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What Is a Tiger Salamander?

L. Whitaker
L. Whitaker

The tiger salamander, scientific name Ambystoma tigrinium, is one of several subspecies of mole salamanders, which are nocturnal amphibians that spend much of their time burrowed beneath the soil near a water source. They get their name from the vertical markings on their backs, typically in the form of yellowish stripe-like or splotchy marks over a black or dark foundation. With a thick body and long tail, the tiger salamander is one of the largest salamanders found in North America. Tiger salamanders do not reach reproductive maturity for up to five years and can sometimes live as long as 15 years in the wild.

Tiger salamanders typically grow to be 6-8 inches (15.2-20.3 cm) long as adults, although specimens have been found as long as 14 inches (35 cm). Like other subspecies of mole salamanders, they are nocturnal carnivores who spend the day burrowed deeply in wet soil, coming out at night to eat small creatures such as frogs, worms, roaches, and crickets. Females reproduce by depositing a mass of 25 to 50 fertilized eggs underwater on a twig or weed. The eggs hatch in approximately four weeks, producing larvae called waterdogs that will stay in the water for several months.

A tiger salamander.
A tiger salamander.

In the U.S., subspecies of tiger salamanders exist in a habitat range from northern Florida to southernmost New York, as well as stretching from Ohio to Minnesota and part of eastern Texas. Some species are also found in parts of Mexico and Canada. Tiger salamanders are generally captured for sale as exotic pets when they are still in the larval or waterdog stage, making it difficult to distinguish the subtype until the specimen reaches adulthood.

Tiger salamanders in captivity are often fed crickets twice weekly.
Tiger salamanders in captivity are often fed crickets twice weekly.

The barred tiger salamander features thick dark stripes on a yellow or tan background that most closely resemble the stripes of a tiger. The Arizona tiger salamander is located in Arizona as well as three other Western states. Other types of tiger salamanders include the blotched, gray, eastern, California, and Sonoran tiger salamander, which is under federal protection as an endangered species.

Owners of a pet tiger salamander are encouraged to provide a solitary habitat for each animal within a 15 gallon aquarium, with a soil substrate that allows the animal to burrow. A shallow pool of water should also be located in the habitat and changed often. If using tap water, owners can treat the water with water conditioner to remove elements such as chlorine that can be harmful to the salamander. Pet tiger salamanders are typically fed worms and crickets approximately twice weekly.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Tiger Salamander?

A Tiger Salamander is a species of mole salamander native to North America. Known for its striking yellow or white stripes or spots against a dark body, it's one of the largest terrestrial salamanders, reaching lengths of up to 13 inches. These amphibians are primarily nocturnal and spend most of their life underground.

Where can you find Tiger Salamanders?

Tiger Salamanders are widely distributed across North America, from Canada to Mexico. They inhabit a variety of environments, including forests, grasslands, and marshy areas. They prefer to live in burrows near bodies of water, which are essential for their breeding and larval development.

What do Tiger Salamanders eat?

Tiger Salamanders are carnivorous and have a diet that includes insects, worms, slugs, and even small rodents. Their hunting strategy is primarily ambush, using their sticky tongue to capture prey. They are opportunistic feeders and will consume almost any animal they can overpower and swallow.

How do Tiger Salamanders reproduce?

Tiger Salamanders breed in water, with mating typically occurring after the first heavy rains of the season. Females lay eggs in ponds or slow-moving streams, which hatch into aquatic larvae. These larvae undergo metamorphosis into terrestrial adults, although some populations remain aquatic and become paedomorphic, retaining larval features into adulthood.

Are Tiger Salamanders endangered?

While Tiger Salamanders are not globally endangered, certain populations are at risk due to habitat destruction, pollution, and disease. Conservation efforts are in place to protect their habitats and monitor populations. Some subspecies are listed as threatened or endangered at the state level in the United States.

What role do Tiger Salamanders play in the ecosystem?

Tiger Salamanders are integral to their ecosystems as both predators and prey. They help control insect populations and are a food source for larger animals. Their burrowing activity aerates the soil, and their presence can be an indicator of environmental health, as they are sensitive to changes in water quality and habitat conditions.

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    • A tiger salamander.
      By: R_R
      A tiger salamander.
    • Tiger salamanders in captivity are often fed crickets twice weekly.
      By: viter
      Tiger salamanders in captivity are often fed crickets twice weekly.