Fire Salamander Care Sheet

Fire salamander is a name given to a group of related species of salamander of the genus Salamandra from across Europe (excluding the fringes such as Britain and Ireland) and North Africa round to the Levant. The fire salamander is a terrestrial amphibian that only really goes to water to breed, spending most of its relatively long adult life rooting around in damp leaf litter looking for prey. They rarely come out during the day (unless it has recently rained or they are breeding) and actively avoid higher temperatures by burrowing into the litter or under logs if it gets too warm. In warmer climates they become inactive during hot months and in cooler climates they do the same in colder months.

fire salamander

The fire salamander lays eggs (timing dependant on species and location) directly in to water that hatch immediately as they are deposited into the larval form, which is completely aquatic although the stage at which the larvae emerge at varies widely (some species emerge as the adult “metamorph”). Normally larvae are about an inch long and metamorphose into the adult form when they have roughly doubled in size. The adult fire salamander reaches between 5 and 12 inches in size.

Most species of fire salamander inhabit lowland forests and woodland although some species prefer higher forests and some are alpine. There are also some species of fire salamander that can inhabit quite arid regions such as the Levant.

The fire salamander has quite a large territory for such a relatively small animal and males will defend this territory during breeding season so as large an enclosure as possible is best to allow natural behaviour.


The fires salamander actively hunts its prey through the forest floor litter. A large enclosure will allow this behaviour in captivity. A minimum of 45cmx45cm for the smaller species is OK but larger is better. Glass enclosures work best due to the high humidity but wood (melamine) could be used if very well sealed (the surface as well as the edges). The fire salamander hides away during the day so lots of hiding places (logs, cork bark etc.) will be appreciated.


The fire salamander is generally a forest animal and a substrate to mimic this works best. We use a mixture of coir, bark chips, leaf litter and moss to create a varied forest floor effect. Others use more utilitarian set ups, particularly some breeders and if the animals are breeding then hey ho, who am I to argue. I just prefer a natural looking set up for display. A completely natural set up with drainage media, bio active substrate, detrivores in the soil to dispose of waste and plants to use the nutrients produced would also work very well although I find I end up focussing more attention (and expense) trying to look after the plants than the fire salamander!


The fire salamander does not like temperatures much above 20C. Some alpine species in particular will not tolerate higher temperatures and must be kept below this. All species should be kept no higher than the low 20s with a night time drop of up to 10C. So in a modern, well insulated house it is unlikely that extra heating is going to be necessary. If you have a particularly cold house (for instance a wife that has the heating off and the window open when it’s minus 4C outside) then a small heat mat may be necessary but if this is the case a thermostat is an essential.


The fire salamander is nocturnal. Specialist lighting is not required. A day night cycle is beneficial but in a glass vivarium natural light will provide this. Of course in a display vivarium lighting can make all the difference to the look and modern LED lighting works well here. Units that switch between white daytime lighting and blue night time lighting work well and look good. Of course if you go for a bioactive set up with real plants then you will need lighting to stimulate plant growth.


The fire salamander actively hunts and eats invertebrates such as worms, insects, spiders etc. The key is variety. Offer a range of foods including crickets. calci worms, wax worms, meal worms etc. Gut loading the live food is always a good idea but supplement powders should not be necessary if the diet is varied. A diet of just crickets for example is bad idea and supplement powders would then be necessary. Regular misting of the enclosure to maintain humidity (they require high humidity, especially in the substrate but not “wet”) will also provide all the free water the fire salamander needs. A water dish is only necessary for breeding. If you put one in at any other time they are unlikely to use it.

For smaller or newly metamorphosed adult fire salamander smaller prey items will be more appropriate, such as fruit fly, smaller calci worms, white worms etc. For a larval fire salamander a range of aquatic foods are available such as daphnia, bloodworm, white worm etc. Most are available live or frozen.

So the fire salamander makes a fairly easy to care for, low cost animal to keep. However as with all animals remember you are taking on responsibility for its care for the rest of its life which in the case of some species of fire salamander can be up to 30 years in captivity.

Axolotl basics

Axolotl – the salamander that doesn’t grow up. These facinating animals make excellent pets if given the correct habitat and care. They are cold water, relatively easy to care for (no more difficult than a goldfish really, although there are a couple of important differences) and make an attractive display animal.


All axolotls in captivity originally come from some specimens sent over to Europe for study. Sadly they are extremely rare in the wild. They come from only two high altitude lakes in Mexico. One of these is no longer there and the other is much reduced (broken up into canals), polluted and full of introduced fish that like the odd Axolotl! The last survey failed to find any wild specimens.

Due to their facinating life cycle, size of embryo and strange abilities the Axolotl is used extensively in a number of areas of reseach, such as spinal cord growth, heart function, brain growth, transplantation etc. Of course there are lots of surviving individuals in the pet population too.

Wild specimens range in colour from black through olive to brown. Albinism can occur naturally but due to predation would tend to be selected against. In captivity albinos are common so colours range from “pink” (albino with red eyes), gold (albiono but gold in colour with red or sometimes whitish eyes), leucistic (white, or pink, with black eyes) to “natural” or “black”.

The Axolotl lives in “cold water” ideally between 17 and 20 C. They can and do tolerate colder temperatures in the wild but metabolism would be much slower. They do not tolerate warmer temperatures very well at all, becoming very stressed and long term warm conditions can be fatal (it has to be remembered that warm water can also carry less oxygen than cold water).

The Axolotl is basically a species of salamander (Ambystoma mexicanum, part of the Ambystoma tigrum complex) that remains in the “tadpole” stage throughout its life. This phenomenom, called neoteny is quite common as a survival strategy amongst salamaders living at high altitude but the Axolotl has turned it into the norm. Injection with thyroid hormones or with iodine or high levels of cannabilsm (an Axolotl will eat another if food is not plentiful) will sitmulate an Axolotl to metamorphose into and adult, terrestrial salamander (very similar to the naturally occuring, adult tiger slamander).

The Axolotls is famous for their ability to regenerate parts of their bodies. They can regrow damaged or missing parts of their tails and limbs. If only a part is missing or has been damaged they may extra limbs or digits. They can even regrow certain organs, even parts of their brains.

So for care of the Axolotl. A single Axolotl needs at least a 40-45 liter tank. Obviously a bigger tank is good. If you wish to keep more than one then a bigger tank is a must or you could still find yourself with still only one Axolotl one morning. They do not like currents, so if using a cartridge type internal of external filter it is advisable to point the filter outlet toward the side of the tank to still the flow. Leaving the Axolotl in what equates to fast running water will stress it and could lead to disease as the animals immune system suffers. We use under gravel filtration (I know, “GRAVEL!”, I’ll come to that soon) in the shop and that works well. You get very good filtration, aeration and nitrogen removal but low water currents in the tank. There is not a “this filtration system is best”. Many different types will work if the issue of flow is taken into account. The Axolotl is cold water, you DO NOT need a heater, in fact this could kill your Axolotl. I have heard of some pet supermarkets selling 10 liter tanks and heaters for Axolotls. Don’t buy from these places, they don’t know what they are doing and therefor shouldn’t be selling you an Axolotl or giving  advice on set ups and should be avoided at all costs.

Now gravel. An Axolotl should NOT be kept on gravel. They eat anything that fits into their mouths and that will include gravel. Often this will pass through but not always, so impaction, followed by death is a real threat. If using undergravel filtration use either fine sand or large pebbles (larger than the mouth of the Axolotl) that cannot be swallowed. Some people use external filters with no substrate, just the glass tank bottom. Nothing wrong with that, as long as there is a good population of bacteria in the filter, I just find it a bit sterile looking. It’s a matter of personal taste. Large rocks work well too but can be difficult to keep clean.

In the shop we do use gravel (hold on, let me finish) but it is covered with “cage carpet” – a thin, porous,  nylon matting, which is weighted down with hides and rocks. This keeps the gravel (where the nitrosomonas and nitrobacter grow) and the Axolotl away from each other. It just allows us a bit of flexibility. When we have no Axolotls we can easilly convert to goldfish without having to mature the tank and gravel is easier to keep clean than sand.

If you wish to use plants we would recommend broad leaved. There is less risk of the Axolotl tangling its gills. Thin, trailing plants present this risk. We would also not recommend keeping axolotls with fish. They will eat smaller fish and larger fish could nibble on the external gills of the Axolotl .

Axolotls eat a wide range of foods. Worms, fish, lavae etc. We use waxworms, mealworm pupae, morio worm pupae, blood worm and small fish. We also sometimes feed pinkies (usually if one of the hatchling snakes hasn’t fed). The Axolotls finds food by smell. If it drops onto its head it will generally snap it up straight away. If it falls to the side it may take a few minutes to find it. I have yet to have an Axolotl that will not feed every couple of days. They feed through air pressure really. They open their mouths extremely quickly. This creates very low presssure inside the mouth. The pressure of the atmosphere above (several miles of it!) pushing down, under gravity, on the water around the Axolotl pushes it, with the food, into the mouth. This is basically how all pumps work. It happens very fast. The video below shows this process happening. I have slowed the video down before and still couldn’t see the food move. It looks like trick photograhy (or videography) but it is in real time.

An Axolotl can grow to 18 inches. However this is extremely rare. It is rare for one to get to 12 inches. 9 to 10 inches is the norm. Male Axolotls will have a swelling around the cloaca, absent in females. Females will tend to have a wider body than the male although males are larger overall with a wider head. They can live for up to (and that is UP TO) 20 years.


To look after your Axolotl you have to look after your water. Always mature a tank before putting in an Axolotl. You need the bacteria to remove the nitrogenous waste as you would for fish. Also you MUST dechlorinate the water if it comes from a tap. Leaving it standing for 24 hours only removes free chlorine, not chloramines. These are toxic to the Axolotl and to the waste disposal bacteria. Regular partial water changes are essential to good health. For more info on how to look after the water go to our sheet on goldfish care.


The Angell Pets Team