The Salamandridae (“true newts and fire salamanders”) family has around 74 species that diverged from all other salamanders around 200 million years ago, evolving at the feet of the dinosaurs 135 million years before their extinction. Luschan’s salamander (Lyciasalamandra billae) is part of the ancient subfamily Salamandrinae and there are only six other species within its genus.
All salamandrids have toxic skin secretions, and newts are highly poisonous in all stages of their life history. Many salamandrids have bright colours and markings that serve as warnings of their toxicity and may be used in defensive displays, with Luschan’s salamander skin varying from salmon-pink to black. A bizarre modification found in salamandrids is the reduction or loss of lungs after evolving from a lunged ancestor.
Luschan’s salamander is most active during the cooler winter months, prime mating season, being night-active and more frequently encountered during and after rainfall; however unusually for an amphibian its reproduction is not dependent upon water.
Males of this family have been seen performing elaborate courtship displays to entice the female into mating, during which they deposit a sperm packet that the female uses to fertilise her eggs. Some females then have a mammal-like gestation of 5-8 months, after which they give birth to fully-developed live young, very rare in amphibians.
Its natural habitat is associated with rocky limestone outcrops, and is often found in pine woodlands. This species is restricted to the east slope of the Saricinar Daglari, south-west of Antalya, Turkey, up to 200 metres above sea level. The other six species of the Lyciasalamandra genus are also restricted to Turkey and the nearby Aegean Islands.
Luschan’s salamander is listed as Critically Endangered because it exists in less than 100sq km., all individuals are in only one location, and there is a suspected continuing decline in the extent and quality of its habitat. The species is mainly threatened by its naturally restricted range (about the size of Manhattan Island) making it vulnerable to ecological disasters and climate change, as well as forest fires and over-collection for scientific purposes.
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