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Tiger Salamander Care Sheet

Scientific Facts

Common Name:Tiger Salamander
Scientific Name:Ambystoma tigrinum
Life Span:12 to 20 years
Size:7 to 14 inches
Habitat:Forests and prairie areas with adequate moisture
Country of Origin:North America, Eastern Mexico, and Southern Canada

Physical Description

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Tiger salamanders have a highly interesting physical appearance and characteristics. These animals can move faster, but you won’t see them very often during the day. They are known to be the biggest land salamander as they grow from 7 to 14 inches long. Tiger Salamanders are amphibians. 

In just a quick look, people often think of them as snakes as they stand lower to the ground. Some people call them the “Water Dog” as their lifecycle begins in the water. When they are in the larvae stage, some call them the “Mud Puppy”. 

Tiger salamanders are among the oldest forms of amphibians. Most experts say these animals have gone through some changes for a very long time. 

The adult tiger salamanders look like thick-bodied creatures with yellow spots or blotches against the black background. Occasionally, there will be one of the blotches on their skin that can be in the shade of olive green or tan. These blotches are not in a specific size, shape, and position. Instead, you can tell your pet’s origin based on the pattern and color of the background. 

Tiger salamanders have a big head and a wide, rounded snout. Their eyes are also round, while the belly is typically olive or yellowish with invading dark coloring. Also, these animals have around 12 to 13 coastal grooves. 

In terms of size, males are longer than females. Aside from that, males have a more flattened tail and longer hind legs than females. Their vent area becomes puffy during the breeding season.

The larvae have an olive or yellowish-green body with a stripe and dark blotches along every side. Also, they have a whitish belly. While growing, the larvae will become either greenish or grayish. Eventually, they will show off tan or yellow spots and the other characteristics of adult tiger salamanders.

Tiger salamanders vary in color. Some of them come in a dark background that can be in the shade of green, blue, black, or gray with patches, bars, or spots in white, black, yellow, or orange. 

Others can be the opposite. They can have a lighter background with a darker pattern. The colors may also vary from one subspecies to another. The vent area is often white or yellow, flecked with black or green. The colors of tiger salamanders may change as they grow old. Their albino counterparts do exist, too. 

Differences Between the Subspecies

The common tiger salamanders come in 2 recognized species. One is the tiger salamander or Ambystoma tigrinum, and the other is the California tiger salamander or Ambystoma Californiense. As of now, there are several known subspecies of the tiger salamander. However, some experts suggest that the Eastern tiger salamander is a separate species. 

Sexual Differences

All tiger salamanders are of the same colors, whether they are male or female. The difference is on the size instead. Males are longer, but females are heavier. 

Life Span

Adult tiger salamanders can live for up to 20 years or even more than that when raised in captivity. In general, healthy adults can reach the age of 16. 

Types

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Barred Tiger Salamander

This type of tiger salamander comes with black or dark brown colored skin with yellow perpendicular stripes. The barred tiger salamander exists in Southern Texas, New Mexico, central Colorado, and central Nebraska. 

Eastern Tiger Salamander

This subspecies is typically in black or dark brown with spots or blotches of olive or green. The eastern tiger salamander is more common near Nebraska, Kansas, eastern Texas, and New York. 

Arizona Tiger Salamander

This kind of tiger salamander can also be in dark brown or black colored skin with few small yellow spots. The Arizona tiger salamander is more common in New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, and Central Colorado. 

Blotched Tiger Salamander

The blotched tiger salamander is smaller than the Arizona tiger salamander. It comes in a light gray or pale ground-colored background with webbed dark marks. It can be found in Northwest Colorado, near Southwest Saskatchewan, Nebraska, and Southern Alberta. 

Sonoran Tiger Salamander

This one looks the same with Arizona tiger salamander and barred tiger salamander. However, this subspecies comes in a variety of colors. It exists in Huachara and Patagonia Mountains. 

Range

In the US, tiger salamanders are more commonly found along the Atlantic coast in the south of New York and down to Florida. Many of them live in the country’s center, covering the land of Arizona and Montana to Kentucky and Ohio. The natural habitat of these animals is close to vernal pools, ponds, or slow-moving streams. 

Tiger salamanders are hard to find because they are secretive and can spend a long time in burrowing. The truth is that they like spending weeks or even months underneath the surface, which also protects them from extreme temperatures. 

However, tiger salamanders often walk around on the moist ground after heavy rain. It becomes an opportunity for other salamanders like snakes, badgers, owls, and bobcats to kill and eat them. 

Habitat 

Adults lead a terrestrial existence, depending on where in the US they are found. Some of them live in the grasslands, forests, and marshy areas. These animals are less dependent on the forest compared to other common tiger salamanders. 

Tiger salamanders need to be in the soil as they love to dig out and make burrows. Also, they can live in abandoned burrows. While these salamanders are suitable for terrestrial existence when it comes to skin thickness and consistency, they need to burrow underground to find the ideal humidity levels. 

Tiger salamanders live in the areas that can give them permanent access to any kind of water source as they breed in water. in dry periods, most tiger salamanders lie down in piles underground or underneath a special covering. 

Behavior

Compared to other salamanders, these animals are hardy and personable pets. They are naturally secretive and nervous. However, since they can’t resist the temptation of food, some tiger salamanders learn to take the food from the hands of their keepers. These salamanders are highly interesting creatures to watch. 

Some of the subspecies tend to show neoteny, which means they breed as larvae without undergoing the process of metamorphosis. Instead, they grow directly as terrestrial adults.

Like other animals, tiger salamanders will also hibernate during winter and will go out of the burrows again in the early spring. Temperatures significantly affect the time they hibernate and when they should be active again. Tiger salamanders are solitary animals, so they go in pairs or groups only during the mating period. 

Males are so aggressive when it comes to courtship and mating. Sometimes, they imitate females, which allows them to come closer to females. They never let other males notice what they do. This is a tactic for young male tiger salamanders that cannot defeat the mature males when trying to mate with females. This tactic works, but females often avoid mating with these males. 

Development

Females lay eggs in the small pools that will hatch in 19 to 50 days. The resulting larvae will stay in the pond until they grow into adults in the next 2 to 5 months. Also, they may grow into fully mature tiger salamanders without leaving the aquatic larval form for the rest of their lives.

Reproduction

The male salamanders will actively compete against each other for a chance to mate with females. Once mating happens, the females will lay a clutch of eggs or more. Every clutch may contain 25 to 55 eggs. However, the number of eggs the female tiger salamanders can lay will still depend on the subspecies. The eggs will attach to underwater plants, logs, stones, and other debris.

The eggs will hatch after 4 weeks, and the resulting larvae will have feathery gills. They will feed on the water insects, fish, and tiny invertebrates. Also, they will stay in the ponds until late July to early August. Eventually, the resulting larvae will grow into sub-adults that are 4 to 5 inches long.

In this period, these young tiger salamanders will begin the explore the land. Some larvae might sustain through winter and don’t grow into adults until the next spring. Tiger salamanders will be sexually mature by the age of 4 to 5. 

Some larvae might become cannibalistic, which are called cannibal morphs. Unlike other larvae, they have bigger heads, larger mouths, and well-developed teeth. It seems to occur when the ponds begin to dry or when there’s food scarcity. 

The cannibal morphs will feast on other larvae. They will grow quickly and go through metamorphosis to become adult tiger salamanders in no time. The adult cannabis morphs retain their bigger head and mouth. 

Some tiger salamanders living in the west of North America and countries with high altitudes follow a different growth process known as paedogenesis or neoteny. Within this process, the “ordinary” larvae don’t metamorphose but will continue to breathe using their gills. They will be sexually mature and will reproduce through their basic look doesn’t change. Neotenic tiger salamanders may become bigger than the metamorphosing species, reaching the maximum length of 15 inches. 

Predation

Tiger salamanders are consumed by snakes, badgers, owls, and bobcats. Larvae can be eaten by the insects living in the water, snakes, and the growing larvae of other types of salamanders.

Role in the Ecosystem

These salamanders are effective predators in their subterranean and aquatic environments. Their prey involves some insects or pests. 

Common Health Issues Among Tiger Salamanders

Like other reptiles, these salamanders are prone to respiratory diseases. Common symptoms seen in tiger salamanders are wheezing and the presence of mucus all over the nose and mouth. Also, parasitic infections are common in these salamanders though these cases do happen occasionally in them compared to other reptiles. If tiger salamanders are stressed or suffering from a different disease, that is when they become vulnerable to parasitic infections. 

Moreover, tiger salamanders may carry the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. They don’t get sick due to this fungus, but they often spread it to frogs in the forest, in which it causes the dangerous disease chytridiomycosis. 

Compared to other amphibians and reptiles, these salamanders may also carry ranaviruses that can kill a lot of salamander larvae. These viruses are the culprits of decreased populations of wild frogs. 

These diseases are obvious reasons why people should take care of only the captive-bred species. These animals are less likely to carry those deadly viruses and fungi. When your pet looks sluggish or losing weight, take it to the nearest veterinary clinic that cares for reptiles. 

Handling

Tiger salamanders are not having fun with a human touch. Therefore, you should not try holding your pet in most cases. Frequent handling will stress your pet. So, limit the time you touch it in just once or twice every week. 

Of course, there will be some cases when you don’t have any choice but to pick up the animal. When cleaning the enclosure or feeding your pet, always move slowly and be sure your hands don’t touch the animal unless you need to. 

Like other amphibians, the skin of tiger salamanders is semi-permeable and so delicate to their surroundings. Due to this, chemicals, oils, and salts that are on your hands may harm your pet. Aside from limiting the contact between you and your pet, don’t forget to wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling the animal and the vivarium accessories. 

Before touching your pet, you must wet your hands by using treated or spring water. if you need to put the tiger salamander into another container to wash its enclosure, wet the container’s floor with treated or spring water or put damp paper towels on the container before transferring your pet. 

Housing

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These salamanders at the larval phase are all aquatic. So, provide them with an aquarium with water that is at least 6 inches deep. Also, there should be some rocks where the salamanders can hide whenever they want to. The temperature must be between 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit – it should not go more than 72 degrees Fahrenheit. 

A water filter is necessary. Aeration with airstone is also advisable. Pay attention to the quality of the water. Always check the water for ammonia buildup and imbalanced pH level. 

After several months to years, the larvae lose their gills and come out of the water to mature completely. When it happens, gradually reduce the water inside the cage to provide a land section. Then, keep the salamander in the telluric tank setup after metamorphosis. 

A vivarium set up with water and land areas would be a perfect habitat for tiger salamanders. This particular setup will help stabilize both humidity and temperature. A 10 to 15-gallon vivarium is enough for one salamander, while a 30-gallon vivarium is good for a pair. Whatever the size of the cage is, it must have a mesh lid that promotes proper ventilation. 

Decorations

In a terrarium setting, you can use aquarium gravel that is bigger than the head of your salamander to prevent ingestion. If you choose not to keep your pet in a vivarium, then the cage of your pet must have a substrate made of dirt, mulch, jungle mix, or sphagnum moss. 

Be sure the material is free from contaminants like herbicides and pesticides. Keep the substrate moist and thicker, allowing your pet to burrow. 

Tiger salamanders love to climb and hide. Thus, the cage must have a hiding spot that can be in the form of hollow logs, clay flowerpots, or stony crevices. 

Tunnels

Adult tiger salamanders love to stay underground in the tunnels they constructed and even in the vacant tunnels created by other salamanders. If they need to go out of the tunnel for something, they will likely do it when the sun goes down. Replicate these conditions in the enclosure to achieve long-term success, although they don’t let you see your pets well. 

Before introducing your pet to its habitat, use some small pieces of PVC pipes or right-sized bamboo sections, imitating the rodent burrows. The pipes must be fixed on the floor at an angle and buried, so the opening is level with the enclosure’s substrate. 

Substrate

The substrate suitable to tiger salamanders is the one that allows them to burrow. Many keepers out there make use of potting soil without vermiculite, bark chips, peat, or sphagnum moss. Feel free to use any material that can absorb and retain moisture to allow tiger salamanders to burrow. In this case, gravel is not a good option. 

On the other hand, bear in mind that because of their healthy appetites and size, tiger salamanders can produce more body waste. Meaning, you need to inspect and clean their enclosure as often as possible. Don’t expect an elaborated or permanent setup. Bark pieces, plants, rocks, and other hiding sites must be provided. If possible, add 3 or more hiding spots in the enclosure to make your pets happier. 

A big but shallow water dish must be available as well, especially for adult salamanders. The dish must be not more than 1-2 inches in depth. Your pets may have fun in soaking themselves to the water of the bowl. Hence, you also need to clean the water dish as often as possible. Fill it with fresh dechlorinated tap water, not distilled water. 

Humidity and Water

Tiger salamanders need a relatively high humidity level, which pertains to the volume of the water vapor in the air. For these animals, the humidity level must be 70% or higher. Mist your pets and their enclosure several times every day. 

When keeping them within a vivarium, you may keep the water fresh and clean by using a filter and pump. If you’re keeping them in a different enclosure, provide them a water source that should be 1-inch deep. The diameter of this water source is from 9 to 10 inches.

If the enclosure has a nice, smooth surface, then it could make your pets struggling when they get out of the water. Providing them a ramp will solve the problem. If your pets are ready to breed, give them water that is 6 inches in depth with tiny rocks, plants, and other accessories to give females perfect spots for laying their eggs. 

Lighting and Heating

Heating is usually not necessary because tiger salamanders must stay under room temperature or a bit lower than that. Their enclosure must not be humid, but their substrate has to remain slightly wet. In cleaning their tank, use hot water. Don’t use detergents as they can harm your pets. 

Tiger salamanders need cooler temperatures ranging from 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the day but 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit in the evening. Daytime temperatures must not be more than 75 degrees Fahrenheit. No additional lights are necessary. The need for UV light addition remains controversial. The lights might increase the temperature above the preferred range. Considering that these are nocturnal salamanders, subdued lighting might just make them extremely active.

Likewise, the skin of tiger salamanders is extremely sensitive and may absorb the lingering chemicals. UV lighting isn’t important, but a regular light-and-dark cycle is. It should mimic the scenario in the area where these animals originated from. It can be easily maintained by using incandescent lighting with a timer. 

Cleaning and Maintenance

Spot cleaning of the enclosure must be done whenever you spot feces inside. The water bowl of your pets also requires cleaning and water replacements that you need to do every day. These things are essential as well when the water bowl is empty and becomes soiled due to droppings and substrate. 

Likewise, you need to change the substrate according to the recommendations of the manufacturer. Deep cleaning of the enclosure becomes necessary for some time. In misting and refilling the water bowl, always use treated or purified water, not the distilled form. 

Diet

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Tiger salamanders are carnivorous salamanders and may eat whatever they find edible and will fit into their mouths. When they hunt, they detect any movement in their surroundings. They don’t eat food pellets and dead prey. Captive tiger salamanders eat crickets, earthworms, cockroaches, and many other invertebrates. 

Nightcrawlers and earthworms are perfect foods for the salamanders because they are more nutritious than other food items. They also have the ideal phosphorus to calcium ratio. When feeding small tiger salamanders, cut the nightcrawlers into smaller pieces. Nightcrawlers are big insects, so tiger salamanders may take some minutes to finish consuming them.

Red wiggler worms can be good food items for these pets, too. These little earthworms are usually 5 centimeters or 2 inches long. Despite their nutritional content, these food items can be unpalatable because they emit a foul-smelling yellowish liquid once you chop them. Therefore, these worms are best-served whole, not sliced. 

Crickets are not a good calcium source. Besides, they have low phosphorus to calcium ratio. When fed “as is” or as the main food source for tiger salamanders, this nutritional imbalance may result in metabolic bone disease. Hence, crickets must be dusted or even gut-loaded when you introduce them to your pets. 

Tiger salamanders can also eat pinky mice for some time. However, these animals become more prone to obesity when fed with mice. Waxworms and pinkies are hat-fat food items and with low phosphorus to calcium ratio. Therefore, you can introduce them to your pets only for some time and maybe to fatten thin tiger salamanders. Phoenix worms are rich in fats, but they have excellent phosphorus to calcium ratio. 

After eating, these animals may make some facial gyrations, squeezing their sleepy-looking eyes. Also, you may see them as if they are yawning. You have nothing to worry about in this case. These moves help your pets move the food to their digestive tract. They don’t chew food. They swallow them whole instead. 

If the vivarium stays around 2 degrees Fahrenheit or 22 degrees Celsius, these salamanders can be fed twice to thrice a week. Those that stay under lower temperatures should eat less often. If the cage stays at 60 degrees Fahrenheit or 16 degrees Celsius, then you can feed your pets once. 

If you provided their pets with worms, wax worms, phoenix worms, and so on, try to offer them more food items as they will eat for several hours. Do the same thing if you allow some insects like crickets to wander freely in the enclosure of your pets. Remove the unconsumed crickets because these insects may bite and harm your pets when left in the enclosure for several hours. 

When hand feeding these insects, offer them more food items as they may spend 10 minutes or more in eating. Feeding tiger salamanders by hand is a good thing as it will let you determine accurately what your pets have consumed. Tweezers or long tongs could be used when you hand feed them. Or, you can hold and let the food dangle as you offer it to your salamanders. 

When giving large insects like crickets, you may hold one of their back legs and put them near a salamander’s head to provoke it to eat. This strategy is so effective. 

Availability – Where to Get One?

Tiger salamanders are widely available on the web and the local pet stores and breeders near you. Look for captive salamanders, as keeping the wild ones can be difficult. These animals are widely available in North America. Though these salamanders are common, they are one of the protected species because of loss of habitat. Taking them out of the forest near your area can be against the law, so never try going to the wild and catching these animals. 

It’s a problem within the pet society as captive-raised tiger salamanders may not be easily available because breeding them is not easy. But it is best to locate a reliable reptile breeder who can help you determine if your prospective pets have health problems. Also, this person may provide you some ideas regarding the personality of these animals.

Pick your tiger salamanders wisely. Do not buy those species that have dry patches on their skin as it can be a telltale sign of an issue associated with shedding. If the animals are wheezing or drooling, it could mean they have a respiratory disease, which may be uncommon but possible in salamanders. 

Don’t forget to check the eyes of your pets. Those eyes must be clear and pus-free. Your tiger salamanders should be eager to eat. They must be responsive when you offer them food. 

How to Care for Tiger Salamanders?

While breeding tiger salamanders may be difficult, taking care of them is a different story. You just need to know their basic needs: housing, handling, and feeding requirements. Considering their sensitive skin, these salamanders do not want to be handled by people. They may allow you to touch them but only for some instances. In case you need to touch them, be sure you have washed your hands because the oils and salts on human skin can be dangerous to the delicate skin of tiger salamanders. 

A 15-gallon terrarium that measures 24” long and 12” wide and weigh enough would be enough for adult tiger salamanders. Secure the enclosure with a cover to prevent your animals from escaping. Likewise, you must cover 3 of the sides of the enclosure by using a black poster or terrarium background. It helps in keeping the salamanders feel secure and less stressful. Use a combination of coconut husk and soil as the substrate for captive habitats of your pets.

If the coconut husk fiber is unavailable, cypress mulch would be effective. Don’t use soil combined with vermiculite, perlite, gravel, or tiny bark pieces. You can also use those commercial substrates, topsoil, leaf litter, and so on. 

The substrate must not be kept extremely waterlogged or soggy for too long. It’s a great idea to keep the enclosure slightly elevated at a certain angle. It will form a good moisture gradient because the elevated end would be drier compared to the lower tip. 

You need to give shelters and hiding spots, like small logs, cork bark tubing, rocks, fake plants, etc. inside the cage. Salamanders want to burrow in a substrate underneath the hiding areas. The tank’s temperature must be kept at around 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Never allow the temperature to increase and exceed 78 degrees Fahrenheit or decrease to 50 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. 

Feed your pets right. Give them the suggested food items mentioned previously. A big part of their diet should be worms and crickets. Feed them at the right time and quantity. Also, don’t forget to provide your pets with fresh and clean water. The water dish but be deep but not too deep because tiger salamanders are not good swimmers. 

Provide them with tap water that is free of chloramines, chlorine, or heavy metals. Refill the water every day or when you see it dirty or contaminated with feces. 

With proper care, tiger salamanders will be responsive and overcome their reserved nature. While you come closer to the enclosure, you’ll find your pets getting close to the enclosure’s wall and waiting for your hands for quick bites. 

Facts about Tiger Salamanders

These salamanders have a smarmy substance on their bodies, which is venomous to other animals.

Toads, fish, and other marine animals kill and eat the larvae. Hence, they are producing the venomous mucus to secure themselves. 

Before mating, the males will mimic the females to sneak in and lay their germ cells on other male salamanders. 

The tails of tiger salamanders don’t have fracture regions. 

Some smaller salamanders don’t have lungs. These species breathe through gular pumping. 

Tiger salamanders are hard to breed.

FAQs

Do tiger salamanders swim?

Tiger salamanders are not good at swimming. After metamorphosis, the fully grown tiger salamanders will prefer being on the land region for most of their time. 

Are tiger salamanders venomous?

Tiger salamanders have a slimy secretion in their skin that can be harmful to predators. This substance may or may not be harmful to humans. 

How long do tiger salamanders live?

Tiger salamanders can live for 12 to 20 years. This is their common lifespan when raised in captivity. 

How long do tiger salamanders grow?

These animals can grow for 7 to 14 inches long. Male salamanders are longer than females. 

Do tiger salamanders love being handled?

Unlike other reptiles, tiger salamanders don’t love to be handled. Frequent handling can cause stress to these animals, so keep it quick. 

Are tiger salamanders friendly?

At first, tiger salamanders can be jumpy and nervous if they are new to your home. However, salamanders become docile as they see you every day. 

Are tiger salamanders hard to take care of?

Breeding tiger salamanders can be difficult. However, taking care of them is easy. 

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