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Tiger Salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum and A. mavortium)

Introduction: Tiger salamanders are rewarding to keep in captivity. They grow large, have an impressive appetite, do not require complex care, can live for over fifteen years in captivity, and are bold compared to other closely related species. 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. Adults can grow to 13 inches (33 cm) in length, but most generally mature to between 9 and 10 inches (23 and 25 cm).

Cage: 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. An aquarium background or black poster board can be taped to three sides of the aquarium to help reduce stress and make the salamander feel secure.

Tigers salamanders belong to the genus Ambystoma, commonly called mole salamanders because of their preference to stay hidden underground much of the time. In captivity a substrate that allows these mole salamanders to burrow is best. A soil mixture based off of coconut husk fiber (bed-a-beast, forest bed, eco earth, etc.) often works well. Avoid any soil that contains perlite, vermiculite, small pieces of bark, or gravel. I use a soil that consists mostly of coconut husk fiber and cypress mulch. Other substrate options include leaf litter, top soil, or commercially available soil mixes that do not contain the harmful ingredients listed above. Foam rubber or moist paper towels can be used for temporary setups or quarantine cages. When a simple substrate like paper towels is used it will need to be changed often. Avoid using gravel, reptile cage carpeting, or small pieces of bark because these can be harmful to salamanders if accidentally ingested and do not hold moisture well. Whatever substrate is used, it should never become soggy or waterlogged for extended periods of time. It can be beneficial to keep the tank 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.

Shelters, hide spots, and decor in the cage can consist of cork bark tubes and flats, small logs, fake plants, rocks, and pieces of drift wood. Tiger salamanders should be provided with something to burrow under, large pieces of cork bark and driftwood work well. Artificial plants and patches of moist dried moss can be added for aesthetics. Live plants can also be used but should be left in their pots so that they do not get uprooted when the salamander is digging.

Temperature: Tiger salamanders can be kept between 60°F (16°C) and 70°F (21°C). They are somewhat tolerant of warmer temperatures when compared to other mole salamanders, but the cage should not be allowed to rise above 78°F (27°C). Cool conditions are not a problem for tiger salamanders, and drops down to 50°F (10°C) do not present a problem. It is recommended that tiger salamanders are kept either in an air conditioned room or cool basement so that the temperature stays within this range and does not get too hot.

Water: A clean, shallow source of water should always be available. Make sure that it isn't too deep because tiger salamanders don't swim well. Change the water everyday or when it appears dirty. If tap water is being used, treat it with tap water conditioner to remove chlorine, chloramines, and heavy metals. Bottled spring water can be used instead of tap water.

Food: One of the most enjoyable qualities of tiger salamanders is their tremendous appetite. They feed a variety of invertebrates, including crickets, night crawlers, earth worms, wax worms, super worms, silkworms, and roaches. Crickets and worms should compose the majority of their diet, and can be offerred in small quantities twice a week. Other food items can be substituted for crickets or worms every few feedings. It is often helpful to feed young salamanders in smaller quantities more frequently. Some large adult salamanders will accept pre-killed pinky or fuzzy mice, but these should only be fed rarely, if ever. Adult salamanders should have their food dusted in high quality reptile vitamin and mineral supplements every two to four feedings while juveniles should have their food supplemented at every feeding.

Last updated 08.02.05

Online Resources
Caudata Culture: Tiger Salamanders
Pet Education: Tiger Salamanders
Tiger Salamander Care Sheet From
Tiger Salamander - Subspecies Identification