Legend associates salamanders (les salamandres) with fire to the extent that they are supposed to remain undamaged by it. Somewhat bizarrely, it was rumoured that if you made clothes from their skins, they would protect the wearer from fire.

This association is most probably a misunderstanding of the fact that salamanders prefer damp dark places (des endroits sombres et humides) - they are, after all, amphibians - and when a rotting log is thrown on a fire and a salamander crawls out, we today understand this as their survival instinct rather than the result of some magical process.

Close-up view of the European salamander.

We can count on the fingers of four hands the number of salamanders that we’ve seen since we’ve been in France. They are timid and secretive creatures and when we see one it’s something of a special event. This one we photographed by our pool this weekend. We usually see the black and yellow or black and red/orange fire salamander, so this green and brown version is really nice.

Their skin is, apparently, permeable which means that they must stay near water.

The European salamander.

We don’t pretend to know much about these creatures, but Wikipedia is packed with useful information in English and in French. Here are some of the more intriguing facts mentioned there:

  • They occur almost exclusively in the northern hemisphere.
  • They can regenerate lost limbs, something that is of special interest to medical science.
  • Brightly-coloured ones can be extremely poisonous.
  • There is a giant Chinese salamander that reaches 1.8 metres in length.