Water Dog to Tiger Salamander

Tiger Salamander

Observing an adult Blotched Tiger Salamander
Observing an adult Blotched Tiger Salamander | Source

Waterdog to Tiger Salamander

Frogs and snakes

And salamander's tails,

That's what little boys are made of.

Isn't that the way it goes? Well, it does around my house. My kids love nature and, now that it is summer, they have discovered a whole new world of fun in the local ponds and waterways. Frogs, snakes, and big, slimy salamanders are just a few of the residents in the wetland areas of Montana. The Blotched Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum melanostictum) is the current far out favorite.

Larvae Tiger Salamanders or "Waterdogs"

Hatchling waterdog
Hatchling waterdog | Source
Waterdog rescued from the bait shop by Furryscaly
Waterdog rescued from the bait shop by Furryscaly | Source
Neotenic Tiger Salamander: a neotenic is a salamander that reaches sexual maturity with out losing its aquatic features.  In-other-words, it does not outgrow the larval stage.  It is unclear why some salamanders do this.
Neotenic Tiger Salamander: a neotenic is a salamander that reaches sexual maturity with out losing its aquatic features. In-other-words, it does not outgrow the larval stage. It is unclear why some salamanders do this. | Source

What is a Tiger Salamander?

The Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) is a land-dwelling amphibian that returns to the water to breed. Like most amphibians, Tiger Salamander young metamorphose from a water-breathing larva to an air-breathing adult.

The Blotched Tiger Salamander is found in North America from Southern Alberta to Northern Colorado. Adults live most of the year in muddy burrows, usually dug by rodents. They emerge from hibernation in the late spring and migrate to ponds or vernal pools to breed. Females lay eggs in gelatinous bunches on aquatic plants; these eggs typically hatch within three weeks.

After breeding, the adults return to their muddy homes while the salamander larvae, called "waterdogs" are left to defend for themselves. Waterdogs are fish-like with large feathery gills behind the head. They are approximately 3 inches (76mm) in length, are a light brown and grow darker as they mature. They almost immediately develop short legs. If they survive, the rest of their amazing transformation will occur in the late summer.

Blotched Tiger Salamander adults range from olive to brown to black with yellow blotches or stripes. Like the larvae, the adults generally get darker in color with age. They have a broad head and a wide mouth. Adults can reach up to 9 inches (230mm) in length, making them the largest land-dwelling salamanders in the world. They can live up to 20 years or more in captivity.

Waterdogs feed on mosquito and other larvae when they are very small. As they grow they will eat larger insects and worms. Unfortunately for them, they are eaten by just about everything: birds, snakes, fish, mammals and even used as fishing bait by humans. Most of the young will not survive to adulthood.

Sadly, the Tiger Salamander numbers are dropping alarmingly as habitat is destroyed and weather patterns have gotten much dryer in recent years. The larva cannot survive if the breeding pools dry before they reach maturity.

Tiger Salamander

Adult Tiger Salamander
Adult Tiger Salamander | Source

Why are the Tiger Salamanders Dying in Yellowstone National Park?

According to Stanford researchers, global warming is to blame for the loss of suitable breeding pools for amphibians in Yellowstone National Park. Amphibians, such as salamanders and frogs are considered early indicators of environmental change. Yellowstone wetlands, ideal for amphibian habitat, have been disappearing at an alarming rate. Huge declines in amphibian populations have been reported.

During one study, researchers observed the loss of 4 separate breeding pools. The pools dried so rapidly the adults were unable to migrate. Hundreds of adult and juvenile salamanders were left dead in the process. "It is a symptom of a much, much larger problem," said Sarah McMenamin, lead researcher.¹


Fulsome Fun

Mom helping to catch creepy critters...what I will do for my boys, sheesh!
Mom helping to catch creepy critters...what I will do for my boys, sheesh!
Fish and Frogs
Fish and Frogs
Oh yes, snakes too.
Oh yes, snakes too.

Tiger Salamanders as Pets

Tiger Salamanders are popular as pets. Usually they are acquired in the larval (aquatic) stage and so must be kept in an aquarium. Optimal water temperature is 65-70º F (18-21º C.) Good water quality with proper pH must be maintained, this requires a filter and aeration.

When the larva begins to metamorphose into an adult, it will lose its gills and, therefore, its ability to live under water. Land area must be provided and the amount of water reduced. This can be done gradually.

When metamorphasis is complete, the tank can be entirely terrestrial. The salamander will need moist, loose soil suitable for burrowing. Cages must be cleaned frequently so don't go for anything too elaborate. Provide some bark and a few rocks as well as a shallow dish of water (only an inch deep or so.)

Larvae must be fed small insects, brine shrimp, and worms. Adults will eat crickets, worms, and other insects.

Salamanders supposedly become friendly or at least docile as they adjust to life in captivity. Until then, they may try to bite but have teeth too small to do any damage to humans, although they can do damage to each another. Do not house large and small salamanders together or adults with larvae. Be very careful when handling salamanders; they have very porous, delicate skin. Wash hand thoroughly before handling and use wet hands to touch the salamander.

For lots more very helpful information about Tiger Salamanders, see Brian Kleinman's series "How to Care for a Pet Tiger Salamander" on Youtube:

Brian Kleinman has a multi-part series of excellent videos on caring for Tiger Salamanders

¹Global Warming Is Killing Frogs And Salamanders In Yellowstone Park, Researchers Say. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 12, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­/releases/2008/10/081028184830.htm

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Comments 16 comments

Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York

How cool!! And you're a great MOM, too, I know your boys much think so, because you help them catch creatures. My mom would have screamed and ran!


K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 5 years ago from Northern, California

What a fun Mom You are Mrs. M! I am fascinated by your shared adventures here. Luck boys you have my dear.

Up! and awesome.

K9


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

What fun! I remember the days of playing with frogs, toads, and snakes down by the river bank near our home. We had a load of boys in our neighborhood so there was always something interesting going on.


cardelean profile image

cardelean 5 years ago from Michigan

My kids would love these if they were around us. They love to hunt for frogs, crayfish, and turtles in the summer. Nicely done.


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

Whoah! Tiger Salamanders are awesome! Your family has way too much fun. Great photos, great tips on taking care of 'em... and great environmental points, too! I hope the salamanders at Yellowstone find a way to adapt to global warming-quick!


Mrs. Menagerie profile image

Mrs. Menagerie 5 years ago from The Zoo Author

Paradise, the snakes make me want to scream and run but I actually think the salamanders are kinda cool:)

K9, thank you so much!

Denise, I'm glad you understand, thanks!

Cara, I just saw the photos of your kids with the starfish and other stuff...they would fit right in, heehee!

Simone---they are sort of awesome, in a slimy way...and thank you too!


akirchner profile image

akirchner 5 years ago from Central Oregon

Wow - I would have been passed out on the floor - I'm deathly afraid of snakes and salamanders although I know they're not the same really freak me out. All that said, spectacular subject and you indeed are a GREAT mom~! Thumbs up - great pictures and great global warming message.....good luck in the contest~!


Mrs. Menagerie profile image

Mrs. Menagerie 5 years ago from The Zoo Author

Hi akirchner and thanks!


tsadjatko profile image

tsadjatko 5 years ago from maybe (the guy or girl) next door

I've had some experience with menageries too. Great hub, I'm watching for more like this.


Mrs. Menagerie profile image

Mrs. Menagerie 5 years ago from The Zoo Author

Tsadjatko--you certainly have! (I checked out your latest hubs...love the porcupine!)


tsadjatko profile image

tsadjatko 5 years ago from maybe (the guy or girl) next door

The Porcupine, yes that porcupine. We got him in the mountains and I wanted to take him home to show my friends in the suburbs but first we were going to Niagara Falls at night - my brother and I had to ride 5 hours sleeping on the back seat of our Impala and right below my head in a chicken wire cage about 1 foot square was the porcupine (he was a young adult) on a piece of cardboard box on the floor of the back seat. This is when I discovered how badly porcupine's excretions smell - kept me up all the way to the falls...pewwwwwwwwww! I decided then this was one pet I wasn't keeping for long!


Mrs. Menagerie profile image

Mrs. Menagerie 5 years ago from The Zoo Author

Hahahaha...I didn't know that porcupines had smelly excretions. I did just recently discover that snakes stink...ugh!


mattdigiulio profile image

mattdigiulio 5 years ago

Awesome! I never thought I'd WANT to read about tiger salamanders, but you changed my mind yet again. Voting up.

Best, Matt


Mrs. Menagerie profile image

Mrs. Menagerie 5 years ago from The Zoo Author

Hahaha...thanks Matt! They're actually kinda cool...kinda.


howcurecancer profile image

howcurecancer 5 years ago

So much fun!


Mrs. Menagerie profile image

Mrs. Menagerie 5 years ago from The Zoo Author

Thanks howcurecancer!

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