Slimy salamanders are mediumly sized amphibians found throughout much of the eastern united states. These salamanders are easy to identify by their black bodies with numerous, well-scattered white spots on the back and sides. But are slimy salamanders poisonous?
Slimy salamanders are mildly poisonous. They release a poisonous slime from glands on their skin to fight off predators. This slime is also very sticky and causes dirt and other debris to stick to the predator’s mouth.
While the predator is trying to remove the sticky slime, the salamander can escape unnoticed.
That being said, it is important to note that although slimy salamanders do possess a toxin, this toxin is no serious danger to humans. However, it can still be harmful, but only if it is somehow ingested.
As a safety precaution, wash your hands after handling any amphibians. Be sure to not touch your face or put anything in your mouth before washing your hands.
Why Slimy Salamanders Have a Toxin
When you hear the name “slimy salamander”, the first thing that probably comes to your mind is a very slimy salamander. However, these salamanders are somewhat misnamed; a better name would be “sticky salamander” because they are more sticky than slimy.
Slimy salamanders were once thought to be a single species. However, scientists recently split them into thirteen different subspecies; with some sources listing up to 16 subspecies.
These subspecies make up the “slimy salamander complex” and are visually indistinguishable from each other but have genetic differences.
Since the subspecies look the same, the main way you can tell them apart is by knowing the origin of each species.
The subspecies that usually occur in South Carolina is known as the South Carolina Slimy salamander, the subspecies that usually occurs in the Chattahoochee National Forest is known as the Chattahoochee Slimy Salamander, etc (there are exceptions).
Regardless of subspecies, slimy salamanders prefer moist forested areas near streams with lots of ground cover to hide under. On humid nights, they leave their hiding spots and wander the forest floor in search of food.
As slow-moving creatures with soft bodies, slimy salamanders are very vulnerable to a variety of predators when they leave cover.
To defend themselves, they will secrete a thick sticky mucous that sticks to any predator’s mouth. This secretion is also somewhat toxic and will taste horrible to any animal unfortunate enough to get it in its mouth.
Slimy Salamanders Are Only Mildly Poisonous
That being said, it’s important to know that there is a difference between a poisonous animal and a venomous one.
- Venomous animals actively inject their toxin, usually through fangs or stings.
- Poisonous animals, on the other hand, deliver the toxins more passively, often secreting toxins on their skin, which are then absorbed when the animal is touched or eaten.
Since slimy salamanders do not have any ability to actively inject their toxin, they are poisonous, but not venomous.
More Goo Than Poison
Since slimy salamanders are only mildly poisonous, their toxins are not potent enough to deter most predators. As such, the sticky slime they secrete acts as their main defense.
Any animal that tries to eat a slimy salamander will get a mouthful of very sticky slime and release the salamander while it attempts to rub off the goo.
Leaves, dirt, and other debris also stick to the predator’s mouth, further providing a distraction for the salamander to slip away unnoticed.
Are Slimy Salamanders Dangerous to Humans?
If you ever handle a slimy salamander, the salamander will coat your hands in a sticky mucous that is very difficult to wash off.
While this mucous does possess a toxin, the toxin is simply not potent enough to be of any real danger to humans. Granted, it can cause some irritation or discomfort, but only if you somehow ingest it.
The most likely way one would ingest the toxin would be by handling a slimy salamander with your bare hands, then touching your eyes or mouth without first washing your hands.
Doing this would enable the toxins to be absorbed into your body and most likely lead to irritation or discomfort.
It’s Not Just the Toxins You Should Worry About
Like most amphibians, slimy salamanders can carry salmonella bacteria in their intestines and pass it off in their waste.
The bacteria usually do not cause any illness in the salamander but cause an infection called salmonellosis in people who have contact with the salamander, its feces, or anything the salamander touches.
Fortunately, you won’t catch a salmonella infection by merely touching a salamander. The bacteria can only cause illness when it is ingested into your body.
Are Slimy Salamanders Dangerous to Dogs or Cats?
A dog, cat, or any other household pet that licks, eats, or mouths a slimy salamander will get sticky slime on its mouth and most likely let go immediately. Since this slime is also somewhat toxic, it can irritate the pet and cause it to slobber, drool, spit, but most likely nothing more than that.
Also, much like humans, pets can be exposed to salmonella through contact with amphibians. A dog exposed to salmonella can become sick.
In addition to salmonella, salamanders can carry parasites such as tapeworms or nematode worms in their bodies. If a dog were to eat a slimy salamander, it could also consume parasites and develop a parasitic infection.
For this reason, it is advisable to keep your dogs (or cats) away from any salamanders. If you have pet salamanders at home, keep them secured in their enclosure so they do not have contact with any of your other pets.
How to Safely Handle a Slimy Salamander
Generally, it is not a good idea to handle amphibians. This is because they have very sensitive permeable skin that can absorb substances it comes in contact with.
This means oils, lotions, perfumes, and other substances on your hands could potentially penetrate their skin and end up in their bodies.
For this reason, it is advisable to keep your salamander handling to a minimum. If you ever want to handle a slimy salamander, take the following precautions to protect both you and the animal.
- Very thoroughly wash your hands. Make sure that your hands are so clean that no residue of soap or any other substance remains on them.
- Do not restrain or put pressure on the animal. Slimy salamanders only release their signature slime to defend themselves when they feel threatened.
Let the salamander walk on your hands, without restraining it so it does not release its slim all over your hands. You may have to do a little bit of treadmilling.
- Only handle the salamander for a short time. Salamanders do not like to be handled by humans or anything bigger than them. Handing a salamander for too long can cause it stress.
After handling salamanders, be sure to wash your hands with antibacterial soap. Even if you were wearing gloves, it is a good idea to go the extra mile and wash your hands.
As mentioned before, amphibians can carry salmonella so you best protect yourself. Do not touch your face or put anything in your mouth before you wash your hands.
Question: Can a Slimy Salamander Kill You?
Answer: Since slimy salamanders only have a mild toxin, their toxin is not potent enough to be fatal to humans. However, if you ingest large quantities of this toxin, such as by eating or licking a slimy salamander, the toxin can make you vomit or fall ill.
Also, since slimy salamanders may carry salmonella and other bacteria, eating or licking a slimy animal can make you catch salmonellosis, which can be fatal.
Question: Does Touching a Slimy Salamander Kill It?
Answer: As mentioned earlier, salamanders have very delicate permeable skins. For this reason, handling a slimy salamander with soap, perfumes, repellents or any other harmful substances on your hands can seriously harm, or even possibly kill a slimy salamander.
Slimy salamanders are beautiful amphibians that are very commonly encountered in their range. While they are somewhat poisonous, their toxins are not potent enough to be of any serious harm to humans.
The only real danger they pose is that they can be carriers of salmonella which can be passed off to humans if proper hygiene is not followed.
If you ever need to handle a slimy salamander, it is a good idea to go the extra mile to wear protective gloves. Wearing gloves will not only protect you from the salamander’s secretions but will also protect the salamander from any potentially harmful substances on your hands.
With proper handling, slimy salamanders are harmless creatures.