The tiger salamander has a long thick body with a tail at its end. This is colored brown, greenish or grey along its length and patterned with spots and stripes which are yellow or brown. The amount of markings on an individual is highly variable with some having no pattern at all. On the underside they are colored yellowish or olive.
This pattern assists with camouflaging them in their environment.
Their skin is smooth and covered with mucous secretions.
At the end of the body is a long tail which is laterally compressed to assist with swimming. This is retained as an adult which differentiates the salamander from the frog.
Their body length is between 17 and 33cm (6.7-13in) long. An average weight for a tiger salamander is 9.4g (0.33oz). Tiger salamanders are the longest land-dwelling salamander species though many aquatic species are larger.
The tiger salamander is a carnivore. Adults will feed on a range of invertebrates and small animals such as frogs, mice and even baby snakes.
Larvae will feed primarily on invertebrates.
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North America is the native home of the tiger salamander. Here they can be found across much of the United States, Canada and Mexico.
In the US they can be found in the following states Wisconsin, Virginia, Texas, Tennessee, South Dakota, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Ohio, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Georgia, Florida, Delaware, Arkansas, Alabama, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota.
They have the widest distribution of any North American salamander species.
Tiger salamanders are able to survive in a wide range of habitats provided they have substrate in which to burrow and a water source in which they can breed. These habitats may include forests, meadows, shrublands, grasslands, wetlands or desert. The water sources may include lakes, ponds and slow-moving streams.
Most of their day is spent underground in a burrow. These may be made by the salamander itself or they may take a burrow that was made by a rodent, shrew or other small animal. These burrows may extend up to 61cm (2ft) underground.
Tiger salamanders breed from late winter in to spring when they will migrate to their breeding ponds. Males will travel to the ponds first as they typically spend winter close to the breeding sites.
The breeding ponds are mostly seasonal or semi-permanent wetlands though they may also breed in lakes and streams along with human made water courses such as quarry ponds and cattle tanks.
Mating occurs at night. Males will walk through a group of salamanders nudging them till he finds a female. He nudges her away from the group and then begins mating. Males stand up the female and press their vents together at which point he deposits a spermatophore in to her cloaca.
One to two days after a successful mating the female will lay her eggs. Eggs are attached to decaying vegetation on the bottom of the pond with as many as 100 eggs laid. Females may lay multiple clutches each season.
Incubation takes 19-50 days. Eggs hatch in to a larvae which must remain in the water. The larvae have external, feathery gills which are used to breathe while in the larval form. These are lost in the adult form.
Between 2.5 and 5 months old they will metamorphose in to an adult at which point they can leave the water. This variation is due to a range of factors such as food availability, temperature and the number of competitors and other salamanders in the water course.
Some larva do not complete their metamorphosis in to an adult. It is theorized this may be due to a lack of iodine in the water but further study is required. These larva retain gills and spend their life in the water.
Sexual maturity is reached at 4 years old.
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Tiger salamanders will shed their old skin. Most of the time this will be eaten by the salamander though sometimes it is discarded among vegetation.
They are primarily nocturnal and emerge at night to hunt. Most sightings occur after heavy rains.
Air can be absorbed through the skin and due to this they must remain moist. To achieve this they remain near water or damp environments.
Water can also be absorbed across the skin. They will sit in puddles, damp sand or on dew covered rocks to achieve this.
Predators and Threats
Adult salamanders will face predation from raccoons, snakes, turtles, skunks, badgers and owls. Eggs and larva face further predators including fish, birds, insects and frogs.
Humans present a number of threats to the tiger salamander. These include deforestation, pollution and rising acidity in their breeding pools. Vehicle strikes are also common during migration to their breeding sites.
Due to the ability to transfer gases and liquids across their skin they are susceptible to pollution. Scientists consider amphibian such as the tiger salamander an indicator species which can show if an ecosystem is unhealthy if their numbers decline.
The tiger salamander is the largest species of salamander to live on land.
Their pattern resembles that of their namesake, the tiger found in Asia.
Tiger salamanders are also known as mole salamanders.
They are able to lose limbs but cannot lose the tail. If a limb is lost it will regenerate but lack the coloration of an original limb.
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Wentz, A. 2001. “Ambystoma tigrinum” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed September 25, 2020 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Ambystoma_tigrinum/
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AmphibiaWeb 2011 Ambystoma tigrinum: Eastern Tiger Salamander <http://amphibiaweb.org/species/3850> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed Sep 25, 2020.
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