Bigger animals tend to live longer smaller animals (not always). Think about it- humans live longer than dogs, which live longer than rats, which live longer than bugs. However, when it comes to salamanders, this isn’t the case. Many salamander species have lifespans that far exceed those of much larger animals.
Depending on the species, salamanders live on average 10-20 years in the wild. However, in captivity, most of their natural threats are eliminated, enabling them to live even longer than that. Some can live up to 50, and in some species even longer than 70.
There are over 600 salamander species, and the lifespan can vary dramatically among them. For example, the average lifespan of longtail salamander is estimated to only be 8-10 years in the wild. However, olms (a type of aquatic salamander), have a lifespan estimated to be over 100 years!
The Lifespans of 29 Different Salamanders
|Type of Salamander
|Estimated lifespan in the Wild
|Maximum recorded longevity
|Yellow Spotted Salamander
|Northern two-lined Salamander
|Red Hills Salamander
|Spotted tail Salamander
|Northern Dusky Salamander
|Mountain Dusky Salamander
|Texas Blind Salamander
|Japanese giant Salamander
|Chinese giant Salamander
|Unknown, but estimated to be over 100
Bear in mind that these numbers are not set in stone. Scientists rarely record longevity information, because it requires long-term care (and good record-keeping) of the species under study.
Figures recorded in the scientific literature may vary widely. Also, some salamanders may be able to live much longer than the maximum longevity recorded for their species.
See also: How long do newts live.
The Longest Lived Salamander
A small cave salamander called the Olm broke the world record for the longest-lived amphibian, according to a study by French scientists. This salamander has a lifespan estimated to be over 100 years! This is nearly double that of the Japanese giant salamander, which is the second longest living amphibian.
The olm only reaches adulthood after 15 years, also making it one of the slowest growing salamanders. However, this longevity is unusual so most salamander species will not reach this age. The vast majority of salamanders do not live beyond 30.
In 2015, there were numerous reports of a supposed 200-year-old Chinese giant salamander found in a cave in China.
However, many scientists cast doubt on this age estimation. The oldest documented Chinese giant salamander lived to only 50 years old, so 200 is at odds with current scientific knowledge.
Still, if this salamander really was 200 years old, it would be the oldest salamander ever found, and certainly, one of the oldest living vertebrates ever discovered.
Salamander Lifespan: Wild vs Captive
In the wild, salamanders have many predators. They have to deal with snakes, turtles, birds, skunks, raccoons, and even larger amphibians such as frogs and toads.
An estimated 90% of all salamanders are wiped out by predators before they even hatch.
In addition, wild salamanders deal with extreme weather (extreme cold in the winter, and extreme heat/dryness in the summer), and sometimes struggle to find prey.
In comparison, captive salamanders don’t have to deal with any predators, are shielded from the elements, and have a seemingly never-ending supply of food.
Given this, captive salamanders can live longer than those in the wild, provided they are cared for properly.
Factors That Affect a Salamanders Lifespan in Captivity
Since salamanders have very long lives, it is extremely difficult for someone to care for a salamander for decades without a single accident, or even a brief period of neglect.
Something as simple as a salamander escaping its enclosure could be fatal for the animal.
Due to this, most captive salamanders do not live to their potential age.
How Diet Affects Life Expectancy
In the wild, salamanders get all the vitamins and minerals they need from the wide variety of prey they eat. In captivity, their diet is very limited.
Giving a captive salamander a diet that does not meet all its nutritional requirements will negatively affect its life expectancy. It could lead to the salamander having weak bones and a weak immune system.
This weakened immune system would then make it possible for opportunistic infections to cause serious, sometimes and sometimes, fatal illnesses.
Also, regularly feeding a salamander foods with a high-fat content (such as pinkie mice) may lead to obesity. Obesity can then lead to several health problems that negatively impact the lifespan of the salamander
For this reason, captive salamanders should be fed a varied and balanced diet so they can live long and healthy lives.
How General Care Affects Life Expectancy
Poor care is the leading cause of death among captive salamanders. A captive salamander will need a habitat that very closely replicates its natural environment. Failing to provide this will compromise the welfare of the salamander.
For example, housing terrestrial salamander, such as a tiger salamander in a tank without a sufficient land area means it will have a poor quality of life.
Additionally, different salamander species have very specific lighting and temperature requirements. Failing to meet the specific housing requirements of a captive salamander will hurt its life expectancy.
Sometimes, things go wrong. For beginners, this is usually due to poor knowledge. But even for the experienced, accidents still happen.
One of the most common accidents is a salamander escaping from its tank. Since salamanders need to keep their skin moist, an escaped salamander may dry out and die if is not found quickly enough.
Another accident could be a power outage or malfunctioning equipment. Since salamanders need to be kept in a controlled environment, a simple temperature drop/rise could stress or kill the animals.
The prevalence of accidents means many captive salamanders die before they can live to their true potential age.
Health Problems to Look Out for in Aging Salamanders
Salamanders are susceptible to several kinds of bacterial and fungal infections. They are especially vulnerable as their immune systems decline with age.
They can experience something known as bloat, in which the salamander’s torso swells up. However, this is not a disease in itself, rather it is a symptom that could be a sign of kidney failure or a bacterial infection such as red-leg syndrome.
Another problem to watch out for is flakey skin or abnormal molting (shedding of the skin). This Is usually a sign that a salamander is sick or stressed due to improper care.
These symptoms and many more will require medical attention, so take your salamander to a herp veterinarian. Leaving an infection/illness untreated will undoubtedly negatively affect the salamander’s lifespan
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Does touching a salamander kill it?
Answer: Salamanders are amphibians, so they have very sensitive absorbent skins. This means oils, salts, and chemicals on your hands could penetrate their skin and end up inside of their bodies.
When these substances enter their bodies, they could lead to infections that could be fatal to the salamander. Therefore, touching a salamander could indeed kill it, but only if you do so harmful substances on your hands.
If you ever want to handle any salamander, you should very thoroughly wash your hands, or wear gloves to protect the animal. Even then, it’s still advisable to keep your salamander handling to a minimum!
Salamanders can be very long-lived. Since there are so many salamander species, the exact lifespan varies dramatically between the different species.
Salamanders in captivity could in theory live longer than those in the wild, but this is not always the case in reality. This is mainly because caring for captive salamanders is not easy, so mistakes and accidents frequently happen.
If you want your salamander to live a long life, giving it the proper care is crucial. Also, don’t handle it too often!