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November 2023’s Animal Of The Month – Tiger Salamanders

By November 30, 2023 No Comments

We have no doubt that our Animal of the Month is relieved today is November 30th! Now, the tiger salamander, can exit stage left and get back to some solitary living underground after we tweeted (posted) fun and fascinating facts about him the entire month. If you missed any of our tweets (posts) on our Twitter/X account @ExoticPetVets, you can find a summary right here that you can reference any time. Did you know?:

  • Tiger salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum) are endemic to North America and are found across much of the continent.
  • Several subspecies of tiger salamanders are recognized, but the exact number varies depending on the source and advancements in scientific classification (taxonomy).
  • The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) originally assessed tiger salamanders according to three distinct populations – the Great Lakes population, the Prairie population and the Southern Mountain population.
  • In 2012, COSEWIC then split tiger salamanders into two species – the eastern tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) and the western tiger salamander (Ambystoma mavortium), which is also known as the barred tiger salamander.
  • Two other species were also once considered subspecies of the (eastern) tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) – the plateau tiger salamander (Ambystoma velasci) and the California tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense).
  • Did you know that tiger salamanders have something in common with axolotls? Both are part of a group of amphibians known as mole salamanders and all are endemic to North America.
  • What defines a mole salamander? As moles are known for being burrowing mammals, mole salamanders are so-called because they are also known for burrowing and tiger salamanders are no exception.
  • Adult tiger salamanders are terrestrial, meaning they live on land. But they are also elusive by nature and most of their time on land is spent living in underground burrows.
  • Tiger salamanders will usually dig their own burrows. But they are also known to use abandoned burrows that were made by mammals or invertebrates.
  • Spending large amounts of time in their burrows not only helps tiger salamanders hide from their predators, but it also allows them to escape temperature and other weather extremes above ground.
  • Tiger salamanders can be found in a wide variety of habitats; including – but not limited to – forests, woodlands, grasslands, inland wetlands and even deserts.
  • As long as they have soil that is suitable for digging out a burrow and a nearby small water source – such as a pond or vernal (seasonal) pools – for breeding, tiger salamanders can adapt to many different habitats.
  • Tiger salamanders are considered to be the largest land-dwelling salamanders in North America.
  • When fully grown, tiger salamanders grow to lengths averaging between 16-22 cms (6-8 inches). But they can also reach lengths of about 35 cms (13 inches).
  • Tiger salamanders have a broad head with a short rounded snout and a wide mouth. They have round eyes that are front-facing and widely separated on their heads.
  • Tiger salamanders have stout bodies with short legs and a long laterally flat tail. Males usually are bigger, have longer tails and longer hind limbs than females.
  • Tiger salamanders have bodies that are either dark brown, dark grey or black with stripes, splotches or spots that are yellow, yellow-ish brown or even an olive green colour. Their bellies are usually lighter in colour.
  • The colours and patterns found on tiger salamanders can vary widely, with some not having any patterns at all.
  • Tiger salamanders are elusive solitary amphibians, except when it comes time to mate.
  • Mating season for tiger salamanders usually begins when the ground thaws in late winter/early spring.
  • Tiger salamanders will emerge from their burrows and head to nearby suitable water sources such as vernal pools or the shallow fish-free edges of ponds or lakes.
  • Courtship involves the male nudging and bumping other tiger salamanders until he finds a female and nudges her away from his rivals.
  • After the male tiger salamander drops his spermatophore (a capsule that contains his sperm), the female will then pick it up with her cloaca (genital area).
  • After about a day or two, female tiger salamanders will lay up to 100 fertilized eggs that are attached to vegetation at the bottom of the water source.
  • Depending on the species, subspecies and water temperature, tiger salamander eggs can take up to 50 days to hatch.
  • Tiger salamanders in the larval stage live exclusively in the water. Once they metamorphose (completely change their physical form), which can take up to five months, they become fully terrestrial.
  • Occasionally, some tiger salamanders won’t fully metamorphose out of the larval stage and will live out their entire lives in the water. When an adult animal retains juvenile features, this is called neoteny.
  • Tiger salamanders are strictly carnivores, meaning they only eat animal matter.
  • When they are in the larval stage, they will eat insect larvae, small crustaceans – and sometimes each other! As adults, wild tiger salamanders mostly dine on insects, snails, slugs and worms.
  • Predators of adult tiger salamanders include owls, snakes, badgers, raccoons, coyotes and bobcats. In the larval stage, they are prey for snakes, aquatic insects, other amphibians and other salamander larvae.
  • Larval and neotenic tiger salamanders need to rely on their speed in the water to make quick escapes from aquatic predators.
  • As adults on land, tiger salamanders will defend themselves against predators by raising their hind legs and waving their tails, which have glands that produce secretions.
  • These secretions are both sticky and toxic. The secretions will not only stick to tiger salamander predators, but will also repel and potentially kill them.
  • Although tiger salamanders are endemic to North America, NEVER take them from the wild to keep as pets! Doing so is not only illegal and unfair to the animal, but it also threatens wild populations and the ecosystem.
  • Tiger salamanders who are to be kept in captivity should only be acquired through reputable breeders or adopted from a rescue or in a rehoming situation.
  • Before bringing tiger salamanders into your family, always make sure to do your research so you know what they need to be healthy and happy in captivity.
  • Tiger salamanders have a fairly long life span. Fully terrestrial adults in the wild can live between 12 and 15 years on average.
  • With proper care, tiger salamanders in captivity can live between 15 and 20 years on average. But it has been reported that neotenic aquatic adults can live up to 25 years in captivity.

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