Are Blue-Spotted Salamanders Poisonous to Humans or Pets?

Blue-spotted salamanders are colorful amphibians found in the United States and Canada. These salamanders are easily identifiable by the beautiful bluish-white spots and flecks on their bluish-black skin. You may have seen one of these salamanders and wondered if they are poisonous.

Blue-spotted Salamanders are mildly poisonous. They have granular glands on their tail that produce a sticky secretion to defend against predators. This secretion is only mildly toxic and may cause irritation or discomfort to humans, but usually nothing more serious.

Other than that, blue-spotted salamanders are harmless. The only real concern is that, like most amphibians, they can carry Salmonella and other germs in their bodies that are harmful to humans.

To be safe, practice good hygiene and observe a few safety precautions every time you handle any salamanders.

Blue-spotted Salamanders Only Have a Mild Toxin

Blue-spotted salamanders produce a whitish, toxic substance concentrated on the upper surface of the tail. This secretion makes them taste bad to any predators that try to eat them. Since this secretion is toxic, it can irritate humans who ingest it (usually through the eyes or mouth) but will usually not cause serious harm.

The secretion may also have the added benefit of making the salamander sticky/slightly slimy, making it harder for predators to get a firm grip.

Many Toxic Animals Have Colorful Patterns

Brightly colored blue-spotted salamander

In nature, many toxic or foul-tasting animals advertise the fact that they are toxic by having bright or contrasting colors. This is known as ‘warning coloration‘ and acts as a defense against predators.

If your defense against being eaten is being toxic or foul-tasting, it’s best to advertise that before something takes a bite out of you! Think of it like holding up a sign that says “back off, am poisonous!”

In the case of blue-spotted salamanders, the distinctive blue spots against a black background tell predators to stay away.

A predator that bites into a blue-spotted salamander would get a mouthful of foul-tasting toxin and most likely let go.

The next time that predator sees another similarly colored salamander, it will remember the experience and avoid eating it.

Poisonous vs Venomous

You have probably heard the words poisonous and venomous, used interchangeably. However, these two words have very different meanings.

Generally,

  • Venom is actively injected
  • Poison is passively delivered

A simple way of looking at is, If an animal has to bite or sting you to deliver its toxins, it is venomous. If you absorb the toxin but touching, licking, or breathing it in, the animal is poisonous.

Blue spotted salamanders are poisonous but not venomous

In this way, coral snakes, scorpions, and many wasps are venomous while many frogs, toads, and salamanders (Including the blue-spotted salamander) are poisonous.

Blue-spotted Salamanders Typically Aren’t a Danger to Humans

Blue-spotted salamanders usually aren’t anything to be worried about. While they do poses a toxin, it simply isn’t potent enough to be of serious harm to humans. Granted, it may cause some irritation or discomfort, but only if you ingest it.

This can happen by, for instance, handling a salamander with your bare hands, then touching your eyes or mouth without first washing your hands.

It’s Not Toxins to Be Worried About

Like most amphibians, blue-spotted salamanders can be carriers of salmonella and other bacteria that are harmful to humans. A salamander with salmonella may look clean and healthy but it can still pass the bacteria on to humans.

Salmonella bacteria
Salmonella bacteria

You can be exposed to salmonella by touching the salamander, its droppings, or anything that the salamander touches. Exposure to salmonella bacteria can cause an infection called salmonellosis in humans which is characterized by diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and stomach cramps.

For this reason, it’s a good idea to keep salamanders and all other amphibians at a distance. Only handle them when necessary, and when you do, wash your hands with antibacterial soap after. Before washing your hands, do not touch your eyes or mouth.

Children younger than 5 have weak immune systems and tend to stick their hands in their mouths more frequently than adults. For this reason, it is not a good idea to let them handle any amphibians. A child sticking their hands in their mouth after holding a salamander can make them ill.

Are Blue-spotted Salamanders Dangerous to Dogs or Cats?

If a dog or cat were to bite into a blue-spotted salamander, it would get a mouthful of foul-tasting secretion and most likely let go right away. The secretion is also quite sticky, further distracting the dog from messing with the salamander.

A dog (or cat) that ingests this secretion, may slobber, spit or drool. The intensity of your pet’s symptoms will depend on many factors including, how much toxin your pet ingested, your pet’s weight, and its general state of health.

Although not lethal, the secretion can still make a pet sick. For this reason, it’s a good idea to keep your pets away from any amphibians, be it wild or captive amphibians you have at home.

Check out this post for more in-depth information on this.

How to Safely Handle a Blue-spotted Salamander

Amphibians are not ideal for handling due to their permeable skin. Water, lotions, and other chemicals on your hands will pass right through their skin and be absorbed into their bodies.

This means handling a salamander with dirty hands can hurt and even potentially kill the animal. For this reason, it is advisable to keep your amphibian handling to a minimum.

If you never have to handle a salamander, take the following precautions to protect both you and the animal.

Before Handling:
  • Make sure that your hands are very clean. Not just clean from dirt, but washed off thoroughly so that there is no residue of soap or any other potentially harmful substances remaining on your hands.

Even better, you could wear protective gloves (such as vinyl gloves) to prevent any potentially harmful substances on your hands from getting onto the salamanders’ skin.

After Handling:
  • Wash your hands with anti-bacterial soap, under running water.

As mentioned earlier, salamanders can carry bacteria (and toxins) so wash your hands for your own safety. Before washing your hands, do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Question: Can You Keep a Blue-Spotted Salamander as a Pet?

Answer: While not the most common pet amphibian, blue-spotted salamanders can be kept as pets. That being said, it is important to emphasize that you should never capture wild salamanders to keep as pets.

Certain salamander species are protected in different areas, so you could be breaking the law by taking a salamander out of the wild.

Question: What Do Blue-Spotted Salamanders Eat?

Answer: Like all terrestrial salamanders, blue-spotted salamanders are strict carnivores. They eat worms, slugs, worms soft-bodied insects, and other invertebrates.

Question: Are Blue-Spotted Salamanders Endangered?

Answer: Blue-spotted Salamanders are currently listed as a species of least concern, meaning they are not endangered. However, in recent years, they have been threatened due to habitat loss and are endangered in several states.

Conclusion

Although blue-spotted salamanders have a toxin to defend themselves from predators, they are totally harmless when left alone.

The only danger comes when you touch them and ingest their toxins, usually by rubbing your eyes before washing your hands. This would give you a painful sting, but will most likely not cause any serious harm.

Also, amphibians are very delicate creatures that can be harmed by substances on your hands, so it’s best you don’t touch them.