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 that produce a toxic sticky secretion that tastes bad to predators. This secretion is irritating when it comes in contact with your eyes and mucous membranes. It is also irritating to dogs or cats that ingest it via the mouth or eyes.
Despite their poisonous secretion, blue-spotted salamanders are usually harmless to humans. Their toxin is only harmful when ingested (such as when you pick up a blue-spotted salamander with your bare hands, then rub your eyes before washing your hands).
To be safe, practice good hygiene and observe a few safety precautions every time you handle blue-spotted – or any other salamanders (more information on that is below).
Blue-spotted Salamanders Only Have a Mild Toxin
A dog or cat that has an encounter with a blue-spotted salamander and ingests its secretion may salivate excessively or possibly even vomit.
Fortunately, the secretion is merely irritating, and won’t kill or seriously harm dogs, cats, or most other pets.
Many Toxic Animals Have Colorful Patterns
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 associate the coloration with a bad meal. In this way, the coloration acts a defense.
Blue-Spotted Salamanders Are Not Venomous
If you are like most people, you have used the words ‘poisonous’ and ‘venomous’ interchangeably at least once. However, you should know that there are significant differences between the two terms.
- Venom is actively injected, usually through stings, fangs, or barbs (think rattlesnakes, scorpions).
- Poison is passively delivered and has to be absorbed/ingested into your body. It can be ingested when it comes into contact with your eyes, lips, mucus lining of the nose, or open cuts on your skin (think poison dart frogs).
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 by touching, licking, or breathing it in, the animal is poisonous.
In this way, coral snakes, scorpions, and many wasps are venomous while many frogs, toads, and salamanders are poisonous.
Blue-spotted salamanders secrete a toxin on their skin, but cannot actively inject this toxin into a predator. This means they are poisonous, but not venomous.
Are Blue-Spotted Salamanders Dangerous to Humans?
Blue-spotted salamanders typically aren’t dangerous to humans. While they do produce a toxic skin secretion when threatened, the secretion isn’t potent enough to be of serious harm to humans. Granted, it may cause irritation or discomfort, but only if you somehow ingest it.
The toxin is not absorbed through your skin but can be absorbed through breaks or cuts on the skin, and the mucous membranes in your eyes, nose, or mouth.
This can happen when you pick up a blue-spotted salamander with your bare hands, then rub your eyes, or stick your fingers in your nose or mouth without first washing your hands.
Doing this would enable the toxin to be absorbed by your mucus membranes and likely lead to strong irritation and general discomfort.
If the toxin comes in contact with your eyes, you may get a very painful sting, somewhat similar to the feeling you get when chili gets in your eye. It may even cause inflammation in the mucous membranes of your eyes.
You can also ingest the toxin when you handle a blue-spotted salamander with open cuts or scratches on your hands. This would most likely lead to an intense burning sensation and a feeling of numbness at the point of contact. But usually nothing more serious.
For this reason, it is a good idea to avoid handling blue-spotted salamanders. Although their poison is not lethal when ingested by humans, it can still be very irritating.
If you ever need to handle a blue-spotted salamander, remember to avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth until you have washed your hands.
It’s Not Only Toxins to Be Worried About
Like most amphibians, blue-spotted salamanders can be carriers of salmonella and other bacteria that are harmful to humans.
The bacteria usually do not cause any illness in the salamander – so a blue-spotted salamander carrying salmonella bacteria can look very clean and healthy, but the bacteria can be transmitted to humans.
You can be exposed to salmonella by touching a salamander, its droppings, or anything that the salamander came in contact with.
Exposure to salmonella bacteria can cause an infection called salmonellosis in humans which is characterized by diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and stomach cramps.
Fortunately, you won’t get sick by simply touching a blue-spotted salamander. The bacteria can only cause illness when they are ingested.
Therefore, thoroughly washing your hands with anti-bacterial soap immediately after touching a blue-spotted salamander should keep you out of harm’s way.
Are Blue-spotted Salamanders Dangerous to Dogs or Cats?
If a dog or cat were to attack 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.
Ingesting this secretion may cause a dog to salivate excessively, foam in the mouth, or possibly even vomit. Although only mildly poisonous, the secretion is still strong enough seriously irritate a dog or cat.
The intensity of your pet’s symptoms will depend on many factors including, the quantity of the secretion your pet ingested, your pet’s weight, and its general state of health. Small or sickly dogs/cats will generally be affected more.
For this reason, it’s a good idea to keep your pets away from blue-spotted salamanders, or any other amphibians, be it wild or captive amphibians you have at home.
Check out this post for more in-depth information on this.
Blue-Spotted Salamanders Can Carry Parasites
Salamanders and other amphibians are known to carry roundworms, tapeworms, and other parasites. This means if a dog (or cat) eats a blue-spotted salamander, it is not only at risk of poisoning but may also consume parasites and develop a parasitic infection.
Also, dogs (or cats) much like humans, can contract salmonella bacteria through contact with salamanders.
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 blue-spotted salamander, take the following precautions to protect both you and the animal.
- 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.
- Keep the salamander away from your eyes nose and mouth and, be very careful not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.
- As you handle the salamander, do it very gently and with care so you do not injure or stress the animal in any way.
Amphibians should only be handled for a short time. Handling a salamander too long can cause stress to the animal and dry out its skin.
- Wash your hands with antibacterial soap under running water.
As earlier mentioned, blue-spotted salamanders can carry bacteria (and toxins) so wash your hands for your own safety. Before washing your hands, do not rub your eyes, touch your face, or put anything in your mouth.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS):
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.