Do Tiger Salamanders Make Good Pets – Care, Habitat and Owners Guide

Tiger Salamander

if you’re looking for a pet which has an unassuming, undemanding nature, yet has a friendly attitude, then a Tiger Salamander may be a perfect choice.

Designated as the state amphibian in many parts of the US, they are a docile creature by nature and rarely show aggression. However, they can also be very curious, and they thrive in captivity; it doesn’t take long before even the shyest individuals come to welcome human interactions.

The Tiger Salamander is generally robust and rarely succumbs to illness, careful attention to meeting their living environment needs will ensure a healthy and long-living pet.

So Just What Are Tiger Salamanders?

The Tiger Salamander is a member of the mole Salamander family. Sometimes mistaken as for a lizard or reptiles, this amphibian actually belongs to the Ambystomatidae family.

These are the most wide-ranging Salamander species and can be found throughout the United States, the southern half of Canada, and also in Eastern Mexico. Tiger Salamanders are one of the few Salamanders which can survive North America’s dry climate.

Did You Know How Many Types of Tiger Salamander There are?

The Eastern variety is the one most people have in mind when thinking about Tiger Salamanders. The distinctive yellow spots on a brown or black background make them instantly recognizable.

Then there’s the Barred Tiger Salamander, which can be identified by its yellow vertical bars on a dark brown background. This variety can be found from the southern half of Nebraska down to south Texas and then west, across to central Colorado and New Mexico.

The Blotched Tiger Salamander is smaller than other Tiger Salamander varieties, and this one has a netlike pattern of thin, dark markings on a lighter ground color. Other varieties to look out for are the Arizona, Gray, and Sonoran.

Are Tiger Salamanders Endangered?

Some species are now considered to be endangered within a number of US states. The Center for Biological Diversity raises concern for the California Tiger Salamander, stating that development is now threatening 95 percent of their natural habitat.

Likewise, the Eastern Tiger Salamander is struggling in New Jersey, where the Conserve Wildlife Foundation cites illegal dumping and pollutions of breeding ponds as being key issues.

Pet for Life – What’s Their Lifespan?

Considered to be a hardy, long-lived species, the Tiger Salamander has a life expectancy of around 10-16 years when living in the wild. However, assuming that you provide optimum tank conditions, then your critter could live for up to 25 years!

Physical Traits

To provide the strength for their burrowing activities, the Tiger Salamander has strong legs that extend from the side of their body. They then have webbed feet which end in individual digits, 5 on their hind, and 4 on the front.

Broad-headed with a rounded snout and tiny protruding eyes, it’s the cute ‘smiling’ mouth that attracts many people to this species. But this too is a design feature of the Tiger Salamander, allowing them to clamp down hard on their prey.

How Big Will They Get?

Did you know that the Tiger Salamander is the largest land-dwelling Salamander in the world? But they start their lives as larvae swimming in water.

Once around 4-5 inches, they begin their metamorphosis with the growth of limbs and transition from water breathing to land breathing creatures. The adult Salamander will grow to about 6-13 inches. Seaworld detail the average weight of the Tiger Salamander as being around 126 g (4.4 oz.)

Male or Female?


Most of the time, it’s not necessary to sex your Tiger. But if you really want to know if you have a male or female, then early spring during mating season is the easiest time to see the differences between the two. This is the time the vents near the male’s reproductive organs will begin to swell. You can see the vents by looking near the base of his tail.

You can also take a look at your Salamander’s tail. A male usually has a tail that is longer than his body, whereas this rarely happens in a female. You might also see thicker back legs in a male compared to a female.

Reproduction in the Tiger Salamander

Tiger Salamanders hibernate during the winter and then emerge during the spring rains. This then sees them head to breeding ponds where the males compete for the females.  Males migrate first, and AmphibiaWeb suggests that this can take place between two to four weeks before the females then make their journey.

The female then lays egg masses, which can consist of up to 50 individual eggs and which then become attached to underwater plants and stones. Around four weeks later, the eggs hatch in larvae, remaining in the pond until the summer months when they emerge as air-breathing youngsters.

Can I Breed My Tiger Salamander?

Reptile Magazine considers Tiger Salamanders as being notoriously difficult to breed, and so all of those kept in captivity are of wild origin rather than captive-bred.

In the wild, Tigers reproduce by gathering in pools and other slow-moving bodies of water in mass and communally courting and spawning. Not easy to replicate in the home environment!

Do Salamanders Have Teeth?


Tiger Salamanders gave teeth-like bitters in both the upper and lower roof of the mouth. These biters are actually boney protrusions from the jaw rather than actual teeth.

This means that they are then equipped to grip the neck of their prey before killing and eating them. If you do get nipped, you’re going to feel a scraping sensation but not enough to cause an injury.

How Much will a Salamander Cost Me?

A quick search online reveals that most stores are charging in the region of $40-$50. Do remember, though, that you need to buy a tank, potentially heat and light sources, and also the substrate and tank furnishings to provide your Salamander with the environment they need to thrive.

Day to day costs includes sourcing live food and dietary supplements. The Arizona Exotic Animal Hospital lists nutritional problems as being one of the most common reasons for reptiles and amphibians becoming ill, so getting this right is essential to the well-being of your Salamander.

Where Can I Buy a Tiger Salamander?

Depending on where you live, your options will vary. In some states, you may, with a fishing permit, go and hunt for the larvae yourself. However, this may present challenges in knowing which species you have until metamorphosis begins.

There are online stores that will ship your Salamander to you. Do be aware though that this will be a stressful process and not one we’d recommend. Wherever possible, we’d suggest that you buy from a specialist outlet who can provide you with ongoing advice. Check for local amphibian and reptile groups for supplier recommendations in your area.

Is it Legal to Own a Tiger Salamander?

Do check out the law in your area as it is illegal to own some species within certain states. For example, owning a Tiger Salamander is unlawful in both New Jersey and New York.

If you had set your heart on a California or Sonoran Tiger, be aware that hunting or possessing one is illegal across most of the US. The blotted, barred, or botches species may be an option as long as you’re not in California, where owning any mole species is illegal.

Is a Tiger Salamander Poisonous?

To protect itself, the Tiger Salamander has tail glands that secrete a toxic milky substance. If it were to be eaten, then that’s going to cause you some problems, and medical assistance will be needed, but otherwise, they are not poisonous to people.

Remember to wash your hands both before and after handling your Salamander. Their skin is very sensitive to a range of chemicals, and they can dry out from the natural oils and salts found on our hands, so if you need to handle, do it with wet hands.

One’s Company, Three’s a Crowd?

Salamanders are perfectly happy as a lone pet. In the wild, the only time they seek out the company of others is when it’s mating and breeding season.  If, however, you have room in your tank to provide the space for two to burrow and wander, then generally, they can live together without there being any problems.

The only times you can expect to see aggression is when there are territorial issues from lack of space and hunger from too little food being provided at one time.

Thinking About Tanks

For a single Salamander, look for a tank, which is at least 10 gallons in size. If you’re aiming for two, then go for one which is at least 15 and preferably 20 gallons.

Janice Williams, PharmD reminds owners that although your Salamander may not be an escape artist, they can climb. And with the strength that they have in their legs, they can push a lid off the tank. So do make sure that the lid on your tank is tight-fitting.

is absorbed through their skin. They also receive some moisture through the bodies of their prey.

Setting Up the Perfect Home

Adult Salamanders need an excellent moisture-holding substrate at the bottom of their tank to allow for burrowing. Aim for a layer of at least 4 inches and establish one end of the tank as being less moist than the other to enable your Salamander to self-regulate.

Substrates such as organic topsoil or coco-fiber are often recommended. A ready prepared mix of coconut husk and fibers, combined with soft soil, is also available.

This video from the The Reptile Garden provides some great tips for setting up your Salamander tank.

Tank Furnishings

Small logs and stones which have been sterilized first, can provide some environmental variation within the vivarium. PVC piping is ideal for creating a tunnel network for your Salamander to hide in, and it’s easy to keep clean.

Avoid anything small and easy to swallow; Salamanders are curious creatures who may try to eat novel items.

But Can They Swim?


Well, they do, but they usually only return to water to breed. The rest of the time, they are entirely terrestrial. That said, they are excellent swimmers with their long, strong tails helping them to move through the water.

So, there is no need to provide a swimming area within your tank set-up. In fact, there is no need to provide a water dish at all because Tiger Salamanders don’t drink through their mouths. Instead, they absorb the moisture content from their environment.

What Should I Feed?

Tiger Salamanders are carnivorous and enjoy a wide range of live food to hunt down and devour. This is an excellent time for your Salamander to begin making positive associations between you and the arrival of exciting food.

Red wiggler worms and crickets are popular choices as feedstuffs though to be aware that crickets are very low in calcium-phosphorus, so they shouldn’t form the bulk of the diet and may require nutritional supplements to be added.

How Often Should I Feed my Tiger Salamander?


Feeding once every couple of days is recommended, though if the temperature is colder, around 60 degrees, you may find that your Tiger has a lower appetite.

If you are feeding in the tank, leave the food for several hours before removing it. If you’re feeding by hand, then aim for ten minutes of feeding.

So, Does the Tiger Salamander Make a Good Pet?

Well, we think so, for the right person who is prepared to do their research. Remember that you’re going need to check the law in your state to find out which, if any, of the Salamander types you can own. Then the next step is to find yourself a knowledgeable supplier who can provide you with a healthy youngster and guide you through setting up the perfect habitat for your new addition.

Tiger Salamanders are not the right choice for everyone, and if you want a pet that you can have lots of contact with, then they’re not going to be the right choice for you. But if you’re happy to observe instead, then they’re are going to be a great choice.

So, get researching so that you can be joined by one of these remarkable little amphibians.