Tiger Salamander: Species Profile

Characteristics, Housing, Diet, and Other Information

Eastern tiger salamander
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Tiger salamanders are strikingly beautiful animals that are popular exotic pets. They have a fairly long lifespan and usually become quite tame. Native to North America, these amphibians are found in woodlands, as well as in grassy fields, living in underground burrows near bodies of water. The basic coloration of tiger salamanders is yellow blotches, spots, or bars against a black background, though the patterns and intensity of color vary among the subspecies. Plus, they have large eyes, short snouts, thick necks, strong legs, and long tails. As pets, they can be quite lively and entertaining, adapting well to captivity under the right conditions. Once you have their housing set up, the care is fairly straightforward. Expect to spend time each week on feedings, cleaning, and monitoring the humidity and temperature.

Species Overview

Common Name: Tiger salamander, eastern tiger salamander

Scientific Name: Ambystoma tigrinum

Adult Size: 6 to 8 inches

Life Expectancy: 10 to 15 years

Tiger Salamander Behavior and Temperament

Unlike many other salamanders, tiger salamanders are often personable and hardy pets. In time, most tiger salamanders will overcome any fear of humans. And instead they often will follow their keepers' movement from inside their enclosure, as well as reach toward hands offering food. However, they should be handled with care due to their delicate skin. They're not usually aggressive and can be kept with another salamander, though they do not need the company. But it should be noted that they have been known to consume other tiger salamanders, especially when there is a lack of food.

Housing the Tiger Salamander

The larval stage is entirely aquatic, so these tiger salamanders can live in an aquarium with 6 inches of water and some rocks to hide in. They should be kept between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit (18 to 21 degrees Celsius) and not exceeding 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius). A good water filter is required, and aeration with an air stone is ideal. Pay particular attention to the water quality, especially ammonia buildup and the water pH.

After months to years, the larva will lose its gills and emerge from the water to take on its adult form. As this occurs, gradually reduce the amount of water in the tank, and provide a land area. Once metamorphosis is complete, the salamander can be kept in a terrestrial tank setup. A 10-gallon tank at minimum with a tightly fitting lid that allows airflow should do. One end should have water while the other end should be a raised dry area. When cleaning the tank, only use very hot water and no detergents. Spot clean the tank daily for feces or uneaten food you can remove. And plan to do a full cleaning of the entire environment roughly every two months.


Heating is typically not required, as tiger salamanders should be kept at around 50 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 24 degrees Celsius). Temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius) can stress a tiger salamander.


UV lighting is not required, but a regular day-night cycle of around 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness per day should be maintained. Use incandescent lighting, preferably on a timer.


Tiger salamanders prefer a humidity level of around 70%. Maintain this through regular misting, water, and live plants within the tank. Use a hygrometer to monitor the humidity.


Substrate is the material used on the bottom of your pet's enclosure. Not only does it help to mimic a natural environment, but it also increases humidity and allows the salamander to satisfy its burrowing instinct. Provide a substrate at least 4 inches deep that's suitable for burrowing. Anything that maintains some moisture and is gentle on a salamander's skin is fine. Many owners use potting soil (with no vermiculite or chemicals), coconut husk, or sphagnum moss. Gravel is not appropriate, as it's too rough and doesn't stay moist. Also, provide plants, bark pieces, smooth rocks, and other organic materials as hiding places.

Food and Water

Tiger salamanders have a healthy appetite. But they should not be overfed, as they will become obese. The larva eat aquatic invertebrates, such as brine shrimp, insects, small fish, and worms. Adults eat a selection of feeder insects, such as crickets, earthworms, and wax worms. You can also feed them the occasional pinkie mouse and wild-caught insects, as long as you're sure they're from an area that's free of pesticides and other chemicals. Feeding should take place one to three times a week to maintain a healthy body weight. Your veterinarian should advise you on how much and how often to feed your animal, as it can vary based on size and age.

If your tank doesn't already have a water area, a large dish of dechlorinated water should be provided to adult salamanders. Make sure it's no more than 1 to 2 inches deep. Your salamander might enjoy soaking in the dish, so the water will need regular cleaning.

Common Health and Behavior Problems

Tiger salamanders are susceptible to respiratory infections, with symptoms including wheezing and mucus around the nose and mouth. This often results from improper temperatures or moisture levels in their environment. Parasitic infections also are somewhat common in tiger salamanders, especially if their immune system is already fighting another issue. If your tiger salamander seems sluggish or is losing weight, these are sign of a sick salamander; bring it to a veterinarian who specializes in exotic pets.

Choosing Your Tiger Salamander

As with most exotic pets, it's a bad idea to try to keep a wild salamander in captivity. For one, it might be illegal to take a salamander from the wild where you live. And wild animals often fail to thrive in captivity. Instead, find a reputable breeder or rescue organization. But know that captive-bred tiger salamanders are not widely available because breeding has proven difficult. The seller should be able to give you insight into the animal's health, origin, and personality. Expect to pay around $50.

As a general rule, avoid purchasing any salamander with dry patches on its skin, as this can indicate a problem with shedding. Plus, look for signs of a respiratory infection, especially excess mucus. A healthy tiger salamander's eyes should be clear and free of any pus, and it should take food readily when it's offered.

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