AMPHIBIAWEB
Salamandra algira
Algerian Salamander, North African Fire Salamander, Arous Chta
Subgenus: Algiandra
family: Salamandridae
subfamily: Salamandrinae

© 2015 Arlo Hinckley (1 of 81)
Conservation Status (definitions)
IUCN (Red List) Status Vulnerable (VU)
CITES No CITES Listing
Other International Status None
National Status None
Regional Status None

 

View distribution map using BerkeleyMapper.

   

bookcover Excerpts from Crocodile Newts: The Primitive Salamandridae of Asia (Genera Echinotriton and Tylototriton) by Axel Hernandez 2016 Edition Chimaira (more on the author and book).   

A special account written by Axel Hernandez (author of the Crocodile Newts, from Université Pasquale Paoli de Corse, faculté des Sciences et Techniques, Corte, 20250, Haute-Corse.)

Salamandra algira (Bedriaga 1883)
North African Fire Salamander

The genus Salamandra most likely colonized the African continent during the Messinian Salinity Crisis via the Gibraltar land bridge (Escoriza et al. 2006; Beukema et al. 2010, 2013). Subsequent divergence was initiated approximately 3.6 mya on both sides of the Moulouya River in eastern Morocco, due to a period of cyclic fluctuations in climate and consequently vegetation in north-western Africa (Beukema et al. 2010, 2013). Climatic oscillations during the Upper Pliocene and Pleistocene have driven at least mitochondrial divergence in the hitherto recognized taxa (Beukema et al. 2010, 2013). The North African Fire Salamander Salamandra algira Bedriaga, 1883 is the only species of the genus Salamandra present in North Africa (Bons and Geniez 1996). Dubois and Raffaëlli (2009) recently revised the taxonomy of Salamandra algira populations and placed these in a new subgenus on its own, Algiandra.

Concerning its distribution, the North African Fire Salamander extends from northern Morocco to northeastern Algeria (Escoriza and Ben Hassine, 2015). In this broad area of distribution there are three subspecies to this date including: S. algira tingitana in the Tingitana Peninsula (northern Morocco) including Ceuta (Spain), S. algira splendens in the Middle Atlas and Rif mountains (northern Morocco), and S. algira spelaea in the Beni Snassen mountains (northeastern Morocco), being restricted the nominotypical form to northern Algeria (Ben Hassine et al. 2016). Suitable areas were also identified in northwest Tunisia, suggesting that, despite previously reported inability to detect S. algira in the region (Bogaerts et al. 2013), climatic conditions are suitable for the occurrence of this species, and the possibility of its persistence in the area cannot be fully discarded.

Recent publications have provided detailed accounts on the distribution and show local adaptive divergence of populations throughout the North African range therefore seems to be responsible for the majority of the observed differentiation (Bogaerts and Donaire-Barroso 2003; Beukema et al. 2010; Ben Hassine et al. 2016). Distribution data therefore remains critical in determination of individuals (Beukema et al. 2013) and recent studies clarify subspecific taxonomy of the species within Morocco (Bogaerts and Donaire-Barroso 2003; Escoriza and Comas, 2007; Beukema et al. 2013; Ben Hassine et al. 2016; Merabet et al. 2016). To this date, taxonomy is highly discussed into this group and various morphotypes are recognized with high genetic divergence especially in Morocco: Three major groups of S. algira tingitana are known from the Tingitana peninsula with different reproduction modes, one viviparous and one ovoviviparous (Bogaerts and Donaire-Barroso 2003; Beukema et al. 2010; Merabet et al. 2016; Hernandez 2016). The viviparous form of tingitana was also proposed as a full valid species by Dubois & Raffaëlli (2009). However, this consideration is discussed despite unanimous recognition of two very different forms (Beukema et al. 2010, 2013). Concerning S. algira splendens, two geographical groups are recognized: one in the Rif Mountains and one located in the Middle Atlas (Dubois & Raffaëlli 2009; Raffaëlli 2007, 2013; Beukema et al. 2013; Hernandez 2016).

Salamandra (Algiandra) algira algira

BEDRIAGA 1883
The Algerian Fire Salamander

Diagnosis and taxonomy

The holotype seems to not stated or known to exist; However, a neotype was later designated by Eiselt (1958) NHMW 9251 from the same locality as the original description of the holotype "Mt. Edough bei Bône, Algerien"(= Mts Edough, Algeria).

Salamandra algira algira is a slender bodied salamander with a relatively long, laterally-flattened tail. The background is usually black, but can also be dark brown. The animals possess small and few yellow spots on dorsal parts, arranged irregularly. Red pigment is rarely present but can be visible in juveniles and sometimes subadults (Pers. obs.). Ventral parts are totally black. Adults of both sexes attain a total length of about 230 mm, sometimes longer. The females are usually larger than males. The male's cloaca is much more swollen than the female’s cloaca.

According to recent phylogenetic studies, Algerian populations of Salamandra algira are genetically distinct from the Moroccan ones: S. algira algira is clustered with S. algira spelaea in a separate clade. The low genetic distance between subspecies S. a. spelaea and S. a. algira (0.02) has raised the question of whether S. a. spelaea truly represents a distinct subspecies or simply a highly divergent branch of S. a. algira (Ben Hassine et al. 2016).

Distribution

Salamandra algira algira is known to occur from 297 m (Zitouna) to 1550 m a.s.l. (Kabylie region) in the northern coastal mountains of Algeria including: Annaba, Kabylia, Blida Atlas and Oran regions. While the known distribution of the nominal subspecies is highly fragmented, recent phylogeographic insights into the species show weak structure among Algerian populations. Locality of Rarh el Maden, in the extreme north west of Algeria, applies rather to S. s. spelaea.

Habitat, ethology and ecology

According to various studies this subspecies is still poorly known. Almost no data on the phylogeography, ecology, reproduction, and morphological variation are known from the Algerian part of the species distribution range. This nocturnal subspecies lives near water points in oak or mixed forests mainly covered by Mediterranean maquis, Pinus and Quercus trees. It is only active during high rain periods of winter. During the day, individuals hide under superficial shelters such as rocks in humid weather throughout the activity period, while they retreat deep into karstic crevices or caves from the end of April to September. The Arabic common name for this species, Arous Chta, means "bride of the rain."

Habitat, ethology and ecology

This subspecies is ovoviviparous. 10 to 20 larvae are deposited in tanks, small fountains, small brooks and temporary ponds at the beginning of October up to February-March.

Status, threats and conservation

This relict subspecies is considered as Vulnerable by IUCN (VU) due to its severely fragmented distribution and ongoing decline in the extent and quality of its forest habitat in Morocco and Algeria (Donaire-Barroso et al. 2009).

Salamandra (Algiandra) algira tingitana

DONAIRE-BARROSO & BOGAERTS 2003
Tanger’s Fire Salamander

Diagnosis and taxonomy

The holotype (MNCN 41037) was designed from: "500 m altitude on Jabal Muse (= Jebel Musa) north Morocco". This subspecies is divided into two main forms with two various reproduction modes (pueriparous and larviparous) while mtDNA studies showed the taxon to consist of three different clades which diverged during the Pleistocene (Beukema et al. 2010). Populations from northwestern Morocco consistently lack red discoloration while often showing white specks or rosettes on the underside, they are pueriparous and larviparous (Clade 2); The northernmost populations were shown to possess a high tendency towards hypoluteism and melanism and are mainly pueriparous (Clade 1) while southern populations shows similar morphology as S. algira algira and are mainly larviparous (Clade 3) (Beukema et al. 2013; Hernandez 2016). The boundary between these is approximately located near the Oued Martil, with larvae occasionally having been found west of Tetouan, the southernmost population bearing fully-developed juveniles according to Beukema et al. (2010).

Distribution

S. algira tingitana is distributed in the Tingitana peninsula across the Oued Martil up to Chefchaouen. Populations of this subspecies are separated with S. algira splendens by a natural barrier, the river Oued Laou.

Habitat, ethology and ecology

According to ecological studies, Salamandra a. tingitana presents distinct habitats through its distribution, which have been suggested to be associated with distinct reproductive strategies. Pueriparous populations were originally described on Pinus and Quercus forests and in barely vegetated limestone formations up to 390 m a.s.l., in the Mediterranean-influenced northeast Tingitana peninsula, while a distinct habitat has been described for the southernmost larviparous populations of this subspecies, consisting of mountainous or hilly terrain up to at least 1,274 m a.s.l. near water sources and in half-open forests, agricultural terraces and limestone outcrops (Donaire-Barroso and Bogaerts 2003; Beukema et al. 2013). Ecological niche-based models have identified a weaker association with vegetation abundance and increased reliance on karstic substrates among the pueriparous populations (Beukema et al. 2010). The activity period ranges from October to March, throughout which individuals are exclusively nocturnal, and only emerge from their shelters during humid or rainy weather (Donaire-Barroso and Bogaerts 2003). Low temperatures (< 10°C) and presence of considerable wind does not have a negative influence on activity in general (Beukema et al. 2013; Hernandez 2016).

Reproduction

Most of the S. algira populations are larviparous, however, pueriparous behavior has been described in populations belonging to the S. a. tingitana lineage located north of Oued Martil, and this has been connected with a distinct ecological niche from the larviparous populations of this subspecies (Beukema et al. 2010; Escoriza and Ben Hassine 2014).

Status, threats and conservation

Vulnerable (as part of S. algira). The northernmost populations are highly threatened by rock extractions (Pers. obs.).

Salamandra (Algiandra) algira splendens

BEUKEMA, DE POUS, DONAIRE-BARROSO, BOGAERTS, GARCIA-PORTA, ESCORIZA, ARRIBAS, EL MOUDEN, & CARRANZA 2013
Splendid Moroccan Salamander

Diagnosis and taxonomy

The holotype (RMNH 40173) was designed from: "Aïn Tissimilan, Jebel el Kelaâ, Chefchaouen, western Rif Mountains, Morocco (N 35° 10.5, W 5° 14.6, 700 m a.s.l.)". The present participle splendens (Latin, from splendere = to shine) refers to the aesthetically pleasing appearance of this taxon, which is manifested in its pattern of bright yellow patches and red discolorations on a black background. According to the original description, S. algira splendens is a slender, large-sized (215 mm total length) North African Salamander having the combination of an elongated flat head, 1½ times longer than wide; long well separated limbs, fingers and tail; black coloration with rounded or elongated yellow markings and red discoloration; larvae-depositing. Salamandra algira splendens can be distinguished from all other North African Salamandra taxa by a combination of colour pattern and distribution.

Distribution

The occurrence of S. a. splendens is restricted to the western- and central Rif Mountains (from Chefchaouen to Imassinen and Jebel Aâloul, Jebel Rhelem) and the north-eastern Middle Atlas Mountains (from Tazekka to the Bou Iblane Massif) as described by Bons and Geniez (1996).

Habitat, ethology and ecology

The subspecies has been found between 600–2000 m a.s.l. in Middle Atlas Mountains, and between 280–1700 m a.s.l. in the western Rif Mountains (Beukema et al. 2013). Within this range, the distribution is largely limited to forests characterized by Abies maroccana, Cedrus atlantica, Pinus sp. and Quercus sp. or open karstic limestone formations (Donaire-Barroso and Bogaerts 2003; Beukema et al. 2013). At lower elevations populations can occur in shrub land chiefly composed of Pistacia sp. usually in the vicinity of brooks or springs. Individuals have incidentally been encountered in caves (Beukema et al. 2013).

Reproduction

The breeding season begins in October up to February which coincides with periods of high rainfall. Larvae are generally deposited from October to May in small water bodies, which vary from sources, small streams, temporary rain-filled ponds to small man-made concrete water reservoirs and irrigation channels. Metamorphosed juveniles can be found from beginning of January until the end of April, rarely up to summer or even past summer (Beukema et al. 2013; Raffaëlli 2013; Hernandez 2016).

Status, threats and conservation

This subspecies is considered as Vulnerable (as part of S. algira). The alteration and destruction of natural habitats are the main causes of population declines. The Rif region suffered from rampant deforestation.

Salamandra (Algiandra) algira spelaea

ESCORIZA AND COMAS 2007
Beni Snassen’s Fire Salamander

Diagnosis and taxonomy

The holotype (MNCN 2005-05550) was designed from: "Ouartass, Beni Snassen massif, Northeast-Morocco at approximately 1300 m above sea level".

According to Escoriza and Comas (2007), this subspecies is characterized by having the following morphological characters: “a slender body and tail with moderate size (77-236 mm TL). Head flat, longer than wide, with prominent eyes having a black iris. Snout rounded, limbs large, tail large and cylindrical. Jet black ground coloration with scattered rounded or elon-gated yellow blotches, not arranged in bands, located at head, dorsum and tail; predomi-nance of black over yellow. Large parotoid glands with reddish or some black glandular pores. Tiny red spots around parotoids, eyes, flanks, and on limbs and tail, sometimes as independent spots or fused to the yellow or white ones. Occasionally little white spots in lateral, gular and ventral region. Ventral and gular region black. Four fingers and five toes, all without membranes. Eight to eleven lat-eral tubercles. Tail a little shorter than head plus body. Ovoviviparous. Juveniles with similar color pattern as adults, with many white spots located on both sides of the body and without ventral spots”. Furthermore, according to various mitochondrial studies S. a. spelaea is the sister taxon of S. algira algira.

Distribution

The occurrence of S. a. splendens is restricted to the Beni Snassen Massif, Northeastern Morocco. The transition populations of S. a. algira recorded from Algeria in Rahr-el-Maden requires further studies to unravel their relationship with S. a. spelaea or the nominal subspecies.

Habitat, ethology and ecology

The subspecies has been found from 600 to 300 m a.s.l. occupying mixed forests that appear between these altitudinal ranges including Quercus, Pinus and Olea trees on limestone outcrops and granite soils near water bodies. Active individuals have been observed in November during humid or rainy weather, both in the late afternoon and night. During these observations, air temperature varied between 5.8 and 7 °C while humidity ranges between 75–85%. Larvae have been found in November and January, while fully metamorphosed juveniles were observed in mid-February (Escoriza and Comas 2007).

Reproduction

The reproduction is poorly known in this subspecies. Due to the nature of the soil most water bodies used for reproduction are man-made, such as cattle watering troughs or springs, although small puddles and temporary streams are also used to deposit larvae. The onset of the activity period is initiated by the late autumn rains, and continues throughout the winter (Escoriza and Comas 2007; Beukema et al. 2013).

Status, threats and conservation

This subspecies is considered as Vulnerable (as part of S. algira). Salamandra algira spelaea was proposed to qualify as Endangered by Escoriza and Comas (2007). The entire range of S. a. spelaea is subject to intensive human impact by means of logging, construction of buildings, canalization of natural springs and construction of fountains which prevent access to the limited water bodies by pregnant females. These actions have led to considerable desertification, especially on the southern slopes of the massif (Escoriza and Comas 2007).

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