University of Zurich’s Department of Evolutionary Biologyexternal link. “When I see them out in the mountains, I’m just fascinated. They’re amphibians, so they don’t create their own body heat, yet they manage to live at altitudes of 2,500 metres – where it’s cold. It’s really amazing.”
The Alpine salamander copes with the coldest temperatures by hibernating from October to April. During the warmer months, it hunts at night and hides among rocks and deadwood during the day.
Alpine salamander facts
Lifespan: Up to 15 years
Food source: Worms, spiders, insects, snails and larvae
Where to find: At 800-2,500m above sea level
Conservation status: Least concernend of infobox