Luschan's Salamander
(Lyciasalamandra billae)

Luschan’s salamander is part of an ancient lineage that diverged from their closest relatives around 200 million years ago, an incredible 135 million years before the extinction of the dinosaurs! It is unusual among the amphibians in that it bears live young, with two fully developed offspring being born after 5 to 8 months. The courtship is also bizarre, with males inserting a warty projection at the base of their tail into the female’s cloaca (reproductive opening) prior to the transfer of an external sperm packet. Restricted to a range the size of Manhattan Island, it is chiefly threatened by its small area of occurrence, making it vulnerable to ecological disasters and climate change.

Urgent Conservation Actions
Protection by national legislation; establishment of a captive breeding programme.
Saricinar Daglari, Turkey.
Associated Blog Posts
23rd Jul 12
The Salamandridae (“true newts and fire salamanders”) family has around 74 species that diverged from all other salamanders around 200 million years ago,...  Read

Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Caudata
Family: Salamandridae
The Salamandridae (commonly referred to as the “true newts and fire salamanders”) is a family of around 74 species that diverged from all other salamander lineages around 200 million years ago, at the end of the Triassic period. This family of salamanders evolved at the feet of the dinosaurs, arising 30 million years after the origin of the dinosaurs and 135 million years before their eventual extinction. There are 59 species of newt in this family, which form the subfamily Pleurodelinae. The remaining salamander species form the subfamily Salamandrinae, and these two subgroups diverged around 48 million years ago, which in terms of mammalian evolution makes them as dissimilar as chinchillas and porcupines. The true newts and fire salamanders are today distributed across Europe, Asia and North America, and have the largest range of any salamander family.

All salamandrids have toxic skin secretions, and newts are highly poisonous in all stages of their life history. The skin secretions of the California newt (Taricha torosa) are among the most toxic substances known to man. Many salamandrids have bright colours and markings that serve as warnings of their toxicity and may be used in defensive displays. The males of many species within this family have also been observed performing elaborate courtship displays to entice the female into mating. Unusually in amphibians, females of some species within this family retain fertilised eggs within their body and give birth to live young (e.g. Lyciasalamandra – the genus of Luschan's salamander) – although egg laying is known to be the ancestral state from which this curious trait evolved. Another bizarre modification found in the salamandrids is the reduction or loss of lungs in several genera that evolved from lunged species. Outside of the Plethodontidae (the “lungless slamanders” family), these salamandrids are some of the only amphibians to have lost their lungs.

Luschman’s salamander is a member of the smaller Salamandrinae subfamily and there are only six other species within its genus, all restricted to Turkey and nearby Aegean Islands.
Luschan’s salamander can reach a total length of 167 mm in males, and up to 181 mm in females. The typical size range is between 110 and 140 mm. The long, tapering tail is usually equal to or slightly shorter than the length of the rest of the body, and limbs are well-developed. Males possess a “dorsal tail tubercle”, which is small wart-like projection of the skin near to the reproductive opening (cloaca) located on the underside of the base of the tail. The head is flat and long, with large dark eyes. The body is elongated and cylindrical, with 11-13 weakly defined “costal” grooves present along either side. Prominent and well-defined “parotoid” glands are present either side of the back of the head behind the eyes, which have a series of black spots marking the gland openings. The colouration can be highly variable, with the base colour of the dorsal (or upper) surface varying from salmon-pink to black. The white spots that are distributed across the back are ordered regularly and can form two lateral bands. A white band sharply separates the dorsal and ventral (or lower) surfaces and extends to beneath the eyes. Black spots also mark gland openings along the back and tail.

Luschan’s salamander is most active during the cooler winter months, which constitute the mating season. These salamanders are nocturnal (night-active), and seem to be more frequently encountered during and after rainfall and at dropping atmospheric pressure.

Reproduction in this species is not dependent upon a water body. During mating, a wart-like protuberance on the base of the male’s tail (called the “dorsal tail tubercle”) is rubbed against the female’s cloaca (urino-genital reproductive opening) during a “ventral amplexus “, where the male clasps the female from the front so that their bellies are touching. The precise function of this behaviour and of the dorsal tail tubercle is not known. However, shortly after the tubercle is inserted into the female’s cloaca, the male deposits a sperm packet or “spermatophore” which is picked up by the female’s cloaca and used to fertilise her eggs. One egg develops in each horn of the uterus (or womb) and the larvae feed through a process called “intrauterine oophagy”, which means they feed on successive unfertilised eggs produced by the mother. The two young emerge fully developed after around 5 to 8 months. They can measure as long as 70 mm upon birth, and weigh up to 2 grammes.  Sexual maturity is reached at an age of three years in captivity and this species is estimated to live for over ten years.

This species is associated with rocky limestone outcrops, and is often found in marqui or pine woodlands. Their natural habitat ranges from pinewoods at sea-level to dry vegetation with Kermes oak. Their specialised reproductive biology of allows Luschman’s salamander to inhabit areas devoid of surface water.
This species is restricted to the east slope of the Saricinar Daglari, south-west of Antalya, Turkey. It ranges in altitude from 0-200 metres above sea level.
Population Estimate
Luschan’s salamander is common within its restricted range of 61 km sq.
Population Trend
This species is thought to be in decline by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Luschan's salamander is listed as Critically Endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species because its extent of occurrence is less than 100 km sq., all individuals are in only one location, and there is a suspected continuing decline in the extent and quality of its habitat.
Luschan’s salamander is mainly threatened by its naturally restricted range, which makes it vulnerable to factors such as ecological disasters and climate change. There is generally a low human population and little tourism in the area where it is found, and generally no habitat loss is taking place. However, it is potentially threatened by habitat loss caused by forest fires, and by over-collection for scientific purposes.
Conservation Underway
This species has been recorded from the Catlicak Protected Area.
Conservation Proposed
This species requires protection by national legislation.

Additionally, the IUCN Technical Guidelines for the Management of Ex situ Populations, part of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, recommend that all Critically Endangered species should have an ex situ population managed to guard against the extinction of the species. An ex situ population is ideally a breeding colony of a species maintained outside of its natural habitat, giving rise to individuals from that species that are sheltered from problems associated with their situation in the wild. This can be located within the species’ range or in a foreign country that has the facilities to support a captive breeding programme for that species. Since Luschan’s salamander is categorised as Critically Endangered, the possibility of a captive breeding programme for this species should be investigated.
Associated EDGE Community members

Serge is a specialist on salamanders and newts

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