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What Is a Tiger Salamander?

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  • Written By: L. Whitaker
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 04 November 2016
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The tiger salamander, scientific name Ambystoma tigrinium, is one of several subspecies of mole salamanders, which are nocturnal amphibians that spend much of their time burrowed beneath the soil near a water source. They get their name from the vertical markings on their backs, typically in the form of yellowish stripe-like or splotchy marks over a black or dark foundation. With a thick body and long tail, the tiger salamander is one of the largest salamanders found in North America. Tiger salamanders do not reach reproductive maturity for up to five years and can sometimes live as long as 15 years in the wild.

Tiger salamanders typically grow to be 6-8 inches (15.2-20.3 cm) long as adults, although specimens have been found as long as 14 inches (35 cm). Like other subspecies of mole salamanders, they are nocturnal carnivores who spend the day burrowed deeply in wet soil, coming out at night to eat small creatures such as frogs, worms, roaches, and crickets. Females reproduce by depositing a mass of 25 to 50 fertilized eggs underwater on a twig or weed. The eggs hatch in approximately four weeks, producing larvae called waterdogs that will stay in the water for several months.

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In the U.S., subspecies of tiger salamanders exist in a habitat range from northern Florida to southernmost New York, as well as stretching from Ohio to Minnesota and part of eastern Texas. Some species are also found in parts of Mexico and Canada. Tiger salamanders are generally captured for sale as exotic pets when they are still in the larval or waterdog stage, making it difficult to distinguish the subtype until the specimen reaches adulthood.

The barred tiger salamander features thick dark stripes on a yellow or tan background that most closely resemble the stripes of a tiger. The Arizona tiger salamander is located in Arizona as well as three other Western states. Other types of tiger salamanders include the blotched, gray, eastern, California, and Sonoran tiger salamander, which is under federal protection as an endangered species.

Owners of a pet tiger salamander are encouraged to provide a solitary habitat for each animal within a 15 gallon aquarium, with a soil substrate that allows the animal to burrow. A shallow pool of water should also be located in the habitat and changed often. If using tap water, owners can treat the water with water conditioner to remove elements such as chlorine that can be harmful to the salamander. Pet tiger salamanders are typically fed worms and crickets approximately twice weekly.

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