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reptile guide
Frogs & Amphibians

Tiger Salamanders
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Holly Frisby, DVM, MS
Veterinary Services Department, Drs. Foster & Smith, Inc.

Tiger Salamanders are large burrowing North American amphibians, most active at night. The Latin name is Ambystoma tigrinum; "Ambystoma" means "blunt mouth," and "tigrinum" means "like a tiger." This species is hardy, long-lived, and a very interesting herp to keep.

Natural Environment

Tiger Salamanders originate from North America, and range from Florida and northern Mexico to southern Canada and the Rocky Mountains. In some states they have an endangered status, and are protected.

During the rainy season, which corresponds with the breeding season, Tiger Salamanders may be found near ponds, slow streams, marshes, and other small bodies of water. During the rest of the year, they are more secretive, and may be found in prairies, fields, or forests where they burrow under leaf litter or dig underground burrows. They may also live in abandoned burrows made by other animals or invertebrates, such as crayfish. Living underground places them in a group called "mole salamanders." Burrowing allows them to live in cooler, moister environments.

Physical Characteristics

The Tiger Salamander is one of the largest land-dwelling salamanders in the United States. Adults are usually 9-12 inches in length, and some may reach a length of 13-14 inches. It is a stocky animal, with a broad, flat head, a blunt nose, small eyes, and a long, thick tail. There are four unwebbed toes on the front feet and five unwebbed toes on the back feet. As a means of defense, adults secrete a milky substance from glands on their backs and tails, which is toxic if eaten.

Subspecies differences: There are two recognized species: the Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum), and the California Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma californiense). Currently, there are multiple (6-8, or more) subspecies of A. tigrinum; however, some researchers suggest that all of the subspecies except the Eastern Tiger Salamander should be a separate species.

Sexual differences: There are no color differences between the sexes, but males tend to be proportionally longer, with a more compressed tail and longer stalkier hind legs than the females. During the breeding season the male may have a swollen vent and the females become heavier.

Color: Tiger Salamanders are highly variable in color. Some have a dark background of black, blue, green or gray, with bars, patches, or spots that are white, yellow, orange, or even black. Others are the reverse, having a lighter background with a darker pattern. The colors vary even among subspecies. The vent is usually yellow or white, flecked with green or black. Colors may change as the salamander ages. There are some albino forms, as well.

Life expectancy: 12-15 years.


Tiger Salamanders tend to be secretive and excitable; however, because they are drawn to food, some of them will learn to take food from your fingers. They are very interesting creatures to observe.


Tiger Salamanders do not like to be handled, so this should be kept to a minimum. When feeding or when cleaning the cage, use slow movements and avoid contact with the animal.


Cages: A vivarium (an environment simulating a species natural environment) setup with both land and water makes the ideal habitat for this species. This environment will help to stabilize the temperature and humidity. The cage or vivarium should be 10-15 gallons (24 x 12 x 12 inches) for a single animal, or 30 gallons (36 x 12 x 12 inches) for a pair. There should be a mesh cover to allow for ventilation.

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Pictures: DCI |
Contributors: Information provided courtesy of PetEducation.com |


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