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Ambystoma tigrinum (Green, 1825)
Eastern Tiger Salamander

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Ambystoma tigrinum, metamorph
Copyright Heather Heinz, 2006 · 3
Ambystoma tigrinum, metamorph

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Ambystoma tigrinum
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Ambystoma tigrinum
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Ambystoma tigrinum

Ambystoma tigrinum
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Ambystoma tigrinum
Ambystoma tigrinum
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Ambystoma tigrinum

Ambystoma tigrinum
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Ambystoma tigrinum
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Ambystoma tigrinum, barred tiger salamander
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Ambystoma tigrinum, barred tiger salamander

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Ambystoma tigrinum, head
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Ambystoma tigrinum, head

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Checklist of Amphibian Species and Identification Guide

Tiger Salamander, Ambystoma tigrinum

The Tiger Salamander , Ambystoma tigrinum covers a wide range of areas extending nearly coast to coast in North America. There are several subspecies within this complex, but some researcehers are of the opinion that the group should be divided into two different species. Previously, even the California Tiger Salamander was considered a subspecies of Ambystoma tigrinum ( A. t. californiense ), but is now regarded as a separate species, Ambystoma californiense . Of the 6 subspecies of Ambystoma tigrinum discussed here it is the Eastern Tiger Salamander that may some day be regarded as a separate species, in which case it would be given the name Ambystoma tigrinum , while the remaining would be grouped under the name Ambystoma mavortium while retaining the original subspecies name. For example, the Barred Tiger Salamander would then be called Ambystoma mavortium mavortium ). The Tiger Salamanders are large, robust salamanders reaching average total lengths up to 8.5 inches, though some individuals over 12 inches long have been found. Outside of the breeding season they are seldom seen, as they spend most of their time underground, often in mammal burrows.
Tiger Salamander Range

gray tiger salamander
The Gray Tiger Salamander ( Ambystoma tigrinum diaboli ) are easily recognized with their dark green to gray background speckled with tiny black dots. It breeds in the early spring, migrating to ponds as soon as the ice on them begins to melt.
blotched tiger salamander
In the Blotched Tiger Salamander ( Ambystoma tigrinum melanostictum ) the background color is dull yellow and is lighter than in the Gray Tiger Salamander. The dark markings are also larger but usually take up less area than the background color. These irregular markings often form a network-like pattern. The Blotched Tiger Salamnader is also an early spring breeder.
In the Barred Tiger Salamander ( Ambystoma tigrinum mavortium ) the dark spots are larger than in the last two and tend to form the background color, while there are yellow bars or stripes that extend from the belly to the middle of the back, though these are irregular in form. In the south of this subspecies range it is a winter breeder, in the north an early spring breeder, migrating to ponds after heavy rains.
eastern tiger salamander
The Eastern Tiger Salamander ( Ambystoma tigrinum tigrinum ). They are characterized by a dark background with light yellow-gold markings extending down their sides.It is found in the eastern half of North America. In the south it is also a winter breeder, in the north an early spring breeder, migrating to ponds after heavy rains.
Arizona Tiger Salamander Arizona Tiger Salamander
The Arizona Tiger Salamander ( Ambystoma tigrinum nebulosum ; above) also has a dark black or gray background with light yellow markings in the form of mottled spots or bars that are smaller and/or fewer than in the Tiger Salamander. Some specimens in small populations may have their color pattern in the reverse, making them look similar to the Gray Tiger Salamander, with the black spots or bars on lighter background. Breeding occurs in conjunction with raisn in the more arid parts of its range.

The Sonoran Tiger Salamander ( Ambystoma tigrinum stebbinsi - not shown) is restricted to the highlands of the Huachuca and Patagonia Mountains in Arizona. This subspecies is federally listed as endagered throughout its range.

Introductions.  In southern Arizona the use of Tiger Salamander larvae as bait has led to the introduction of the Tiger Salamanders outside of its range. Also, introduced individuals have come from areas far away and include subspecies other than A. t. nebulosum . This mixing of subspecies makes it difficult to impossible to determine where the introduced salamanders came from.

Neoteny.  Some populations of Tiger Salamanders, particularly in western North America and especially at high altitudes tend to be neotenic. This means that although the salamanders become sexually mature and can reproduce they do not metamorphose, remaining as larvae and breathing with gills. These are sometimes called Axolotls. However, this name is best reserved for Ambystoma mexicanum , a mole salamander species from Mexico that never metamorphoses under natural conditions. Neotenic Tiger Salamanders can become larger than individuals that metamorphose, reaching total lengths of 15 inches.

Tiger Salamander Larvae - external gills distinguish salamander larvae from frog tadpoles (which have internal gills). The legs of the younger (and smaller) larva below left have not yet emerged. In contrast to anurans, the front legs emerge first, then the back. The larva below left was found in May, the one below right in August.

Tiger Salamander Larva Tiger Salamander Larva

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Additional Information

Ambystoma tigrinum Eastern Tiger Salamander (Also: Tiger Salamander)

By Alissa Wentz

Geographic Range

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).


Fully metamorphosed adults lead a terrestrial existance and, depending upon where in the country they are found, some may inhabit forests, grasslands, or marshy areas (Petranka 1998). Tiger salamanders are less dependent on the forest than most other Ambystomids. One general requirement seems to be soil in which they are able to burrow or in which the burrow of other species of other animals might be utilized (Petranka1998). While they are well suited for terrestrial existence in terms of their skin consistency and thickness, they do need to be able to burrow underground in order to seek the proper humidity levels. Another requirement is that they live close enough for permanent access to ponds and othe small waters for their breeding. During dry periods, large numbers of tiger salamanders have been found lying in piles beneath suitable cover or underground (Indiviglio 1997).

Physical Description

Adult Length 17-33 cm.

The adult tiger salamander is a thick-bodied creature generally with yellow blotches or spots against a black background. Once in a while there will be one with blotches that are tan or olive green in color. The spots or blotches are never in any set shape, size or position. Actually you may even be able to tell its origin by the color and pattern of the background and/or spots (Indiviglio 1997). A. tigrinum has a rather large head and a broad rounded snout. Their eyes are round. The belly is usually yellowish or olive with invading dark pigment. It has about 12-13 coastal grooves (Harding 1997). Males tend to be proportionally longer, with a more compressed tail and longer stalkier hind legs than the females. During the breeding season the males have a swollen vent area. The larvae have a yellowish green or olive body with the dark blotches and a stripe along each side. They also have a whitish belly. As they grow, specimens tend to be grayish or greenish in color, and within a few weeks they start to show yellow or tan spots and gradually merge into the patterns of the adult bodies (Harding 1997).

  • Average mass
    9.402 g
    0.33 oz
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    0.00196 W


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 that thaws out the ground's surface. Males tend to arrive earlier than the females, probably due to the fact that they live closer to the ponds during the winter months. Courtship happens during the night where the males nudge and bump other salamanders. Upon coming across a female, the male will nudge her with his snout to get her away from the other males (Harding 1997). Once away from the other males, the male walks under the females chin, leading her forward and then she nudges his tail and vent area. This behavior stimulates the male to deposit a spermatophore. The female moves her body so that the spermatophore contacts her vent, thus allowing her to take sperm into her cloaca. This behavioral movement continues and produces more spermatophores. The competition for breeding is great in this species and sometimes other males may interupt the courting pairs and replaces the spermatophores with its own. The laying of eggs occurs a night, usually 24-48 hours after the courtship and insemination. They lay the eggs and attach them with twigs, grass stems and leaves that have decayed on the bottom floor of the pond. Each mass can obtain up to 100 eggs (Harding 1997). When large enough, the masses can resemble that of a spotted salamander but the mass of a tiger salamander is less firm and is very fragile if handled. Each female produces anything from 100 to 1000 eggs per season (Harding 1997).

  • Average number of offspring
  • Average time to hatching
    28 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    1460 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    1460 days


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 on the surface and may explain why they have such a wide array of habitat types.

Food Habits

The tiger salamander's food source consists of worms, snails, insects, and slugs in the wild; while captive specimens rely on smaller salamanders, frogs, newborn mice, and baby snakes. Tiger salamanders in the wild also tend to eat the same thing as captives, if opportunity presents itself (Indviviglio 1997). The larvae begin feeding on small crustaceans and insect larvae and once grown, they will feast 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.

Ecosystem Roles

They are efficient predators in their aqautic and subterranean environment, and their prey includes some insect pests.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

In some places Ambystoma tigrinum are captured and sold for fish bait (Harding 1997).

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

The larvae are sometimes considered a nuisance in fish hatcheries. Large larvae will feed on very small fish, but their main effect might be to act as competitors with the fish. As the fish grow larger they can turn the tables and feed on the salamander larvae.

Conservation Status

Populations in the southeastern U.S. have been affected by deforestation and loss of wetland habitats and appear to be declining in many areas. According to studies in the Colorado Rockies done by Harte and Hoffman, acid rain may be responsible for this. Other studies indicate that it might not have anything to do with it (Petranka 1998). Other threats for these salamanders are being hit by cars and polluting of their ponds and habitats.


Alissa Wentz (author), Michigan State University, James Harding (editor), Michigan State University.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

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bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature


union of egg and spermatozoan


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


Referring to a burrowing life-style or behavior, specialized for digging or burrowing.


having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


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.

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To cite this page: Wentz, A. 2001. "Ambystoma tigrinum" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed August 30, 2014 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Ambystoma_tigrinum/

Disclaimer: The Animal Diversity Web is an educational resource written largely by and for college students . ADW doesn't cover all species in the world, nor does it include all the latest scientific information about organisms we describe. Though we edit our accounts for accuracy, we cannot guarantee all information in those accounts. While ADW staff and contributors provide references to books and websites that we believe are reputable, we cannot necessarily endorse the contents of references beyond our control.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation Grants DRL 0089283, DRL 0628151, DUE 0633095, DRL 0918590, and DUE 1122742. Additional support has come from the Marisla Foundation, UM College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, Museum of Zoology, and Information and Technology Services.

The ADW Team gratefully acknowledges their support.

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