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Thermal Imaging in Animal Physiology
 
Salamander in Fire

Legend has it that salamanders have the power to survive and extinguish fire, leading to many superstitions about their supposed magical powers (see alchemist's poem below).

It is obviously a myth that salamanders can survive fire, though this myth reveals some interesting aspects of their ecology and physiology. The more parsimonious reason that salamanders were thought to survive fires was due to their propensity to inhabit the soil beneath log piles. Upon bringing these logs indoors to be burned, the salamanders were seen fleeing the burning log as the temperatures rose incredibly high. Myth and superstition ascribed to salamanders the ability of spontaneous generation. However, they would not have survived the flames very long, though perhaps they had an advantage.

Salamanders, as amphibians, can breathe through their thin skin, though pay the price by always being tied to moist or damp environments. No doubt their moist skin and high rates of water loss afford salamanders with a short window in which to make their escape of the fire, thus showing how a little understanding of animal physiology can help debunk knowledge borne out of a lack of scientific understanding.

About the only similarity between salamanders and fire is that both the salamander and the fire require oxygen. The fire of life (i.e. metabolism and thermoregulation) contained within all animals is quenched when they are deprived of oxygen. How, and why, this occurs is the main driving force behind my research.


AN ALCHEMIST'S POEM:
A SALAMANDER LIVES IN THE FIRE, WHICH IMPARTS TO IT A MOST GLORIOUS HUE.


This is the reiteration, gradation, and amelioration
of the Tincture, or Philosopher's Stone;
and the whole is called its Augmentation.
In all fables we are told
That the Salamander is born in the fire;
In the fire it has that food and life
Which Nature herself has assigned to it.
It dwells in a great mountain
Which is encompassed by many flames,
And one of these is ever smaller than another -
Herein the Salamander bathes.
The third is greater, the fourth brighter than the rest -
In all these the Salamander washes, and is purified.
Then he hies him to his cave,
But on the way is caught and pierced
So that it dies, and yields up its life with its blood.
But this, too, happens for its good:
For from its blood it wins immortal life,
And then death has no more power over it.
Its blood is the most precious Medicine upon earth,
The same has not its like in the world.
For this blood drives away all disease
In the bodies of metals,
Of men, and of beasts.
From it the Sages derive their science,
And through it they attain the Heavenly Gift,
Which is called the Philosopher's Stone,
Possessing the power of the whole world.
This gift the Sages impart to us with loving hearts,
That we may remember them for ever

- From: BOOK OF LAMBSPRING
 
Brock University, Department of Biological Sciences
MacKenzie Chown F242, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, L2S 3A1
Tel: 905-688-5550 x4815
Email: Glenn Tattersall
Updated: March 5, 2005
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