Adult tiger salamanders range from 17 to 33 cm in length and are very thick-bodied. A number of colors and patterns are possible, depending on where in its range a tiger salamander is found. The most common tiger salamanders have round, yellow spots over a black background. There are also "barred" tiger salamanders with vertical yellow stripes running down the body. "Blotched" tiger salamanders have irregular golden markings over a black background. The color of the markings of bars and spots can range from green to black, but most are typically yellow and gold. Young tiger salamander larvae are usually olive-green in color and display markings similar to adults a few weeks after hatching.
This mole salamander is the largest land dwelling salamander in North America. It also has the greatest range of any other North American salamander, spreading in range from southeastern Alaska east to the southern part of Labrador, and south throughout all of the United States down to the southern edge of the Mexican Plateau (Indiviglio 1997).
Adult tiger salamanders live on land in habitats such as forests, grasslands, or marshes (Petranka 1998). These salamanders are known as "mole salamanders" because they live underground for most of their lives. They can be found under rocks, stumps, and in burrows. In the breeding season of late winter/early spring, tiger salamanders migrate to temporary ponds created by melted snow and rainwater, where large numbers of salamanders gather to mate.
Eggs are laid in small pools and hatch within a time period of 19 to 50 days. The larvae remain in the pond until they turn into adults at 2.5 to 5 months of age. Sometimes, adult tiger salamanders remain in the aquatic larval form for their entire lives.
Ambystoma tigrinum migrates to the breeding ponds in late winter or early spring, usually after a warm rain thaws out the ground. Males produce spermatophores and attach them to rocks and logs underwater. The females come by and fertilize their eggs with these spermatophores. The laying of eggs occurs a night, usually 24-48 hours after courtship. They lay the eggs and attach them with twigs, grass stems and leaves on the bottom of the pond. Each female produces 100 to 1000 eggs per season (Harding 1997).
Aquatic adult tiger salamanders live up to 25 years in captivity. Normal adults have reached ages of 16 years.
Adult Tiger Salamanders live underground for most of the year and usually dig their own burrows, unlike other species that use burrows of other animals. They have been found over 60 cm below the surface (Harding 1997). This allows them to escape the temperature extremes above ground and may explain why they have such a wide variety of habitats.
Tiger salamanders eat worms, snails, insects, and slugs in the wild. Captive salamanders feed on smaller salamanders, frogs, newborn mice, and baby snakes. The larvae eat small crustaceans and insect larvae and once grown, they will feed on tadpoles and smaller salamander larvae and even small fish (Harding 1997).
Tiger salamanders are eaten by badgers, snakes, bobcats, and owls. Larvae are eaten by aquatic insects, the larvae of other salamanders, and snakes.
Sometimes, tiger salamanders larvae are born in fish hatcheries and feed on small fish and their eggs.
In some places Ambystoma tigrinum are captured and sold for fish bait (Harding 1997).
Tiger salamanders in the southeastern U.S. have been affected by deforestation and the loss of wetland habitats. Acid rain also kills salamanders, because their skin is very sensitive to deadly chemicals. These salamanders are often hit by cars when traveling to their breeding pools.
Alissa Wentz (author), Michigan State University, James Harding (editor), Michigan State University.
Harding, J. 1997. Amphibians and Reptiles of the Great Lakes Region. Ann Arbor, Mi: The University of Michigan Press.
Indiviglio, F. 1997. Newts and Salamanders. New York: Barron's Educational Series.
Petranka, J. 1998. Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press.