Salamanders

Did you know?: 

The Tiger Salamander has decreased in population in the past decade. They are now endangered because of destruction of their habitats from pesticide use, development, soil compaction and degradation of water quality.

At the EcoTarium

By special appearance: The EcoTarium's Tiger Salamander, Dante, and Spotted Salamander, Emily, are not currently on exhibit, but you may still see them during our programs.

About Salamanders

Amphibians are a group of animals that spend part of their lives in water and part on land. Most begin life in the water with gills and a tail that are replaced with lungs and legs as they grow older.  This change, or metamorphosis, allows them to live on land.  Most are carnivorous, eating small insects, fish, and sometimes smaller amphibians. Salamanders are part of this group.

Amphibians are cold-blooded, which means they regulate body temperature by using the environment around them. Since amphibians breathe through their moist skin and need lots of clean water to survive, they are vulnerable to pollution in the air and water. Scientists often use amphibians as ecological indicators; the presence of healthy amphibians in a forest or pond often shows that habitat is unpolluted.

The Tiger Salamander is named for its blotchy green, gray, or black markings.  Adults spend nearly all of their time on land in underground burrow, returning to the water only to lay eggs.  They are the largest land-dwelling salamander species in the US, reaching lengths from six inches to over a foot! Tiger salamanders range throughout much of North America, with the Eastern tiger salamander found along the East Coast from Long Island, New York, to northern Florida and inland from Ohio to Minnesota. They have even been spotted in eastern Texas! The tiger salamander is part of the "mole salamander" family, so named because they spend much of their life underground.

Although they have been known to live up to 20 years, the average life span is between 8 and 10 years. These salamanders are usually found around water, and live in crevices, under decayed logs, under leaf litter, or in abandoned animal holes. Their diet includes grasshoppers, moths, flies, spiders, beetles, fish, earthworms, mollusks, and the occasional small mouse. Males generally have longer tails than females. Their only defense against predators is a milky toxin secreted from glands on the back and tail. The colors and patterns of this salamander can change throughout its life. The young are spotted, and as they age, the spots turn into irregular blotches or bars (like a tiger). They can be dark brown, yellow, green or gold. They have a large broad head, and eyes that are set far apart.

During the first warm night rain in early spring, tiger salamanders travel in groups to the nearest body of water and lay between 30 to 50 eggs in loose masses attached to plants or stationary objects. Eggs metamorphose in two to four weeks. Larvae eat aquatic insects and invertebrates; some even become cannibalistic. Cannibalistic larvae metamorphose faster and have larger heads.

The Spotted Salamander is black with two, uneven rows of yellow spots along its back.  They hunt at nighttime and hide during the day under leaves or mossy rocks.  They generally cannot live and reproduce in bodies of water containing fish, since fish eat salamander eggs.