Lee Richardson Zoo

Barred Tiger Salamander

Order: Caudata – salamanders
Family: Ambystomatidae – mole salamanders

Scientific Name:  Ambystoma tigrinum mavortium


<Description: A large and powerful salamander 6-8.5 inches in length.  They have small eyes and no ear glands.  Individuals have no more than 14 vertical grooves on either side of the body between the front and hind limbs.  Coloration may be varied, but is characterized by light colored spots, bars, or blotches on a dark background with light belly.  Bars on the sides may or may not extend to the belly.  The chin is yellow.  Like most amphibians, tiger salamanders have smooth, moist, skin.  Females have longer bodies than males and males have a proportionately longer tail than females.  Juveniles usually change from a larval form to the adult form, but occasionally they will retain gills and reach sexual maturity as an aquatic form known as a mud puppy or axolotl.  This is called neoteny.


Home Range:  Includes most of Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and the eastern half of New Mexico and Colorado.


Habitat Type:  Spend most of their time under rocks in moist caves or in the burrows of other animals such as crayfish or prairie dogs.  Little is known of their home range; but they are known to breed in standing bodies of water such as shallow lakes, ponds, ditches, or backwater pools of rivers.


Reproductive HabitsIn the Spring, breeding males are distinguished by swollen cloacal lips.  If sufficient rain has occurred between December and March, male salamanders will seek out suitable breeding sites to gather.  Although the length of the breeding season is not known, it probably lasts 1-3 months.  Males and females will thrash about in the water, rubbing against and nipping at each other.  Eventually, a male will swim ahead and deposit a spermatophore which the female swims over and mounts with her cloaca.  Up to 1,000 eggs are deposited in clumps attached to weeds.  The eggs hatch into gilled larva several weeks later.  The larva may metamorphose into adults that summer or the following summer.  They may also retain their gills and reach sexual maturity as mud puppies (see description section).


Diet in Wild:  Tiger salamanders are opportunistic feeders and will eat nearly anything small enough to fit in their mouth, including insects, worms, fish, tadpoles, and mice.


Diet in ZooFree choice earthworms.  3-4 crickets on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  1 small pinky (baby) mouse on Sunday.


General InfoThese salamanders are now found in areas far from their historical range as a result of fishermen using them as bait and inadvertently releasing them into new waterways.  Barred tiger salamanders are the only salamanders found in Western Kansas.
Tiger salamanders, and others like them, are sometimes called “mole salamanders” because they prefer to hide in burrows or under rocks.  During the summer and winter, they spend most of their time underground, thereby avoiding extremes in temperature; however, they will emerge at night or during a rainfall even when temperatures approach freezing.

Whether or not an individual becomes neotenic (an axolotl or mud puppy) or undergoes metamorphosis may depend on environmental conditions.  Tiger salamanders tend to become neotenic when the areas surrounding standing bodies of water become very dry.  Predictably, Tiger salamanders become axolotls frequently in the drier western part of their range.  These aquatic salamanders often grow larger than their more terrestrial counterparts.


Predators:  Snakes, birds, fish.


Related Artifacts:  Two live specimens located in Kansas Animals Exhibit.  Amphibian Discovery Box




Amphibians and Reptiles in Kansas. Third Edition. 1993. Joseph T. Collins. University of Kansas Press. Lawrence, KS. pp. 29-31.


Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia. Vol. 5, Fishes II and Amphibians. 1975. Bernhard Grzimek. Van Nostrand Reinhold Co. New York, NY. pp. 293, 317-318.


Peterson Field Guides: Reptiles and Amphibians. 1991. Roger Conant et al. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston, MA. pp. 240, 255.