Research Question: Could a City Exist in the Eye of a Giant Salamander?

I’m finishing up work on my Dying Earth story, “The Three Quests of the Wizard Sarnod,” and I have a research question for eye and amphibian experts: if there were a salamander as big as Rhode Island, could people build a city in one of its eyes? How moist would it be? Would there be a kind of mist? Would there be the stratification or layers we find in the atmosphere of Earth (stratosphere, etc.) and different conditions in each? Where in the eye would it be safest to build a city? Could you grow crops there?

The answers to these questions do not affect the writing of this particular scene–I am writing it regardless and will justify it however I need to–but I am interested anyway. In the story, enormous fire salamanders move monolithically through their super-hot underground world. The only place that is moist and protected enough from the heat is inside of or on the surface of the salamanders’ eyes. Thus the poor people condemned to this level must build their cities inside the eye of the salamander.


  1. says

    Eyeballs are filled with vitreous humor. It’s a thick gel with a consistency somewhere between grape jelly and stand-up-hair type gel. If you’ve a strong stomach, there are videos of various eyeballs expressing their inner qualities on Youtube.

    If I were going to write a city built in the eye of a giant salamander, I’d make it a domed city. Probably on the bottom of the eye, so that it wouldn’t get cooked whenever the salamander got sunlight in its eye. It would probably be possible to do some freaky kind of horticulture on the retina. Also, they could just cut out hunks of flesh because they’d regrow (or at least, it’s not an enormous stretch to say they would).

    I got no idea how tasty salamander is though. For all I know it’s toxic.

  2. says

    What happens when the salamander blinks? Or looks at something? Does the salamanders tear duct try to dislodge the city like a speck of dirt?

    What if there were two cities on the eye? Could you sail between them on a sea of bubbling tears?

  3. says

    Gigantic salamanders could definitely blink seldom enough to not be a short-term hazard.

    With at least some species, when they blink, their giant bulbous eyes half-retract into their heads.

    Also, if I were building a city inside of a salamander’s eye, I think the ideal solution would be to cut my way in slowly, like a mine. I’d hack off chunks of the sclera and carefully coat the inner walls of my tunnel with it, coaxing it to grow further and further inward and thus making the salamander’s body do the work for me. Once inside, I would need to grow the protective dome the same way so that the creature’s immune system didn’t evict me for non-payment of eye rent. Living directly on the surface of the retina would probably cause some immune reaction, so houses would probably be best put on stilts. Sleeping out of doors would be dangerous and people who did so would probably have a bad habit of waking up to find whatever part of them was in contact with the ‘ground’ was dissolved.

  4. says

    there are videos of various eyeballs expressing their inner qualities on Youtube.

    Eyeball: “I feel like I’m a compassionate being, with a creative spirit. My mother says I’m beautiful on the inside.”

  5. says

    This sentence is made of awesome:

    I would need to grow the protective dome the same way so that the creature’s immune system didn’t evict me for non-payment of eye rent.

    You rock for saying it.

    And Jeff- whatever this is I’m sold and will have to buy whatever it will be whenever it comes out in whatever form it will be in (I assume that Dying Earth anthology)? As they say in the 80’s, “You had me at giant salamander”

  6. says

    Jeff, I watched too much Cronenberg as a kid and grew up fascinated with all things oozing and biological. Plus I’ve got numerous friends who’re extra-squeamish about violence to eyes, and have thus amassed a stockpile of torment and I myself am unable to be squicked by … well, much of anything (except those ladies that collect super-real fake babies, that is just WRONG).

    Matt, that’s pretty much exactly it, yeah!

  7. says

    It *should* be in the Dying Earth antho unless they reject it for some reason. Of course, I haven’t even mentioned The Bloat Toad yet, which is in another section. Or the city of broken glass.


  8. says

    Paul, I try to amuse as well as inform.

    And Jeff, thanks for doing really fun research! Just in case you couldn’t tell by my engagement with the question, this sort of story is totally up my alley and I’ll be signing up to buy the antho as soon as I can.

    (I’m assuming it’s a closed one, or otherwise I would have known about the call for submissions and I’d be writing some whacked out thing of my own)

  9. Annie says

    Nope. Can’t build a city in its eye cause no animal can grow as large as Rhode Island (or even as large as a football stadium) without collapsing under its own weight due to gravity and physics associated with physiology. An Argentinasaurus (big honkin dinosaur) is about as large as a living land animal can get.

    Now if you insist that a Rhode Island Red salamander, which is way different from a Rhode Island red chicken, can exist, just cause you say so… well then everyone in the city of the eye has to have scuba gear, cause there’s no air… just cause I say so.

    I don’t think the city on/in the the eye would work cause if the giant salamander turns its head proportionally fast, then people would be flung out the windows or into the walls. If they were in the eye–would be like a snow globe of lil people floating round.

    If they live on the surface of the eye, ice skates might be handy to move around.

    Maybe they all have high blood pressure from all the salt (tears) that would be in their diet.

    If the city is on the lizards eye… Armageddon awaits:

  10. Mary C says

    Speaking of eyes, I found this news bite from AP

    Study: Giant Squid Has Biggest Eyes In World

    By RAY LILLEY – Associated Press Writer

    WELLINGTON, New Zealand(AP) Marine scientists studying the carcass of a rare colossal squid said Wednesday they had measured its eye at about 11 inches across _ larger than a dinner plate and the biggest animal eye on earth.

    One of the quid’s two eyes, with a lens as big as an orange, was found intact as the scientists examined the creature while it was slowly defrosted at New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa Tongarewa. It has been preserved there since being caught in the Ross Sea off Antarctica’s northern coast last year.

    “This is the only intact eye (of a colossal squid) that’s ever been found. It’s spectacular,” said Auckland University of Technology squid specialist Kat Bolstad, one of a team of international scientists brought in to examine the creature.

    “It’s the largest known eye in the animal kingdom,” Bolstad told The Associated Press.

    The squid is the biggest specimen ever caught of the rare and mysterious deep-water species Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, or colossal squid. It is 26 feet long and weighs almost 1,000 pounds, but scientists believe the species may grow as long as 46 feet.

    “This is the largest eye ever recorded in history and studied,” said Swedish professor Eric Warrant of the University of Lund, who specializes in vision in invertebrates. “It has a huge lens the size of an orange and captures an awful lot of light in the dark depths in which it hunts.”

    They can descend to 2 kilometers (6,500 feet) and are known to be aggressive hunters.

  11. says


    Well, they’re magical, so the size thing doesn’t really matter. And, in actual fact, they’re tiny. It’s just that the people in this underground place have been miniaturized. So proportionally, the things look gi-normous. I failed to mention that.

    Re moving quickly–I can see lots of rebuilding being needed.


  12. says

    I think I might have found a flaw in the use of a Fire Salamander as your vehicle for carrying human cities through a super hot underground world, Jeff :(

    Fire Salamander is a bit of a misnomer as Salamander comes from the Arabic and means ‘lives in fire’ yet they are amphibians and their skins take in both air and water so they have to live in a moist environment.

  13. says

    …and the bigger the city, the more obstruction to the salamander’s eye, so the more successful cities would end up eventually blinding their hosts, and thus bring about their eventually doom when the poor salamander walks face first into something.

  14. Annie says

    “I’m really thinking shanty town around the lid, that keeps getting destroyed by blinks every year or so, and then being rebuilt over the ruins.”

    Poor Salamander will have a crusty stye that keeps growing larger when they rebuild on the ruins. Eww. Hah!

  15. says

    How about cities built on floaters that skim across the surface of the eye? Technically the floaters are within the vitreous humour but there is some sort of floater (well from what little I know) that sits on the exterior and are caused by red blood cells that have escaped onto the eye surface. You could have engineers drill into the eye to release minute specks of blood which become islands. They then get built upon using debris collected like flotsam carried to the eyelid by tears (something like what you find on the sea-line) and those islands move unanchored around the eye surface. Each one could hold its own civilization, they could trade, have wars, amalgamate into larger islands which eventually cause cataracts or retinal detachment causing the salamander to become blind.

  16. Sierra Mayone says

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    Till next time http://www.healthmedicinebook.comax