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Tiger Salamanders ... in captivity 

Are You Looking to Make the Transition From

Reptiles to Amphibians?

Do you like interactive exotic pets that are good eaters and hardy?

Well look no further ... Tiger Salamanders are near the top of the list.  Fairly large and bold, and often strikingly coloured, the tiger salamander adapts better to its human keepers than any other amphibian, which makes it a very rewarding and interactive terrarium inhabitant.

Tiger salamanders certainly are one of the best-kept secrets of the amphibian world ... and really ... who can resist that permanent smile?

tiger salam nder


The tiger salamander was at one time considered a single species. Over the last two decades, scientists recognized that it is one of several closely related species. These include the Mexican tiger (A. velasci), the California tiger (Ambystoma californiense), and the eastern tiger (A. tigrinum). We should also mention the barred tiger species complex, made up of several subspecies, including the blotched tiger (A. mavortium melanostictum) and the most striking of all tigers,  the barred tiger salamander itself (A. mavortium mavortium).

Tigers are found in all manner of colors, from bright creamy yellow stripes on a dark brown or black background, to pure blue-gray, and even black with orange spots.  Even within each race, the variety of colors and markings can be surprising - from individual to individual.  Some races are made up of populations of aquatic adults that look very similar to their close relative the axolotl (A. mexicanum).

At 11 inches, or larger, tiger salamanders share the record for the largest land-living salamander in the world with the giant salamanders (Dicamptodon spp.).  It has been reported of some male tigers reaching 14-inches, and there are records of even larger aquatic adults.  Tiger salamanders are found from the shores of the Pacific to the Atlantic coast of the continental United States, southern Canada, and far south into Mexico.

The Tiger Salamander is in fact more widespread than the American bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana), but while almost everyone has seen a bullfrog, many never know they are there since the tiger salamander makes no noise and spends a lot of time underground.

Tigers are part of the group known as mole salamanders and are heavily built, with strong legs and feet for digging, and relatively small eyes — all good adaptations if you spend much of your life digging in the dirt.

Tiger salamanders adapt well to captivity. 

Contrast this to the similar-looking spotted salamander, (A. maculatum), which is extremely secretive and rarely accepts food directly from its keeper. Rarely does an individual tiger remain stubbornly jumpy or standoffish; the majority of tigers lose their fear of humans in time and become very tame, jumping at fingers for food and following their keepers from within their terrarium. The permanent smile-like expression on their faces is definitely hard to resist.

Sexually mature males tend to be slim of build, have a very noticeably swollen cloaca (the vent area, located on the bottom of the body just behind the rear legs), and  flatter tails.  Mature females are well rounded, and her cloaca is very small when compared to that of the male. Tigers can often reach maturity in less than a year. It is reported of several tigers being kept in captivity for 12 years, making them at least 13 years old. For most tiger salamanders, 10 years is a good life span.


Tiger salamanders, Just alike all other salamanders, require no additional supplementation to their diets so vitamin and mineral dusting is actually redundant.  A good staple food - such as nightcrawlers, ReptiWorms and crickets - with some hornworms and silkworms, with a few waxworms occasionally as a special treat - is perfectly adequate.  You can also offer them mealworms once in a while for a change. 

New tiger salamander pets will often spend much of their time buried in the substrate, so you may find yourself having to dig out your salamander in order to feed it.  As they become more tame they will spend more time on the surface and you won’t have to dig them out as often.  One good feeding approach or trick is to gently tap the terrarium wall a few times before digging for the salamander - or first feeding those near the surface and the others will pop out fairly soon thereafter.  Most tigers will learn that the tapping is associated with their feeding time, and buried salamanders will usually emerge after a few moments.

Their main diet in the wild is beetles, earthworms and crickets.  In captivity, nightcrawlers are an excellent staple food, as are crickets, sold for other reptiles in all pet stores.  Both foods are relatively low in fat and earthworms have a good ratio of nutrients. Crickets should be gut loaded with vegetables and/or a commercial cricket diet (such as Bug Burger, or SuperLoad, or HydroLoad formulas from Repashy Superfoods Repashy) in order to improve their nutrient content.

Since waxworms are easily the tiger salamander's favorite food, and even the most reluctant and picky eater will find it hard to refuse them, Tigers often become obese, so it's important to limit foods such as waxworms to just an occasional treat.  It often helps to gently hold the waxworm with tweezers and rub it near their nose, or on the mouth of the tiger.  This is an especially useful trick for newly captive skinny tigers that are overly shy.  The waxworms will really help in fattening them up.

Tiger salamanders will eagerly consume pinky and fuzzy mice, but these foods have proven to be especially fattening and thus should only be fed as a very rare treat.  Tigers perhaps encounter rodent nests in the wild more than any other amphibians.  Other treat foods include mealworms, ReptiWorms, hornworms, silkworms, and even pieces of thawed frozen shrimp.
Larval (gilled) tigers will take similar foods to adulthood, and will also accept and eat thawed/frozen bloodworms, which are available at most pet and aquarium stores.

Tigers have insatiable appetites so you should feed as much as each tiger can consume in 15 minutes.  For adults this usually means two nightcrawlers two to three times per week during the warmer parts of the year.  You can reduce this to just once every one or two weeks, during winter months, if the temperature in the terrarium falls into the 50s (10 degrees C).  Juvenile tiger salamanders should be fed more regularly, as often as every other day, because they still devote the nutrients to growth and as such are less likely to become obese than the adults will if you feed them that often.

Tiger Salamanders as pets in captivity 

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