We don’t give any value to what we don’t know.
This is one of the reasons that’s leading the larger part of my work focused on tiny, secretive but yet very important wildlife.
The Italian cave salamanders are one of these animals, too often unknown by the public.
The genus Speleomantes includes a total of seven species (of which six are endemic to Italy and one is also present in France).
Three species have a continental distribution, while four are only found in Sardinia island.
- Speleomantes ambrosii ambrosii (Lanza, 1955) e Speleomantes ambrosii ssp. n., endemic to eastern Liguria and north-western Tuscany.
- Speleomantes italicus (Dunn,1923), endemic to the eastern and central Appennines, it’s the more widely distributed species.
- Speleomantes strinatii (Aellen,1958), distributed in north-western Italy and in south-esatern France.
- Speleomantes flavus (Stefani, 1969), north-eastern Sardinia.
- Speleomantes genei (Temminck & Schlegel,1838), south-western Sardinia UPDATE: recently this species has been put in another genera, becoming Alytodes genei but I’ll wait a bit more before changing the name totally.
- Speleomantes imperialis imperialis (Stefani, 1969) e Speleomantes imperialis sarrabusensis (Lanza et al., 2001), Central, central-western and south-eastern Sardinia
- Speleomantes supramontis (Lanza, Nascetti &Bullini, 1986), Central-eastern Sardinia
The cave salamanders are lungless Amphibians that breath with the internal mucosa of mouth and through the skin, always kept well hydratated to enhance the oxygen exchanges.
They inhabit fresh and oxygentated places, where relative humidity is high all year round, like small caves, wet rocky crevices and the humid undergrowth near small streams.
Given their secretive habits, their preferred habitat remains the cave, even a few meters from the entrance. With striking ability they are able to capture a multitude of preys like Insects, Spiders and Isopods. To do so they have an innate ballistic ability: thanks to their long and sticky tongue that can be projected out to about the 80% of the body length. Amazingly, even a part of the visceral skeleton comes out together with the tongue and this is unique among Vertebrates.
As this wasn’t enough to show the uniqueness of these animals, the breeding cycle also hides some amazing characteristics. Here we have no aquatic larvae like in other European Urodela.
After mating, the egg-laying takes place directly on the wet rocks, in crevices well hidden from predators and rivals. The few big-sized eggs, are deposited in a compact clutch bound by tiny filaments. The mother will not leave but will remain wrapped around them for the entire development cycle. In this way she will contribute to keep them clean and safe from bacteria, mycoses and predators.
After a period of various months the young cave salamanders will emerge as a perfect miniature of the adults, yet perfect predators of terrestrial Arthropods.