Water Dog to Tiger Salamander
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"
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.
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
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
Links to Summer Fun in Montana
- Gallatin National Forest: the Secret to Escaping the Crowds of Yellowstone National Park
You are enjoying (or perhaps still planning) a fantastic trip to Yellowstone National Park...
- Camping with Kids in Bear Country
Some of the most beautiful, scenic and natural places to camp are also full of wildlife. This is a positive feature of any camping destination. What could be better than catching a glimpse of an eagle, moose, elk, wolf or even bear?
- Raising Swallowtail Butterflies and Caterpillars
In this part of the world (Montana) the Two-tailed Swallowtail butterflies only have one brood per year and they overwinter in the pupal stage...
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