The tiger salamander (Ambystoma sp.) is a 9-11” long, nocturnal, fossorial amphibian. They are native to most of the United States, as well as parts of southern Canada and throughout Mexico. Their preferred habitat is damp woodlands, grasslands, and marsh areas, where they hide under debris and dig burrows deep into the earth.
Tiger salamanders have typical mole salamander bodies, with a large rounded head, bulging eyes, robust build, smooth sides, short limbs, and a thick, tapered tail. Coloring and pattern vary according to species. Some tiger salamanders have yellow or orange markings on a black background, while others are olive-colored with black markings.
Tiger salamanders are well-known as one of the best pet amphibians for beginners due to their unusually outgoing personalities and simple care. When cared for appropriately, they can live 15+ years.
This care sheet addresses how to care for tiger salamanders in their adult form. If you wish to raise a tiger salamander from a juvenile, then its care requirements will be similar to an axolotl. One difference, however, is that juvenile tiger salamanders require access to an area of land in their enclosure for metamorphosis.
Minimum terrarium size for tiger salamanders
The absolute minimum terrarium size for a tiger salamander is 30”L x 12”W x 12”H (20 gallons). Of course, larger is always better if you can manage it, especially considering how large and active this species can be. 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 tiger salamanders in the same enclosure) is not recommended.
Do tiger salamanders need UVB?
Tiger 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 tiger 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 tiger 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 tiger salamanders
Like other amphibians, tiger 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 tiger salamanders
As amphibians, tiger 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.
Tiger salamanders are poor swimmers, so it’s best not to provide a pool of water as part of a tiger salamander enclosure. However, a shallow bowl of water is fine.
All water (even for misting) should either be distilled or spring water, or treated with a water conditioner like Zoo Med Reptisafe to prevent harmful chemicals from coming into contact with your salamander.
Best substrate for tiger salamanders
Providing a thick layer of naturalistic substrate (“bedding”) will help maintain correct humidity levels, provide a burrowing medium, and helps make your enclosure more attractive! We recommend at least 4” of one of the following substrates:
Avoid using peat moss or substrates containing peat moss. Aside from being unsustainable, peat moss is acidic, which makes it inappropriate for use with most amphibians’ sensitive skin.
Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate. Substrate should be totally replaced every 3-4 months if you are not running a bioactive setup.
How to decorate a tiger 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 tiger salamanders include:
- leaf litter
- mopani wood
- cork bark
- live or artificial plants
- pre-made hides/caves
- artificial ornaments
Make sure your salamander has multiple covered areas to retreat to when it wants privacy.
What to feed to a tiger salamander
Tiger 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 2-3x/week, as much as it will eat in roughly 10 minutes. Feeders should be smaller than the salamander’s head.
Food options for tiger salamanders:
Tiger salamanders get overweight easily, so reduce the number of feeders per meal if your pet is starting to look too chunky.
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 tiger salamander
Amphibians generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do, and tiger salamanders are generally a hands-off pet. If you want to interact with your pet, try hand-feeding it with a pair of feeding tongs. It’s best not to offer food with your fingers, as tiger salamanders are a bit clumsy, and their bites are known to sometimes draw blood.
If you absolutely have to move your salamander, wear a pair of wet nitrile gloves and gently guide the salamander into a separate, well-secured container lined with a wet paper towel. This minimizes likelihood of escape or injury. If you must grab your salamander with bare hands, wash them first, wet with cool bottled water, and minimize handling time.
Of course, always 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!