Tiger Salamander Facts: Deadly Venom from tail to skin

Look like lizards, but tiger salamanders are in fact amphibians. Like frogs and toads, they require water to keep their skin moist. Tiger salamander and Axolotl both belong to the mole salamander family. Let’s look at some facts about the species.

Tiger Salamanders
Scientific name: Ambystoma tigrinum
Kingdom: Animal
Class: Amphibian
Order: Urodela
Genus: Mole salamanders
Phylum: Chordata

1. Have a distinct look

The tiger salamander looks like a combination between a lizard and a small crocodile. However, it is not either of these creatures. Tiger salamanders have a large head, a small rounded snout, strong legs, and a long tail. The tiger salamander size is around 6 to 8 inches long and 4.4 ounces in weight. The largest specimens can reach to 14 inches in length, which is unusually long for a salamander.

A tiger salamander is eating worm

This mole salamander is the North America’s largest land salamander. It also has the widest range of any North American salamander, extending from southeastern Alaska east to the southern tip of Labrador, and south over the whole United States to the Mexican Plateau.

2. Come in various colors

 A typical tiger salamander usually has circular, yellow spots on a black background, similar to the ones at the Dickinson County Nature Center. Besides, they also appear in a variety of colors. They frequently have a dark green, grey, blue, or black background on their skin. The patterns on skin can be vertical, barred, spotted, and blotched with many colors like white, yellow, orange, or golden.

Tiger salamanders are olive green when they are young and develop adult features a few weeks after hatching. Among several tiger salamanders, albino varieties exist. Some have no marks at all, while others glow in the dark.

3. Some tiger salamanders don’t grow up

The tiger salamander larva is totally aquatic, with big external gills and a conspicuous caudal fin that begins immediately below the skull, similar to the Mexican axolotl. Limbs develop fully within a few days following hatching. Tiger salamander larvae typically feed and grow in the spring and early summer before metamorphosing 2 to 5 months after hatching. However, some larvae never transform.

They may retain certain larval features that allow them to remain underwater in regions where the conditions surrounding regular ponds are dry and unsuitable. These salamanders grow in water and can breed, despite having a body of an immature salamander. This phenomenon is known as neoteny. This phenomenon happens to most Axolotls which is a close cousin to tiger salamanders.

To know more, you can read our “Astonishing Facts about Axolotls” article

4. Live underground

Adult tiger salamanders spend most of the year underground. Unlike other salamanders, they do not use other species’ burrows, but they dig their own burrows. Some tiger salamanders have been discovered in burrows more than 2 feet below the surface. This helps them to avoid the high temperatures on the ground and explains why they have such a diverse range of habitat types.

Their habitat ranges from woodlands and grasslands to marshy places around ponds, lakes, and slow-moving streams. Few salamanders can thrive in the arid conditions of North America’s interior.

5. Eat everything

The tiger salamanders eat practically anything they come across, depending on their stage. The larvae eat insect larvae and small crustaceans. Adults, on the other hand, consume everything they like: from fish, fish eggs, and slugs to frogs and insects like cricket. Newborn mice, baby snakes, and many more are also their favorite food. Tiger salamanders are known to eat their own kind, as well as other tiger salamander larvae.

The majority of salamander species have tiny teeth in both their upper and lower jaws. Salamander larvae, unlike frogs, have these teeth. Some salamanders will bite if they are picked up. However, because teeth are so tiny, it does not hurt.

6. Live very long

In the wild, a normal tiger salamander can live 10-16 years. This can be explained by its excellent ability to live underground to avoid predators like snakes, owls, badgers and bobcats. In captivity, some salamanders can even live up to 25 years. 

7. Reproduce

Many tiger salamanders can only reproduce once in their lifetime. So they have to give their best shots. They will move to ponds where the breeding happens in late winter or early spring, normally following a warm rain that thaws the ground surface. Males will come earlier than females because they live closer to the ponds during the wintertime.

The mating process happens at night when male salamanders poke and nudge other salamanders. To eliminate rivals, a male tiger salamander sneaks in and places its sperms on another competing male. 

Two tiger salamanders in the breeding season
Cre: John White

When a male encounters a female, he will nudge her with his nose to get her away from the other rivals. And then, it will walk under the female’s chin, leading her ahead. The female then prods the tail and vent region of the male, which encourages him to release a spermatophore. The female will move her body so that she can accept the sperm from the male. 

However, the breeding procedure is not that easy. During the process, other male rivals may occasionally interrupt and replace their own spermatophores into the female. 

In the breeding areas, the female will lay eggs. The eggs are usually laid at night, after the courting and insemination from 24-48 hours. Every female can lay between 100 and 1000 eggs each season. To shelter the eggs, the female will construct a nest-like structure with branches and grasses at the bottom. After 12-15 days, the eggs hatch, and the larvae grow in the pond.

8. They are indicator species

Like most other amphibians, tiger salamanders absorb oxygen, water, and nutrition through their skin. That’s why they are extremely sensitive to changes in their aquatic surroundings. Because they react rapidly to poisons and contaminants in the water and soil, they are categorized as an “indicator species.”

Furthermore, the direct quantity of amphibians in a certain area might reflect the relative health of an ecosystem. This means that if there are more amphibians in an area, this place will be less contaminated. Therefore, it is a healthy ecosystem.

9. Have regenerating ability

Like many other members of the salamander family, tiger salamanders can regrow its body. Of course, they cannot be as powerful as the close relative, Axolotls who can regenerate nearly every component of the body. They can only recover the leg that has been damaged. These limbs may differ in coloration from the rest of the body.

The ability of a salamander to regenerate declines as it ages. However, it can still regenerate and an old salamander can replace missing or damaged parts.

10. Have many types

There are many sub-species of tiger salamanders.

Eastern Tiger Salamander: The scientific name of this salamander is Ambystoma tigrinum. It usually has dark brown or black skin with yellow or olive blotches or patches. You can find them in Kansas, Nebraska, New York or eastern Texas. 

Barred Tiger Salamander or Ambystoma mavortium (scientific name) also has dark brown or black skin with yellow vertical stripes. It can be found in areas such as New Mexico, southern Texas, central Nebraska and Colorado.

Arizona Tiger Salamander scientific name is Ambystoma mavortium nebulosum. It has a few tiny yellow patches on a dark brown or black skin. It can be found in the states of Arizona, central Colorado, Utah and new Mexico.

Blotched Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma mavortium melanostictum) can be found in the areas of southern Alberta, Nebraska , southwest Saskatchewan and northwest Colorado. Smaller than the cousin Arizona Salamnder, it has light grey or whitish ground skin with dark webbed patterns. 

Grey Tiger Salamander scientific name is Ambystoma mavortium diaboli. Their skin is brown and olive with black markings.

Sonoran Tiger Salamander has a similar look as Barred and Arizona Salamander. It comes in several colors and can be found in Huachara and in the Patagonia Mountains. Ambystoma mavortium stebbinsi is its scientific name.

11. They are poisonous

The tiger salamanders, like other amphibians, is venomous! They have a poisonous milky material produced by their tail gland. Their tails are toxic enough to cause death if they are eaten. Besides, some species release minor poison in the form of slime on their skin. Though not lethal, this poison can cause severe injury to humans.

12. California tiger salamander is endangered

Tiger salamanders are listed as least concerned on the Endangered species list, however, the California tiger salamanders are not.

The California tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense) is a huge, stocky salamander. It has a broad, rounded head and black skin with yellow spots. This salamander species can only live in certain and really rare habitats: vernal pools and seasonal ponds in grassland and oak savannah ecosystems, where they spend most time in underground burrows.

In 2004, California tiger salamanders were listed as a vulnerable species. The primary reason for their decrease is habitat loss, pollution, and fragmentation caused by human activities, as well as invasive species encroachment. The status of the species is most dire in Sonoma County, where development threatens 95% of the remaining salamander habitat.

13. You can have them as Pets

Nowadays, many people have tiger salamanders as pets. You can buy them at amphibiant stores. 


  • To have a tiger salamander, you will need a big cage of at least 15 gallons. 
  • The living environment of the tiger salamanders should be as natural as feasible. It should include both land and sea parts.
  • Any insecticide or any cleaning chemical should not come into touch with the enclosure.
  • The ground should be covered with a thick layer of soil allowing them to dig in.
  • There should be some pebbles, aquatic plants, and other items in the water part. This will assist female tiger salamanders in attaching their eggs when breeding.
  • It is not an issue to contain both males and females, or only males in the same cage. These salamanders aren’t territorial, and they only interact when it comes to food.

Light: Tiger salamanders are nocturnal creatures that spend most of their time underground. As a result, you don’t need to use UVB light for them.

Temperature: Tiger salamanders require temperatures ranging from 68 – 72oF during the day and 50 – 60oF at night.

Humidity: high humidity, around 70%.

– Feed: During the warmer months of the year, adult tiger salamanders should be fed 2 – 3 times per week. In the winter months, these animals generally have a diminished appetite. So if the temperature in the terrarium is at 60°F (16°C) or less, feeding them once a week is enough. Juvenile tigers should be fed more frequently because they need nutrients to grow up.

As we mentioned before, they can eat anything, from insects, bugs, fish and smaller amphibians, among other things. They are not picky about their food.


Tiger salamanders have extremely delicate skin, therefore you should avoid handling them in general. If not handled or touched, they are harmless and shy. These are not animals that you may interact with in the same manner that you would with another type of pet. The enjoyment comes from watching them rather than touching them.


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11 thoughts on “Tiger Salamander Facts: Deadly Venom from tail to skin”

  1. Hi there,

    Thank you for the fascinating article about tiger salamanders! I thoroughly enjoyed learning about these incredible creatures and their unique adaptations. I appreciate the effort you put into researching and writing this piece, as it truly deepened my understanding and appreciation for this species. Keep up the excellent work in spreading awareness about the importance of protecting these remarkable amphibians.

  2. This species is cool. I used to have one 3 years age, but he died. I haven’t kept any tiger salamanders since then. Your article makes me want to have one again =))

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  4. So, tiger salamanders are basically the Houdinis of the animal kingdom, pulling off disappearing acts during dry spells by burrowing into the ground. Clever little escape artists!

  5. Wait, tiger salamanders throw shade at their predators by releasing toxic goo? That’s like the ultimate mic drop moment in the animal kingdom.

  6. Hold up, tiger salamanders have a superhero-like ability to regenerate lost body parts? Move over, Wolverine, nature’s got its own squad of regenerating champions!

  7. Wow, who knew tiger salamanders were such undercover artists? Their unique spots and patterns make them the rockstars of the amphibian world!


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