How Many Types of Tiger Salamanders Are There?

“Daddy, can we please get a tiger salamander?”

“A WHAT salamander?”, I replied, pretending not to understand.

Yes, you know…those black and yellow salamanders. Kind of like our axolotl, but different…“.

Here we go again…“, I muttered to myself and smiled.

Six cats (including one very demanding Burmese…), an aquarium full of fish, and a pet axolotl were suddenly no longer sufficient company for each other or for my 8-year-old daughter. So, whilst I was somewhat reluctant to add another animal to our growing zoo, I did what any good (some would say soft) father would do and started researching tiger salamanders. Then, I unearthed something really interesting…

Here’s what I discovered:

There are many different types of tiger salamanders. Tiger salamanders are, in fact, a species complex, as opposed to a species in and of itself. There are actually many different species (at least 3) and subspecies of tiger salamanders (at least 5), each with its name.

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How Many Species of Tiger Salamander Are There?

How Many Types Of Tiger Salamanders Are There Feature Image

If you’re interested in finding out more about what a species complex is, and what the different species and sub-species of tiger salamanders are, then keep on reading below!

What Is A Species Complex

Here are definitions of species complex, which I’ve found doing a quick Google search.

“In biology, a species complex is a group of closely related organisms that are so similar in appearance and other features that the boundaries between them are often unclear.”

Alex Borisenko, on

“[…] the term ‘species complex’ may be used in taxonomy as a way of saying a) we think that this group of organisms may represent more than one species; b) we cannot discern the species boundaries with certainty […]; and c) we speculate (or assume) that these ‘species’ are related in some way […].

In essence, it would seem like people have been using the term tiger salamander for years, thinking it related to one particular species when, in reality, it’s an umbrella term that covers a range of species and subspecies.

But what are these different tiger salamander species and subspecies? What are they called? What do they look like?

Let’s take a look!

Tiger Salamander Species

Based on my research, there are at least 3 different species of tiger salamander. Each species has its own scientific name, unique appearance, and unique characteristics. Let’s dive right in!

Eastern Tiger Salamander

  • Scientific name: Ambystoma tigrinum.
  • Appearance: Variable yellow spots/blotches (ranging in color from dark olive to bright yellow) on a brown to black body.

As its name suggests, the Eastern Tiger Salamander is predominantly found along the East Coast of the United States, from New York to Florida. It’s also widely represented in Central states. However, the species hasn’t colonized the Appalachian Mountains.

California Tiger Salamander

  • Scientific name: Ambystoma californiense.
  • Appearance: Yellow or cream spots or bars on a black body.

As its name suggests, the California Tiger Salamander is native to the “Golden State”. Unfortunately, this beautiful animal is both an endangered and threatened species.

Barred Tiger Salamander

  • Scientific name: Ambystoma mavortium.
  • Appearance: Their colors and patterns vary greatly across the different subspecies. Generally, they have yellow bar-like patterns and spots against a grey, dark brown, or black body.

The Barred Tiger Salamander is also known as the Western Tiger Salamander. Biologists have identified at least 5 different subspecies within the barred tiger salamander species. Each subspecies looks slightly different.

Barred Tiger Salamander Subspecies

Based on my research, at least 5 subspecies of Barred Tiger Salamander exist.

Barred Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma mavortium mavortium)
Gray Barred Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma mavortium diaboli)
Blotched Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma mavortium melanostictum)
Arizona Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma mavortium nebulosum)
Sonoran Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma mavortium stebbinsi)

In Conclusion

It would appear that many exotic pet enthusiasts and wildlife lovers have been misusing the term “tiger salamander” for years.

Indeed, whilst it was once believed that the tiger salamander was a species in and of itself, it turns out that there are, in fact, a number of tiger salamander species and even subspecies.

So, if you’re ever looking to own a tiger salamander, you’ll know what types of tiger salamanders exist, what they look like, and what’s special about them.

PS: At the time of writing, we haven’t adopted a tiger salamander yet (Eastern, California, or Barred!)…but I’m sure my daughter will seek to change that soon…

Did you like this post? Then you might also like How To Care For A Tiger Salamander [Beginner’s Guide]


Hello and welcome to Pets From Afar. I'm Glen. My daughter Siri and I are mad about axolotls. I created this website to document our findings and experiences, as we learn more about these amazing amphibians. Follow along and enjoy the fun!

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