Tiger salamander facts, photos and in-depth information.
The tiger salamander is a North American amphibian. Despite having distinctive tiger-like yellow / black stripes, and a range that covers most of the United States, the tiger salamander is seldom seen. This is due to the species’ burrowing and nocturnal feeding habits.
Like most amphibians, the tiger salamander lives a ‘double life’. It begins life in the water, breathing with feather-like external gills.
The species then undergoes a transformation known as metamorphosis. During this time the tiger salamander develops lungs which allow it to leave the water and live on land.
Let’s find out more about this colorful amphibian …
Tiger Salamander Facts At A Glance
- Other Name(s): Eastern tiger salamander
- Scientific name: Ambystoma tigrinum
- Type of Animal: Amphibian
- Animal Family: Ambystomatidae
- Where Found: North America
- Length: 15 to 20 cm (6 to 8 in)
- Conservation Status: Least Concern
Meet The Tiger Salamander: Introduction
The tiger salamander is the largest and most widespread of North America’s terrestrial salamander species. It gets its common name for its striking coloration, which resembles the stripes of a tiger.
The tiger salamander is in the same family – Ambystomatidae – as the axolotl.
What Does The Tiger Salamander Look Like?
The tiger salamander is a sturdy amphibian with thick legs, large head, broad and rounded snout, and a long, flattened tail.
The base color of an adult tiger salamander can be dark brown, greenish, gray or black. The irregular stripes and blotches that run across the length of its body range from bright yellow to tan in color.
The patterning is highly variable; it’s even possible for an individual to have no markings. The underside of the animal’s body is often dark with pale yellow patches.
The aquatic larvae have large, rounded heads and a pair of feathery gills. The upper body is usually olive or yellowish green with darker spots. The belly is whitish in color. Usually, there’s also a lighter-colored vertical stripe on each side of the body. Newly metamorphosed individuals develop their adult coloring over several weeks.
You can see tiger salamander larvae in the video below …
Male tiger salamanders tend to have longer hind limbs and longer and more flattened tails than females.
The tiger salamander occurs throughout most of the United States except for the Appalachian Mountains, the Great Basin and New England. The species is also found in southern Canada and northern Mexico.
The tiger salamander has been introduced into central California and some other areas that are not part of its natural range.
The tiger salamander is a highly adaptable species, able to live almost anywhere that has suitable soil for burrowing and a nearby body of water for breeding.
Habitats in which the species is typically found include woodlands, grasslands, fields and marshes.
Ponds used by the tiger salamander for breeding are usually free of fish and include mountain pools, temporary lowland ponds, gravel pits, farm ponds and ornamental garden ponds.
The species has been observed at elevations up to 3,660 m (12,000 ft.).
Members of the family Ambystomatidae are sometimes called ‘mole salamanders‘ due to their use of burrows.
In the video below you can see a tiger salamander excavating a new burrow …
Adult tiger salamanders are terrestrial (i.e. they live on land). They spending most of their lives in their underground burrows.
The burrows are up to 60 cm (24 in) deep and are typically made by the salamanders themselves. Burrows excavated by rodents and other animals are sometimes used. Staying underground is thought to protect the salamanders from extremes of temperature.
Mating takes place between late winter and early spring. The amphibians emerge from their burrows and migrate to their breeding sites after rain has thawed the surface of the ground.
Tiger salamanders tend to return to their natal breeding sites as adults, even if this entails covering long distances. Male salamanders usually appear a few days before the females.
Courtship takes place at night. The male nudges the female with his snout, guiding her away from other males. The male then deposits a spermatophore (a package of sperm) on the bottom of the pond which the female picks up with her cloaca (an opening on the underside of the body).
The female lays her eggs at night between 24 and 48 hours after mating. The eggs are laid in clusters. These are attached to submerged vegetation near the bottom of the pond. Each cluster contains around 100 eggs.
Depending on water temperature, the eggs take about 2 to 6 weeks to hatch. The hatchlings measure 1.3 to 1.7 cm (0.5 to 0.6 in). In poor conditions, larvae may metamorphose early into small adults (at around 10 weeks of age). If conditions are good, the tiger salamander overwinters in the water in its larval state. It will metamorphose after reaching a size of up to 15 cm (5.9 in).
Occasionally, the tiger salamander does not undergo metamorphosis and becomes sexually mature while still in its aquatic larval form.
What Do Tiger Salamanders Eat?
Feeding takes place during the night, with the tiger salamander emerging from its underground burrow in order to hunt for food.
The tiger salamander’s diet is dependent on its size and habitat. A full-grown terrestrial adult mainly eats invertebrates such as insects, worms, snails and slugs. It may also occasionally prey upon small vertebrates such as frogs, lizards and mice.
In its larval form, the tiger salamander feeds on insect larvae, small crustaceans, mollusks, leeches, frog tadpoles and sometimes small fish.
Adults that have retained their gills and remained in an aquatic habitat have a similar diet to that of the larvae.
Occasionally, a tiger salamander larva develops into a ‘cannibal‘ morph. Cannibals have larger heads and teeth and consume other salamander larvae.
The eggs and larvae of tiger salamanders are eaten by many species, including aquatic insects, newts, fish, snakes and birds. Very few survive into adulthood.
Is The Tiger Salamander Endangered?
The tiger salamander is rated ‘Least Concern’ by the IUCN.
The species has a large distribution range, and it is one of the most numerous salamanders in the family Ambystomatidae.
Despite this, a number of sub-populations have declined. Local populations can be threatened by deforestation, loss of wetland habitat, pollution, disease and deterioration of breeding ponds either due to acidification of the introduction of fish.