Taking care of a tiger salamander isn't as difficult as you might think. With the correct habitat and carnivorous diet, these exotic small pets can thrive in captivity. Discover how to care for your tiger salamander with this comprehensive guide.
How to Care For Tiger Salamanders
Tiger salamanders are one of North America's largest land salamanders. They are fairly easy to keep in captivity, which makes them a popular small pet. These creatures have a life expectancy of between 10 and 16 years in the wild. However, tiger salamanders can live up to 25 years in captivity. Your pet's lifespan largely depends on how well you care for it.
Like most as amphibians, tiger salamanders begin in an aquatic larval stage. Ethan Mizer, advanced aquarist and LoveToKnow pet editor, states that, "Hobbyists can house the larvae in an aquarium, and gradually transition them to a partial terrestrial setup as they grow and go through metamorphosis. Adults can be housed in a suitably moist environment that is entirely terrestrial." This type of humid environment most closely emulates the habitat this salamander experiences in the wild.
Tiger salamanders typically reach between 6 and 8 inches long, but it's possible for them to grow as long as 14 inches. These large amphibians need adequate space for their size. Use a 10- to 15-gallon aquarium for a single salamander, and a 20-gallon tank or larger for two adult salamanders. Any glass, plastic, or acrylic aquarium or terrarium will work, just make sure it has a wire mesh cover for ventilation and to prevent your salamander from climbing out.
The type of substrate you use in your salamander's habitat is very important. It must hold moisture, should be non-abrasive so it doesn't injure the salamander's skin, and can't contain any gravel or other small pieces they could swallow. Safe options include dampened moss, coconut husk fiber, organic potting soil, or a soft, commercially available amphibian bedding.
Avoid using any type of gravel, as salamanders can and will ingest these small rocks, which can lead to a life-threatening obstruction. These pets like to burrow, so the substrate in your tank should be at least 3 to 4 inches deep.
Even though adult tiger salamanders are terrestrial creatures and don't require standing water, they do need a humid environment. Maintain a humidity between 70 and 75 percent. You can achieve this by misting your salamander and the habitat with water throughout the day.
Moisture-retaining substrates, live aquatic plants, or a bowl of water placed in the tank (and changed daily) can also help. Some salamander owners do set up an environment with partial water areas to promote moisture. A high-quality hygrometer will measure the humidity in your tank.
Your habitat should be kept between 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. A heat source is usually not needed. Purchase a reptile and amphibian tank thermometer to closely monitor the temperature of the habitat.
A high ultraviolet (UV) light, which typically provides UVA and UVB, is not recommended because it may make the environment too hot. However, low levels of UVB can benefit these pets. They need about 10 to 12 hours of light each day, as well as hiding spaces to escape the light when needed.
Salamanders need hideouts where they can feel safe, cool, and moist. Most will burrow within their substrate, but it's important to provide them with other areas in their habitat. Add places for your salamander to hide, such as a small hollow log or clay flower pot.
Make sure all decor has smooth surfaces and corners to avoid scraping the salamander's delicate skin. Avoid any pieces that are smaller than the size of your salamander's head, as they can potentially ingest it. Aquatic plants can also serve as attractive decor while also helping to maintain moisture.
Clean your salamander's terrestrial terrarium at least weekly. You should remove and replace all substrate and rinse any decor as well as the tank with hot water. Do not use soap or cleaning solutions, as these can harm your pet. If you have standing water in the tank, replace it daily.
Feeding Your Tiger Salamander
Wild salamanders are carnivores and eat meat in the form of insects, worms, frogs, and sometimes other salamanders. In captivity, you can simulate this diet by feeding your adult tiger salamander:
- Wax worms
- Silk worms
- Commercial crickets
- Commercial cockroaches
- Other insects
This diet is similar to that of the bearded dragon, although tiger salamanders tend to eat less. Large salamanders may even eat thawed pinky mice. Adults can be fed every two to three days. Aim to give them a variety of different foods in order to avoid any nutritional deficits.
Healthy salamanders do not need any type of supplementation. In fact, experts suggest that adding supplements that may be beneficial to other pets, such as calcium, can have negative health effects on salamanders.
Tiger salamanders do have small teeth, although they shouldn't be able to break your skin. However, it is best to offer food by dangling it with forceps, especially since salamanders tend to lunge at their food.
Signs of Illness in Salamanders
Illness in salamanders is generally a result of a poor environment. Without the right moisture level, temperature, or diet, a salamander can become ill and die. However, an exotic veterinarian who is experienced with this species can help. Signs of a sick tiger salamander include:
- Weight loss
- Changes in appetite
- Limb or body swelling
- Skin injuries or ulcers
- Cloudy eyes
Keeping Tiger Salamanders as Pets
Tiger salamanders are fairly shy. However, they are also curious and will learn to approach you during feeding time. With gentle and careful interaction, some salamanders do become quite friendly with their owners. Even so, these amphibious pets are not meant to be cuddled.
The skin of tiger salamanders is soft and sensitive, even to substances on your hands. They do not like to be handled, so keep it to a minimum. If you must pick up your pet to clean their cage, gently scoop them up from underneath with both hands and fully support the entire length of their body. Always wash your hands before and after handling your salamander.
Is a Tiger Salamander the Right Pet for You?
If you're looking for an unusual pet that is relatively easy to care for, tiger salamanders make quiet, docile, and interesting companions. They are ideal for apartment dwellers and people who lead busy lives. Provide your tiger salamander with an ideal environment, protein-packed diet, and minimal handing, and they will thrive for many years (even decades!) to come.