Marbled salamanders are common throughout much of the eastern United States. These secretive amphibians are easy to identify by the silvery cross bands along their bodies.
Marbled Salamanders have poison glands on their tails that produce a foul-tasting secretion as a defense against predators. This secretion is only mildly poisonous and is of no serious danger to humans, but it can make small animals (such as mice) sick.
The most likely way you would be harmed by a marbled salamanders toxin would be by handling one with your hands, then touching your eyes or mouth without first washing your hands.
Doing this would enable the salamanders’ toxic secretion to be absorbed by your mucous membranes, leading to irritation. However, it most likely won’t result in any serious harm.
Why Marbled Salamanders Have a Toxin
Marbled salamanders are very stocky amphibians sometimes called ‘banded salamanders’ because of the white bands around its body.
The most likely time you would come across a marbled salamander would be during the breeding season or when the salamander comes out of its hiding spot to forage for food.
When marbled salamanders do come above ground, they are a target for a variety of predators, including owls, Weasels, raccoons, and snakes. This means they need a way to defend themselves from all these animals trying to eat them.
The marbled Salamander’s first line of defense is to try to blend in with its surroundings. It will simply dash to cover and hide when it feels threatened.
When this does not work, the salamander has more options to defend itself. It can secrete a milky toxin all over its skin, making it taste horrible to any animal that tries to eat.
Marbled Salamanders Only Have a Mild Toxin
Since their toxin is only mild, marbled salamanders are still vulnerable to lots of predators.
That said, it is worth noting that there is a difference between a poisonous animal and a venous one. Most people use two terms interchangeably, but they have very different meanings.
- Venom Is Actively Injected While Poison Is More Passive.
If an animal has to bite or sting to inject its toxins, it is venomous. An animal that releases toxins on its skin, which are then absorbed by animals (or humans) that come in contact with it; it is poisonous.
In this way, coral snakes and rattlesnakes are venomous while cane toads and many salamanders (including the marbled salamander) are poisonous.
Marbled Salamanders Typically Aren’t Dangerous to Humans
This can happen when you handle a marbled salamander with your bare hands, then touch your eyes or stick your fingers mouth without first washing your hands.
What Would Happen if You Ingested a Marbled Salamanders Toxin?
There are mainly three ways a person would ingest a marbled salamanders toxin: Through the mouth, through the eyes, and through cuts or scratches on the skin.
Through the mouth: Since most people won’t put a salamander in their mouth, the mostly way you ingest toxins this way would be by touching a marbled salamander that has secreted toxins all over its skin, then putting your fingers in your mouth before first washing your hands.
Ingesting only tiny quantities of the salamander’s secretion through your mouth won’t cause much of a problem. However, ingesting significant quantities of the secretion could make you vomit or fall sick.
Through the eyes: The most likely way this would happen would be by rubbing your eyes when, or shortly after handing a marbled salamander (without first washing your hands). In most cases, this will give you a painful sting, and could even lead to swelling.
Through cuts or breaks on the skin: This would most likely lead to a burning sensation and a feeling of numbness, but nothing more serious.
Amphibians Can Carry Salmonella & Many Parasites
Humans can come into contact with salmonella by touching the salamander, its droppings, or anything the salamander touches. The Salmonella bacteria on your hands can then spread to other people, surfaces, or be ingested into your body.
Exposure to salmonella can cause an infection called salmonellosis in which is characterized by diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever.
For this reason, it is advisable to keep all salamanders at a distance. Only handle them when necessary, and when you do, wash your hands with anti-bacterial soap after. Before washing your hands, do not touch anything but especially not your mouth or face.
Are Marbled Salamanders Dangerous to Dogs or Other Pets?
Since marbled salamanders only have an extremely mild toxin, it is unlikely they will be a great danger to dogs or other household pets. A dog (or cat) that mouths a marbled salamander will get a mouthful of foul-tasting toxin and most likely let go.
If the dog ingests enough of the salamanders’ toxic secretion, it may slobber, spit or drool but should be fine
Also, like humans, household pets can get salmonella through contact with amphibians. A dog with a salmonella infection can get really sick.
In addition to salmonella, salamanders can carry tapeworms, flukes, and other parasites in their bodies. If a dog (or cat) were to eat a marbled salamander, there is a possibility it will consume parasites as well and develop a parasitic infection.
For this reason, it is a good idea to keep your pets away from salamanders. Even those that are not lethally toxic can still be harmful.
Safety Precautions to Take When Handling Salamanders
It is generally not a good idea to handle salamanders or any other amphibians. This is because they have very sensitive permeable skin that absorbs water and other substances it comes in contact with. Lotions, repellents, and even soap on your hands can be harmful to the salamander.
For this reason, you should keep your salamander handling to a minimum. When you do handle salamanders, take the following safety 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 remain.
- Keep the salamander away from your face, but especially your eyes and mouth
- Do not touch or scratch your face
- Wash your hands with anti-bacterial soap.
As mentioned earlier, salamanders can carry bacteria (and toxins) so wash your hand for your own safety. Before washing your hands, do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: How Big Do Marbled Salamanders Get?
Answer: Marbled Salamanders are on the smaller side of the mole salamanders, only growing to 5- 4.5 inches. This is quite small when compared to the much larger tiger salamanders which can grow to over 8 inches.
Question: Do Marbled Salamanders Bite?
Answer: All salamanders can bite. If an animal has a mouth, it most likely can use it to bite. However, marbled salamanders are very docile creatures that will rarely ever intentionally bite a human.
The most likely time a marbled salamander may bite is during aggressive feeding when it mistakes your finger for a worm.
A bite from a marbled salamander is nothing to be worried about. Its tiny teeth likely won’t even penetrate your skin.
Check out this post where I go into more detail on the topic.
Question: Are Marbled Salamanders Endangered?
Answer: Marbled salamanders are quite common and are not listed as endangered. However, these salamanders face a lot of problems mainly habitat loss, and water pollution.
Also, many salamanders are run over when they try to cross busy roads. So, although currently not endangered, marbled salamanders do face many threats.
Marbled salamanders can be totally harmless creatures when handled with care and basic hygiene. The only real threat they pose is as a result of being carriers of salmonella and other bacteria, which can be transmitted to humans when proper hygiene is not followed.
Practice sufficient levels of hygiene whenever you handle these salamanders, and you will be totally fine.