Tiger Salamander

Ambystoma tigrinum

Tiger salamanders are native to North America. They can be found throughout much of the U.S., and into southern Canada and northern Mexico. These large salamanders average 6–8 inches in length, but some individuals grow up to 14 inches long. Tiger salamanders are almost entirely terrestrial as adults, and typically only return to water to breed. Adults are rarely seen in the open, preferring to remain in burrows that may be 2 feet below the ground.

Did You Know?

Tiger salamanders are rarely seen in the open, preferring to remain in burrows that may be two feet below ground.


Does the harvest for wildlife trade or captive breeding of this species harm wild populations?

Some Cause for Concern

Tiger salamanders have a wide distribution in North America, but their populations are under threat from collection for the pet trade and the fishing bait trade.  They are also threatened with habitat loss. Despite this, the tiger salamander is listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an organization that tracks the status of wildlife populations, as a species of Least Concern.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

When purchasing a tiger salamander, ask for proof that it is captive bred from domesticated animals. Only acquire a pet that is from a reputable USDA-licensed breeder or dealer to ensure that you are not buying an illegally wild-caught and/or imported animal.

Invasion Threat

Does the release or escape of this species into the wild harm the environment and/or economy?

Some Cause for Concern

Tiger salamanders are known to form colonies when released into new regions with suitable habitat.  They can also interbreed with closely related species in the wild. When introduced to regions of California, they interbreed readily with the California tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense). The recent listing of the California tiger salamander as Threatened under the US Endangered Species Act recognized this interbreeding as a potential conservation concern. Tiger salamanders released into the wild can also spread infectious diseases that are harmful to native amphibian species (see Health Threat).

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Before obtaining any non-traditional pet, check that it is legal to own one in your state of residence and check for permitting requirements. Only acquire a pet that is from a reputable breeder or dealer to ensure that you are not buying an illegally imported or wild-caught animal. Always keep your pet inside a safe and secure enclosure. Never release a pet into the wild.

Ease of Care

Does harvest, captive breeding, transport, or being kept as a pet harm individual animals?

Little Cause for Concern

Ease of care of many non-traditional pets depends on the individual owner’s years of experience and knowledge caring for a particular species. For the purposes of this website, we have geared information toward the benefit of the beginner.

Tiger salamanders require room temperature housing and large cage spaces containing substrate in which to burrow; one 10-gallon tank is sufficient for each individual animal. The tiger salamander’s diet consists of small insects and worms. Tiger salamanders have very sensitive skin and extra care must be taken if they are handled.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

When purchasing a pet tiger salamander, be sure to research the animal’s specific care requirements. Talk to your veterinarian about the proper diet and housing for your pet.

Health Threat

Does this animal pose a health risk to native wildlife, humans, livestock and agriculture?

Significant Cause for Concern

Tiger salamanders are known carriers of the highly infectious amphibian chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), which causes the disease chytridiomycosis. This species is immune to Bd, but the fungus is a significant threat to most frog species. Bd has been linked to massive die-offs and recent extinctions of native frogs around the world.

Tiger salamanders are also known carriers of ranaviruses a large complex of related viruses (Family Iridoviridae) that infect reptiles, amphibians, and fish. The transportation of tiger salamander larvae for use as fishing bait appears to have exposed wild salamander populations to ranaviruses in western North America. Tiger salamander larvae themselves sometimes suffer catastrophic mortality from ranavirus infection; such episodes can recur year after year in the same population.

Like most amphibians, salamanders can carry Salmonella. If transmitted to humans, Salmonella can cause vomiting and diarrhea; these symptoms are often mild in healthy adults but can be fatal to young children and the elderly, or anyone with a compromised immune system. It is therefore important to wash hands before and after handling these animals; however, surfaces may also become contaminated. Thus Salmonella can be transmitted from exotic pets to any member of a household, even those who do not handle the pet directly.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Before acquiring a pet salamander, ask for a list of any medical treatments the animal has received. Always wash hands before and after contact with any amphibian.

EcoHealth Alliance works at the intersection of ecosystem, animal and human health through local conservation programs and develops global health solutions to emerging diseases.
More about EcoHealth Alliance