Are you considering getting a pet tiger salamander? If so, you might wonder if they’re easy to care for. Or, perhaps you already own one and have questions about how to care for it.
Tiger salamanders are beautiful creatures. However, they’ve got so much more to offer than just good looks! They’re hardy (so pretty easy to care for), voracious (feeding time is a lot of fun), and never fail to garner attention from friends and family.
So, whether you’re an aspiring keeper, or a new owner looking for guidance, you’ve come to the right place! This guide will explain how to care for a pet tiger salamander.
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Types of Tiger Salamander
The tiger salamander is, in fact, a species complex that encompasses a number of species and subspecies. I’ve written a dedicated article covering the different types of tiger salamanders in more detail – check it out!
However, due to a very high degree of similarity in terms of appearance, habitat, biology, and behavior – the term tiger salamander is often used as a generic term when speaking of the different species and subspecies within the species complex.
To keep things simple, this guide will focus on the most common type of tiger salamander kept as a pet, the Eastern Tiger Salamander. However, if you own a barred tiger salamander, this guide may also be helpful.
The scientific name of the tiger salamander is Ambystoma tigrinum.
When tiger salamanders reach adulthood, they measure between 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) from the tip of their snout to the end of their tail.
Tiger salamanders have broad heads, short stubby snouts, large eyes, thick necks, sturdy stumpy legs, and long tails. They also have a relatively low profile compared to other exotic pets, such as iguanas. Females are generally larger and broader than males.
The coloration of a tiger salamander will vary considerably from one species to another, from one subspecies to another, or even within the same species or subspecies.
However, there is a general theme across the range. This also explains the analogy with their feline friends.
Tiger salamanders have dark bodies (ranging from grey to dark brown to black) with bright spots, blotches, or stripes that can be off-white, cream, yellow, or even olive.
Tiger salamanders tend to live anywhere from 12 to 15 years.
Life expectancy is generally shorter in the wild than in captivity. I’ve written a detailed article about the lifespan of tiger salamanders – make sure to check it out for more information.
Tiger salamanders adapt well to life in captivity – perhaps better than any other species of salamander. Many owners will go as far as saying that their tiger salamanders are quite easily tamed.
As with any animal, certain precautions need to be taken.
First of all, tiger salamanders can sometimes bite. More often than not, they simply mistake your fingers for food. Some individuals carry salmonella in their digestive tract, so if bitten, you should disinfect your wound and get medical advice. Also, always wash your hands after handling.
Secondly, tiger salamanders have the ability to secrete toxins from glands under their skin. They only do so when they feel threatened, and it’s a very rare occurrence with pet tiger salamanders. However, knowing what to look out for and what to do if you come in contact with the secretions is important.
Want to know more? Check out my article covering tiger salamander toxins.
Tiger salamanders are nocturnal creatures in the wild. They tend to sleep in their burrows during the day, leaving them in search of food when it gets dark.
If you’re planning on owning a tiger salamander as a pet, expect your pet to spend most of your waking day buried under the substrate or sleeping in its hide.
Tiger salamanders are GREAT eaters! They have a voracious appetite, especially when compared to other creatures their size.
Consequently, you may want to budget accordingly!
On the other hand, feeding time is when the fun begins. Tiger salamanders tend to get pretty giddy and excited when they’re about to get fed. This is when they’re the most active, and you’ll get to admire them in all their splendor!
Tiger salamanders are hardy, easy-going creatures and are relatively easy to care for.
They really don’t need much other than an adequately kitted-out habitat and enough food and water.
When creating a habitat for your pet – especially exotic pets – it’s critical to try to replicate the most important features of their habitats in the wild as best as possible.
In the wild, tiger salamanders are found throughout North America. They are born underwater, in vernal pools or ponds. As they reach adulthood, they become land-dwelling creatures, only returning to the water occasionally, mainly during their yearly migration, in order to breed.
On land, their habitat consists of wet grasslands and damp woodlands. Tiger salamanders live in burrows, which they either dig themselves or “borrow” from other animals. They live anywhere from 6 inches to 2 feet underground for most of the day and tend only to leave the security and comfort of their shelter at night.
As most first-time tiger salamander owners opt for young adult tiger salamanders as opposed to larvae or juveniles, this guide will focus on recommendations targeted at adult individuals.
Adult tiger salamanders live in a type of vivarium that incorporates both terrestrial and aquatic zones. In other words, they need both land AND water. This type of enclosure is known as a paludarium. Some owners also use the term terrarium, although that term is better used to describe predominantly terrestrial setups.
You can make a paludarium out of a traditional aquarium or vivarium or use a large plastic container with a tightly fitting lid which you may need to drill holes in to allow for good airflow.
The minimum recommended capacity of the enclosure is 10 gallons (38 liters). However, I’d recommend a tank at least twice that size for a single individual. Also, tiger salamanders won’t really use the full height of the tank, so they prefer more elongated tanks to give them more ground and water space to enjoy.
Tiger salamanders need a substrate that will fulfill 2 functions: keep the humidity levels in the tank high and enable them to dig and burrow.
Therefore, I recommend using potting soil (free of any sort of additives), moss, coconut husk, or a mix of all three. The substrate bed must be at least 4 to 6 inches deep, preferably deeper if possible.
Certain owners also put large stones, rocks, slate, and wood features in their paludariums, especially in the water sections.
Humidity levels are very important, as with all amphibians.
Tiger salamanders can live with humidity levels between 50% (on the very low side) to 80%. The sweet spot seems to be around 70% – 75%.
The optimal temperature range for tiger salamanders is from 50 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 24 degrees Celsius) – with a clear preference for the high teens or low 20s. Temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius) can cause overheating and heat distress.
As explained in this article, heating lights or heating pads are rarely required as most US homes tend to have an average temperature within the range that is comfortable for tiger salamanders.
Tiger salamanders don’t enjoy bright, hot, direct lighting. It tends to dry out the air and their skin. As a matter of fact, tiger salamanders don’t need artificial lighting at all as long as there’s regular daylight in their room. Artificial lighting might be useful if real live plants are in your paludarium.
The best type of lighting to mimic their natural habitat is a low to moderate-brightness LED light. Alternatively, low-power fluorescent lighting can be used. It’s also important to ensure that there are enough plants and hiding places in the animal’s enclosure to provide shade.
Secondly, as tiger salamanders are nocturnal creatures, it’s recommended to put their lighting on a regular day/night schedule of approximately 12 hours of brightness and 12 hours of darkness.
Finally, as highlighted in my article, tiger salamanders don’t need UV lights. That’s one less thing for you to worry about as a new pet owner.
Tiger salamanders are voracious eaters. They are predatorial carnivores and, in the wild, will eat a wide range of invertebrates, gastropods, crustaceans, insects, fish, and even small rodents.
I’ve written an article specifically about what tiger salamanders eat. It also covers the subject of food supplements, gut loading, and dusting. Check it out for a complete list of what you can feed yours, how frequently, and in what quantities.
Your tiger salamander’s diet should always be adapted to its age, size, and particular health requirements. If you’re in any doubt, reach out to your vet or a breeder, and they will be able to provide expert advice.
As is the case with all amphibians, tiger salamanders are VERY sensitive to their water quality. Their skins are very porous and can absorb any chemicals, heavy metals, and impurities in contaminated water.
I recommend giving their good quality spring or mineral water with a neutral pH or dechlorinating and conditioning regular tap water. Place this water in a container of your choice, such as a shallow Tupperware or even a dedicated reptile water dish.
Sensitivity to Environmental Conditions
Due to the porous nature of their skins and their dual lifestyles (living both in water and on land), salamanders are very sensitive to the quality of the water, air, and food they have access to. As a matter of fact, biologists consider the general health of salamander populations as an early indicator of the overall health of the environment.
In the wild, tiger salamanders are also prone to a number of diseases, such as Ranavirus infection and chytrid fungal infection.
Please note: The information in this article is not medical or veterinary advice.
Common symptoms of ranavirus infections are as follows:
- Weight loss.
- Skin sores, blisters, ulcers.
- Bleeding (hemorrhaging)
- Eye sores.
Chytrid Fungal Infection
Chytrid fungal infection is caused by Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) fungus. Symptoms to look out for are:
- Reddening of the skin.
- Excessive shedding.
- Skin sores, blisters, ulcers (especially limb extremities).
- Odd posture.
Thankfully, the chances of your tiger salamander falling ill either due to contaminated water, air, or food; or indeed any of the pathogens highlighted above, are relatively low. However, it’s not impossible.
To minimize the risk of illness, ensure you feed your pet treated water and food from reputable suppliers. And very importantly, avoid feeding it wild-caught food or introducing wild fauna or flora into its tank as they might be carrying pathogens.
Tiger salamanders make a great first-time amphibian pet. They’re probably the best-suited salamander for life in captivity.
Their hardiness and overall docile nature make them low-maintenance pets. Their large appetites ensure plenty of action when approaching their enclosures, as they’ll almost certainly expect you to feed them.
I’ve owned axolotls for many years, and they’re definitely not as hardy or as easy to care for. Water quality, in particular, is a constant worry. Tiger salamanders are perhaps a more beginner-friendly option if you want to keep amphibians as pets.