Common Name: Tiger Salamander, Eastern Tiger Salamander, Barred Tiger Salamander
Size: One of the largest terrestrial salamanders in the world. Adults can grow to 13 inches (33 cm) in total length, but most end up closer to 9-10 inches long (23 and 25 cm).
Appearance: Tiger salamanders are variable in color and pattern, and range from olive-brown with black blotches, to dark black with yellow rings and bars, to bright green with black lines and swirls. Young salamanders can be spotted but this polka-dot pattern changes as they age.
Distribution, Habitat and Behavior: Native to much of the United States, southern Canada and northern Mexico. Tiger salamanders spend most of their time underground where they live in burrows. They usually excavate these themselves, but may also take over holes and shelters dug by other animals. They can be found in a wide range of habitats, including wooded areas, marshlands, and meadows, but always near ponds that don’t have fish or small lakes. They breed in these water bodies in early spring, often in the days just after the first rains of the year, when the ground thaws and snow melts.
Availability: Tiger salamanders are seasonally available in the North American pet trade, collected from the wild and supplied to pet dealers during spring breeding migrations. If it is legal and you live in an area with tiger salamanders, it may be a better option to collect one of your own rather than purchasing it at a pet store. They have been bred on a couple occasions but those for sale in the trade are almost entirely wild-caught.
Housing: Tiger salamanders are best kept individually. A standard 15 gallon aquarium that measures 24 inches long by 12 inches wide by 12 inches high (61 cm by 30 cm by 30 cm) is enough space for one adult. A secure screen cover should be used to prevent escapes.
Choose a substrate that holds moisture, is not abrasive, and allows the salamander to easily dig and burrow. A mixture of coconut husk fiber and cypress mulch works well, as do any number of other soil mixtures. Be careful to avoid soil that contains perlite, vermiculite, small pieces of bark, or gravel. Other substrate options include leaf litter or clumps of moist paper towels layered together. When a simple substrate like paper towels is used it will need to be changed often, up to several times each week, while a soil mixture may be okay for months so long as it is spot cleaned regularly. Whatever substrate is used, make sure it does not become soggy or waterlogged. It can be beneficial to keep the cage at an angle, so that one end is slightly raised. This allows for a moisture gradient to develop within the substrate so that the raised end remains dryer than the lower end and your salamander can choose where to spend its time.
Tiger salamanders should be provided with something to burrow under, such as pieces of corkbark or driftwood. Artificial plants and patches of moss can be added for aesthetics. Live plants can also be used but should be left to grow in their pots so that they are not uprooted when the salamander is digging.
Temperature: Maintain a cool environment for tiger salamanders between 60°F (16°C) and 70°F (21°C). They are somewhat tolerant of warmer temperatures when compared to many other salamanders, but the cage should not be allowed to rise above 78°F (27°C). Drops down to or below 50°F (10°C) do not present a problem, though activity and appetite decrease when kept at lower temperatures. It is best to keep the enclosure within either an air conditioned room or cool basement so that the temperature stays within a safe range. Extended periods of hot temperatures result in health issues.
Water: A clean, shallow source of water should always be available. Change the water everyday or when it appears dirty. Treat tap water with an aquarium water conditioner to remove chlorine, chloramines, and heavy metals a day before use.
Diet: One of the most enjoyable qualities of tiger salamanders is their tremendous appetite. They feed on a variety of invertebrates in captivity, including crickets, night crawlers, earth worms, wax worms, super worms, silkworms, and roaches. Crickets and worms should make up the majority of their diet, and can be offerred in small quantities once or twice a week. Other food items can be substituted for crickets or worms every few feedings. Feed young salamanders in smaller quantities every day or two. Some large adult salamanders will accept pre-killed pinky or fuzzy mice from forceps, but these should not be fed often to avoid nutritional problems. Coat food in a high quality amphibian and reptile vitamin and mineral supplement every two to three feedings.