The spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) is a 4.5-8” long, nocturnal, terrestrial amphibian. They are native to most of the eastern United States, although they are absent from Florida. Their preferred habitat is damp woodlands, where they hide under debris and inside abandoned animal burrows.
Spotted salamanders have typical salamander bodies with a large head, bulging eyes, robust stature, costal grooves, small limbs, and a thick, tapered tail. They are easily recognizable with their dark brown or black base color and yellow to orange spots.
Spotted salamanders are beginner-level pet amphibians due to their size and general hardiness. With good care, they have a lifespan of up to 30 years.
Minimum terrarium size for spotted salamanders
The absolute minimum terrarium size for a spotted salamander is 30”L x 12”W x 12”H (20 gallons). Of course, larger is always better if you can manage it! Offering more space means you can provide a more varied landscape and more room for the salamander to explore and exercise. They will definitely take advantage of the extra space!
Cohabitation (keeping multiple spotted salamanders in the same enclosure) is not recommended.
Do spotted salamanders need UVB?
Spotted salamanders seem to be able to survive without it, but we still recommend providing appropriate UVB lighting as part of the setup. UVB lighting helps provide a clear day/night cycle, provides all of the vitamin D that your pet needs, strengthens the immune system, facilitates better digestion, and provides other benefits.
The best UVB bulb for a spotted salamander in a 12” tall enclosure is likely to be the 13w Zoo Med Mini Compact Fluorescent Reptisun 5.0 in a Zoo Med Naturalistic Terrarium Hood. Don’t forget to replace your bulb every 12 months!
UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so placing the terrarium in front of a window doesn’t count as “free UVB” — in fact it can make your terrarium too hot due to the greenhouse effect, and spotted salamanders are very sensitive to high temperatures.
Lights should be on for 14 hours/day during summer and 10 hours/day during winter.
Best temperature for spotted salamanders
Like other amphibians, spotted salamanders are cold-blooded, which means that they rely on external temperatures to manage their own body temperature and metabolism. They do best between 50-75°F. Temperatures should never exceed 75°F. Make sure you’re maintaining appropriate temperatures with a digital probe thermometer.
Heating equipment is unlikely to be necessary for keeping this species. However, make sure that you have a method of keeping the room consistently cool if it tends to get warm during the summer.
Best humidity levels for spotted salamanders
As amphibians, spotted salamanders can’t live without a sufficiently moist environment! Average air humidity should stay between 50-80%. Humidity should be measured via digital probe hygrometer, with the probe placed in the middle of the terrarium. The substrate should be kept fairly damp, but not soggy or muddy.
Spotted salamanders are poor swimmers, so it’s best not to provide a pool of water as part of a spotted salamander enclosure.
Best substrate for spotted salamanders
Providing a thick layer of naturalistic substrate (“bedding”) will help maintain correct humidity levels and helps make your enclosure more attractive! We recommend at least 3” of one of the following substrates:
Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate. Substrate should be totally replaced every 2 months if you are not running a bioactive setup.
How to decorate a spotted salamander terrarium
A bare-bones enclosure makes for a stressed salamander, reducing its quality of life. Keep your pet entertained and engaged with its environment with the strategic use of décor items that encourage it to exercise natural behaviors!
Décor options for spotted salamanders include:
- leaf litter
- mopani wood
- cork bark
- live or artificial plants
- pre-made hides/caves
- artificial ornaments
Make sure your salamander has covered areas to retreat to when it wants privacy.
What to feed to a spotted salamander
Spotted salamanders are insectivorous, which means that they need to eat live insect prey in order to get the right nutrition. Your salamander should be fed 3x/week, as much as it will eat in roughly 5 minutes. Feeders should be smaller than the salamander’s head.
Food options for spotted salamanders:
Spotted salamanders are known to stop eating during breeding season, so don’t worry too much if your pet goes off food around this time.
You will need to keep calcium and multivitamin supplements on hand to help prevent your pet from developing a nutritional deficiency, helping them live healthier. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD, lightly dusted on prey before offering.
How to handle your spotted salamander
Amphibians generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do, and spotted salamanders are generally a hands-off pet.
If you absolutely have to grab your salamander, wear a pair of nitrile gloves, use a small fish net, and gently guide the salamander into a separate, well-secured container. This minimizes likelihood of escape or injury. And of course, make sure to wash your hands after working with your pet or its enclosure!
*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please further your research with high-quality sources. The more you know, the better you will be able to care for your pet!