Tiger Salamander Care (Ambystoma tigrinum)

Did you know that the Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) is the largest  salamander commonly available as a pet?

Even if you did know that little factoid, we’re betting this article, which will detail care tips and tricks for tiger salamanders in FAQ format, will teach you something new. So get ready to learn how to care for your Tiger salamander!

Tiger salamander care
Tiger salamanders are very easy pets to care for in captivity. We recommend them for hobbyists of all ages and levels of experience.

What do tiger salamanders look like?

Tiger salamanders actually come in a large variety of colors with varying patterns. Most will be a dark grey or brown color with darker, nearly black bars or stripes along their backs. Some are lighter in tone, while others are darker. Some might even have spots!

Overall, tiger salamanders are sturdy, stocky amphibians with thick bodies, strong legs, and small eyes. They enjoy burrowing, so their small eyes and strong limbs are great adaptations for this behavior.

How big will my tiger salamander get?

As we’ve already mentioned, tiger salamanders are pretty much the largest land-dwelling salamanders that are commonly available in the pet trade.

Most will average around eleven or twelve inches, but it is not unheard of for a tiger salamander to reach up to fourteen inches long!

Tiger salamanders are not shy when it comes to mealtime, so the more you feed your salamander, the bigger and faster it will grow! We just recommend a low-fat diet (i.e. don’t feed your salamander a ton of fatty insects or pinky mice) so that it doesn’t grow obese.

Tiger Salamander
Tiger salamanders like this guy have bars or stripes on their back and ribs that give them their common names.

What do tiger salamanders eat?

As previously mentioned, tiger salamanders are not picky eaters. They enjoy meal time and will pretty much eat whenever food is presented to them.

At Backwater Reptiles, we feed ours a steady diet of crickets, mealworms, reptiworms, roaches and nightcrawlers because tiger salamanders are carnivorous. We do give wax worms and horn worms as treats from time to time.

It’s also not uncommon for mature, large adults to be able to eat frozen/thawed fuzzie or pinkie mice.

Pro Tip: If your tiger salamander is wild-caught (which most pet salamanders are), it will probably spend a lot of time burrowing at first while it gets acclimated to its new home. We have found that tiger salamanders can be taught to emerge from hiding at feeding time if you gently tap the glass of their tank a few times to indicate feeding time. This type of training will involve digging your salamander out the first few times you tap the glass to commence feeding, but tiger salamanders are actually fairly smart and will quickly catch on.

How do I create a habitat for my pet salamander?

Tiger salamanders prefer horizontal space over vertical space (they’re burrowers, not climbers!), so if you are keeping a single salamander, a ten or 20 gallon tank should suffice. The 20 gallon is actually enough space for two salamanders.

You will discover that your tiger salamander enjoys burrowing and hiding, so be sure to provide a substrate that allows for this behavior. We recommend commercial topsoil with no added chemicals or artificial ingredients, although coconut fiber also works well. The substrate should be kept moist, but never to the point of dripping if you pick some up in your hands.

You can also choose to include a few hiding places in your salamander’s enclosure. Make sure you choose light weight objects such as cork or terra cotta and avoid heavy porcelain because otherwise your salamander might burrow underneath and accidentally injure itself.

Your pet tiger salamander will thrive if you keep the temperature in its enclosure anywhere from 50 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, although we recommend trying to avoid extreme temp fluctuations. Try to keep the ambient temperature relatively stable.

Are tiger salamanders aggressive and can I handle my tiger salamander?

By nature, tiger salamanders are burrowers and hiders. Like most salamanders, they are secretive and tend to avoid people, but tigers actually adapt really well to being handled and kept in captivity.

We’ve never heard of a tiger salamander that was aggressive or of anything other than an accidental bite. But in reality, tiger salamanders don’t have sharp teeth, so if you just happened to be feeding your salamander by hand and it missed its food and grabbed your fingers instead, you more than likely wouldn’t even have broken skin.

Are tiger salamanders good pets for beginners and/or children?

Tiger salamanders adapt very well to captivity, especially when their natural environments are particularly well-replicated. We think this makes them excellent options for young children and we’d go so far as to recommend them as classroom pets.

ambystoma tigrinum
Tiger salamanders are the largest species of terrestrial salamander.

Tiger salamanders don’t need a lot of maintenance to stay healthy. As long as you maintain a decent temperature, a moist substrate, and you take care not to overfeed or underfeed your salamander, you should have a pet that lives for ten years or longer.

I think I want a pet tiger salamander. Where can I buy one?

Most commercial pet stores keep tiger salamanders on hand. But we always think it is safer to buy from a breeder or supplier who has a record of producing healthy animals.

If you wish to purchase from Backwater Reptiles, we do sell three types of tiger salamander: Eastern, Barred, and aquatic stage animals that still have their gills.

We hope our blog post on Tiger salamander care has helped better inform you on how to keep these wonderful amphibians successfully in captivity. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below.


The Best Pet Salamanders for Beginners

Salamanders can make rewarding and entertaining pets. They are hardy little creatures, have cute features, and live long lives for such small animals.

Interested in getting a pet salamander for yourself or your family? Wondering where to begin or what species is good to start out with? Well then, read on! We put together this simple list all about which salamander species make the best pets just for you!

Best Pet Salamanders for beginners

5. Slimy Salamander (Plethodon glutinosus)

A better name for the Slimy Salamander might actually be the “Sticky Salamander.” While all salamanders are generally moist to the touch, the Slimy Salamander can leave a glutinous, clingy clear substance on your hands if you handle it. The substance, while annoying, is not at all harmful to people, but some might find it off-putting. This is the reason why we’ve had to put the Slimy Salamander at #5 on our list.

Plethodon glutinosus
We love the bug eyes on this Slimy Salamander.

Besides their stickiness, Slimies can make great little pets. They have minimal care requirements and can be kept in an enclosure as small as a plastic shoe box. They eat small invertebrates like crickets and will spend most of their time hiding, so be sure to provide a hide spot or two.

4. Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra)

Fire Salamanders are stunning little amphibians. Their skin is dark black and is accented with bold, yellow blotches and stripes. Most will have spots on their backs, but some can have more yellow on their top sides/backs than black.

These salamanders are known as being the first species of salamander described taxonomically and will grow to lengths of up to twelve inches. It has been reported that they can live to be ten years old in captivity.

Fire Salamander
The orange spots on this fire salamander sure are beautiful!

Fire Salamanders are actually not burrowers like most salamanders, so they can do just fine on a substrate of moist paper towels, however most hobbyists enjoy creating natural-looking habitats, so they will also thrive on any typical salamander substrate that retains moisture well.

Feeding your Fire Salamander is simple. Their food of choice is night crawlers, AKA earth worms. Interestingly enough, if your salamander is small, you can even cut the worms up into pieces and the salamander will still eat it. This is uncommon for salamanders as most will need to see  live insects wriggling, crawling, or hopping in order to recognize them as food.

3. Marbled Salamander (Ambystoma opacum)

Marbled Salamanders have chunky bodies with shorter limbs (at least when compared directly with other salamanders). They have black bodies with contrasting white or grayish colored bars and stripes on their backs and heads.

Marbled Salamander
This particular Marbled Salamander’s markings are greyish in color rather than white.

These are considered medium-sized salamanders and will grow to be around 5 inches long. They are also very avid burrowers. If you provide a substrate that supports burrowing, be aware that you will rarely see your pet salamander. In fact, Marbled Salamanders spend so much time burrowed underground that they have been nicknamed “mole salamanders.”

2. Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)

Of all the salamanders available in the pet trade, the Spotted Salamander is the least common. This is not because it is endangered, hard to keep, or expensive to buy – it’s simply because they have sort of a “cult following.” People who have kept them before sing their praises, but people who are not familiar with them probably don’t know much about them.

Spotted Salamander
Spotted salamanders have bright yellow and orange spots.


Spotted Salamanders are another medium-sized amphibian. Adult females can grow as large as ten inches long, although six to seven inches is a more common size. Males are also noticeably smaller than the females.

People who keep Spotted Salamanders as pets are usually initially attracted to the animal due to its vibrant combination of yellow and/or orange spots on its back.

1.Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum)

Tiger Salamanders are number one on our list because of how readily available they are. This means that any tiger salamanders available in the pet trade are most likely captive bred animals reducing or altogether eliminating any internal parasites that wild-caught animals might carry. Their care requirements are also widely known meaning that even large pet stores know  at least the basics of caring for these amphibians.

Tiger Salamanders are the largest of the salamanders on our list of best pet salamanders. They can grow to be as big as 14 inches long.

Pet Tiger Salamander
Pet Tiger salamanders like this guy have bars or stripes on their back and ribs that give them their common names.

They have very healthy appetites and will almost always eat anything you offer them. Some of the larger ones will even eat pinkie mice. They can even be trained to accept food from their owner’s hand.

Of all of the salamander species on this list, Tiger Salamanders are also the least secretive. They will be the most interactive and adapt to being handled easier than any other species, making them overall a heartier pet, especially if you expect your pet salamander to “play” with children.


Overall, salamanders are good pets because they are very good-natured amphibians. They tend to keep to themselves and will never bite or unintentionally harm their owners. They can be delicate however, and most are somewhat secretive, so if you are seeking a highly interactive pet, you might want to consider a reptile over an amphibian.

Ready to commit to a pet salamander? Backwater Reptiles has all of the salamanders for sale that are named above in our list.

What’s the Difference Between Amphibians and Reptiles?

The differences between reptiles and amphibians is stark. This week at Backwater Reptiles, we received a lot of new frogs, toads, and salamanders and that got us to thinking that maybe this blog article should discuss what makes an amphibian an amphibian and what makes a reptile a reptile. Although most reptile hobbyists know the differences between the two, some people have got to be curious as to what separates a salamander from a skink, right?

clown tree frog

In general, it’s easy to just say that frogs, toads, newts, and salamanders are all classified as amphibians, but you can read on to learn why these animals are different than reptiles.

asian spiny toad

The main indicator that an animal is an amphibian is that it “lives two lives” or has two distinct life phases. Amphibians are born in water and breathe through gills, then undergo metamorphosis and become full-grown animals that survive on land. Take a frog for example – they come into this world as tadpoles swimming around in ponds or pools of water and eventually grow into mature frogs. Reptiles, however, will be born as miniature forms of themselves and, aside from possibly displaying different markings as juveniles, should look the same their entire life.

slimy salamander

Reptiles don’t need to live near water, whereas amphibians need to live where water is present for two reasons. First, their skin needs to stay moist. Second, amphibians lay their eggs in or very near water.

Amphibians externally fertilize their eggs whereas reptiles internally fertilize. Amphibian eggs are usually found in a gelatinous clump in or near water, while reptile eggs are leathery, amniotic, and often buried for the gestation period.

eastern spadefoot toad

Finally, there are also aesthetic differences you can observe if you are not familiar with the animal’s life cycle. Reptiles possess scales, whereas amphibians have moist, sometimes sticky skin. Reptiles have claws to defend themselves from threats, but an amphibian’s main defense mechanisms are irritating secretions from the skin or biting because they don’t have nails.

golden tree frogs

This entry is not all inclusive as we could easily write an entire essay dedicated to this topic. It’s simply meant to touch on the main differences between reptiles and amphibians and to provide the basics for beginners.

All animals pictured in this blog post are amphibians for sale on our website.