Tiger Salamander

Ambystoma tigrinum

Ambystoma californiensis – CA tiger salamander

Ambystoma mavortium – Barred tiger salamander

Order: Caudata Family:

Amby is Greek for “a cup”; stoma is Greek for “a mouth”; tigri is Latin and means “tiger” or “striped like a tiger”

Note relevant information about latin name, close relatives, etc:

Natural History Information

Both California and barred tiger salamanders are around 7-8 inches long as adults. Hybrids between the California and barred species occur in nature and are generally larger than either of the parent species. All tiger salamanders have a brown to black body and tail, with brown to yellow spots and patches, resembling tiger stripes, giving them their common name.

Range and Habitat

There are three species that are commonly called “tiger salamanders.” Ambystoma tigrinum is the most widespread, found throughout North America. It is also the most common species in animal collections. Ambystoma velasci is found throughout Mexico and into the southwestern United States. Ambystoma californiense is found in west-central California.



Ecosystem Role

Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements

  • Life Cycle Natural History Relevant Information
    • Like all amphibians, tiger salamanders have an aquatic larval stage which has external branching gills on the back of the head. After the first heavy rains in winter, tiger salamanders find their way to the shallow pools of their breeding ground where females may lay over 1000 eggs on submerged logs, rocks, and vegetation. The larvae hatch in 2-3 weeks depending on conditions, and eat insects, tadpoles, and other aquatic prey. Larvae begin to metamorphose (change) into adults during the summer. They will be fully mature after 2-3 years, depending on availability of resources.
  • Temperature, Humidity, Light Cycles
    • Temperature: Temperature at or below 70dg.
    • Humidity:
    • Requires a UV light source, XX hr cycle. Light strength and bulb style: (Ex: 5.0 (Iguana/Tropical) ReptiGlow (T-8, 15W) bulb. or similar)
  • Substrate:
    • Tiger salamanders spend much of the summer and winter underground in order to avoid temperature extremes but will emerge at night or during a rainfall even when temperatures approach freezing. Prefer to hide in burrows or under rocks.
  • Social Housing/Colony Management
  • Other General Housing Requirements or Management information

Diet Requirements

  • Life Cycle Relevant Information
  • Diet in the Wild
  • Diet under human care
    • Crickets, roaches, mealworms
    • Note any high value items used for enrichment or training

Veterinary Concerns


Enrichment & Training


  • Behavioral Relevant Information
  • Environmental Enrichment
    • Provide lots of hides for this species to have various choices of moist to drier dark hides..
  • Behavioral Enrichment
  • Schedule
  • Other Enrichment Resources


  • Behaviors Trained
  • Reinforcers used & schedule of reinforcement

Programmatic Information

Messaging Themes


Threats and Conservation Status

  • Larval salamanders are sometimes called mudpuppies and sold as bait. In this way, the barred tiger salamander (A. mavortium) was accidentally introduced by fishermen into the range of the California tiger salamander (A. californiensis). Hybrids between these species outcompete their parents for resources. This situation raises difficult questions for managing endangered native salamander populations. Some conservationists might say that hybrids are an acceptable change, since they are favored by natural selection and “improve” the original species. Others might consider hybrids to be genetically impure and regard them as threats to the native salamanders, their competitors and their prey.

Interesting Natural History Information


Did you know…


Handling & Presentation Tips

  • Presented in a carrier/terrarium.
  • Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium: Our tiger salamanders are displayed in a clear plastic container with a small amount of de-chlorinated water. Staff must wash hands with soap and water immediately prior to handling and hands must be dampened with de-chlorinated water prior to picking up salamanders.
  • Handled wearing nitrile gloves wet with decholorinated water.
  • Lee Richardson Zoo: Staff and volunteers handle the salamanders with a nitrile gloved hand misted with RO water. 

Use Guidelines



Public Contact and Interaction Guidelines

  • Lee Richardson Zoo: They used to allow small audiences to touch this species with wet fingers, however they are now a no-touch and they stay in their travel carrier while we present. Education staff and volunteers handle the salamanders with a nitrile gloved hand misted with RO water. 

Transportation Tips

  • This species is often transported in the same housing it lives in- Remove hides and limit substrate so audiences can see the animal.

Crating Techniques


Temperature Guidelines


Acquisition Information

UC Davis has a captive-bred colony, including some A. mavortium x A. californiensis hybrids.

Also check the Animal Acquisitions page for collections of recommended resources to acquire ambassadors, whether it be breeding programs such as SSPs, informal programs or reputable breeders, or animal rescues. Resources may vary depending on the species or taxa.

Look for specialty/exotic rescues such as:

The Bunny Hutch, an exotic animal rescue run by zoo keepers.


Any Documents to attach, species spotlights, etc.

Contributors and Citations

  • Seneca Park Zoo
  • Happy Hollow Park & Zoo, San Jose

Top Photo Credit: Happy Hallow Park & Zoo: Sal, the imaginatively-named hybrid tiger salamander at HHPZ.