Eastern Tiger Salamander

Ambystoma tigrinum

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Photo of an eastern tiger salamander with yellow spots.
The eastern tiger salamander is a dark, medium to large salamander with yellow or olive blotches.
Jim Rathert
Species of Conservation Concern
Family

Ambystomatidae (mole salamanders) in the order Caudata

Description

A dark, medium to large salamander with yellow or olive blotches over the head, body, and tail. The ground color is black or dark brown. The large spots or blotches vary greatly in size and shape; blotch color ranges from bright yellow to dull olive-brown. The belly is dark gray or black with yellow mottling. Males usually have longer tails than females, and during breeding season they have a swollen cloaca.

Size

Length: 7–8¼ inches.

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Photo of an eastern tiger salamander with irregular blotches.
Eastern Tiger Salamander
The yellow or olive blotches on an adult eastern tiger salamander vary greatly in size and shape.

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Photo of an eastern tiger salamander’s head.
Eastern Tiger Salamander
Your best chance of seeing a tiger salamander is at night after a heavy rain.

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Photo of an eastern tiger salamander showing front half of body.
Eastern Tiger Salamander
Tiger salamanders live in a variety of habitats and spend most of their time in burrows or under logs.

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Photo of an eastern tiger salamander on dry oak leaves.
Eastern Tiger Salamander
Eastern tiger salamanders need fishless water holes, ponds, and swamps to survive.

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Photo of an eastern tiger salamander larva.
Eastern Tiger Salamander Larva
As with most other salamanders, the larvae of tiger salamanders are aquatic with feathery, exposed gills.

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Photo of an eastern tiger salamander larva.
Eastern Tiger Salamander Larva
Larval tiger salamanders are sometimes called “waterdogs,” but that name is more correctly used for mudpuppies.

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Video of an eastern tiger salamander in the wild.
Habitat and conservation

These salamanders live in a wide variety of habitats including woodlands, swamps, prairies, and old fields (near farm ponds) and may sometimes be found in wells, basements, and root cellars. They spend most of their time in burrows or under logs. These animals need fishless water holes, ponds, and swamps to survive, and you can help them by developing and maintaining these features on your property.

Foods

Prey includes any animal small enough for them to swallow. Common foods include earthworms, insects, spiders, slugs, and snails.

image of Eastern Tiger Salamandar Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Presumed statewide; more common in the northern half of the state than in the Ozarks.

Status

Common, though populations are declining overall when compared to historical levels. A Species of Conservation Concern.

Life cycle

Days are spent in burrows or under logs, as these salamanders are active only at night. During autumn rains individuals migrate to fishless ponds where breeding will take place. Courtship and egg-laying occur in the water between February and April. Each female may lay up to 1,000 eggs deposited in small clumps of 18 to 110 eggs. Eggs hatch in a few weeks. The aquatic, gilled larvae develop throughout summer and transform to land-dwelling subadults in late summer.

Human connections

These nifty amphibians, though seldom seen, reward their viewers with their striking yellow or olive and black patterns. They are part of the amazing wild heritage of Missouri.

Ecosystem connections

Numerous animals prey on tiger salamanders and their eggs and larval forms, including predaceous diving beetles, fish, herons, and loggerhead shrikes. The salamanders themselves prey on a host of invertebrates ranging from snails and slugs to insects and spiders.