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Trent University

Department of Biology: 3340H Herpetology

Species Account Assignment

Analysis of the Eastern Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum)

By: Winona Drouin (#0560422)

For: Prof Christina Davy and Cristen Watt

27 October 2014
1.0 Description

1.1Taxonomic Position

The Eastern Tiger Salamander, (genus: Ambystoma and species: A. tigrinum) belongs to a group called the

mole salamanders, or family Ambystomatidae. These salamanders fall under the class Amphbia and order

of Caudate (Hammerson GA et al, 2008). The Tiger Salamander was first described by Green (1825)

because of its distinct colour pattern. The name Ambystoma means “blunt mouth” and tigrinum translates

to “like a tiger” (Cooper D, 2010). However, due to recent genetic evidence, different species of the Tiger

Salamander have been discovered such as the Western or Barred Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma

mavortium) (COSEWIC, 2013).

1.2 Species Appearance

The Eastern Tiger Salamander’s are considered the largest terrestrial salamanders within North America.

This species of robust mole salamanders can be a dark-olive, grey or brown colour with lighter olive-

yellow blotches present on the back and sides which gives it a “tiger stripe” appearance. The underbelly is

also dark with yellow blotches.

They possess small eyes, a large

head, short snout and short

unwebbed toes. (COSEWIC, 2013;

Ontario Nature 2014). The larvae

look similar to the adults however;

they possess large external gills

Figure 1. Eastern Tiger Salamander; Ontario Nature. (Gillingwater S, 2014)
(Ontario Nature, 2014).

Males can generally reach a total length of 20-33cm whereas females will be generally smaller

(COSEWIC, 2013; Ontario Nature, 2014). Male and female Eastern Tiger Salamanders show slight
dimorphic traits; females tend to be smaller and shorter in size, are less laterally compressed in the tails

and have shorter vents. The males vent will swell with the breeding season (COSEWIC, 2013).

The Eastern Tiger Salamander may be confused with the Spotted Salamanders (A. maculatum)

which are also part of the mole salamander family. The spots of the Eastern Tiger Salamanders however

do not generally display such a rounded shape. The Spotted Salamander’s distinctive spots are also

restricted to its back; Eastern Tiger Salamanders generally display blotches throughout the whole body

(COSEWIC, 2014).

2.0 Species Range

This species is found widely through North America and ranges

from Alberta and south of Saskatchewan to Mexico, east of the

Atlantic Ocean to western and eastern edged of the Rocky

Mountains (Royal Ontario Museum, 2010). In Canada, this

species exists in only south-east Manitoba and extreme southern

Ontario (COSEWIC, 2013). Many of the populations are

fragmented due to habitat loss or lack of records such as the

population in southern Manitoba (Ontario Nature, 2014). Some

populations, such as a small population in California are

introduced (Hammerson GA et al, 2008). Refer to Figure 2 for the

Figure 2. Range map of Eastern Tiger Salamander (IUCN, 2005).

range map of the Tiger Salamander.

3.0 Habitat Preferences

By belonging to the family Ambystomatidae, the Eastern Tiger Salamander will reside in an underground

burrow. Therefore, this salamander must live in habitats in which are suitable for burrowing and

acceptable for living underground (Hammerson GA et al, 2008). The Eastern Tiger Salamander is
generally associated with grasslands, savannas and woodland edges (COSEWIC, 2013). The salamander

can live in these terrestrial habitats as long as access to fresh water is near for breeding (Vitt LJ &

Caldwell JP, 2014).

To create the burrow in which the species lives, the Eastern Tiger Salamander will dig into the

soil either by using their forelimbs or by using abandoned burrows from mammals (COSEWIC, 2013).

The soils in which they are general found in display high permeability, moderate surface runoff and a low

water table (Howard RD et al, 1997) such as sandy loam or loamy sand soils (Liguori S & Clark K,

2014). The salamanders will stay in this burrow for most of the year, including hibernation, and will only

travel to breeding ponds (Graham D, 1997).

During breeding season, these salamanders can be found in semi-permanent or permanent water

bodies with soft-bottom substrates and some emergent vegetation (COSEWIC, 2013). However, due to

increased habitat loss, this species has also been found to breed in gravel and farm ponds (Liguori S &

Clark K, 2014). These salamanders can also be found underneath rocks, logs, limestone flakes piles of

debris and above ground during damp or humid nights (COSEWIC, 2013; LeClere JB, 2005).

4.0 Diet

The Tiger Salamander’s are very clumsy opportunistic feeder and will feed on many insects, worms,

small frogs, small field mice and spiders by snatching them with their tongue (Liguori S & Clark K,

2014) or by a quick sideways snap of the jaw (Graham D, 1997). These salamanders prey on their food by

sitting and waiting for it to arrive. Once the chance is given, the salamander will strike (COSEWIC,

2013). The larvae of the salamander, and adults during breeding season, will feed on a variety of

invertebrates including insect larvae as well as fairy shrimp, plankton, frogs and other salamanders

(LeClere JB, 2005; Liguori S & Clark K, 2014). The larvae are extremely aggressive and may also

predate upon other salamander species as well as being cannibalistic. The cannibalistic larvae morphs
tend to possess larger heads and teeth in comparison and metamorphose much quicker (LeClere JB,


Like most salamanders, the Eastern Tiger Salamander cannot drink water. Instead, water is

absorbed through the skin. Water is obtained through the soil in its burrow or by sitting in puddles or dew-

covered debris (Cooper D, 2010).

5.0 Predators and Defense

Although the Tiger Salamander lives within a burrow, it is very easily predated upon by various mammals

including bobcats, badgers, raccoons, birds as well as snakes and turtles. The majority of predation occurs

during the breeding season. These salamanders can only reproduce in fishless ponds because of how

easily they can become predated. However, these salamanders grow very fast which may prevent them

from being eaten (Cooper D, 2014; National Geographic, 2014).

This salamander can also offer a form of defense by excreting a milky substance that is toxic

from predators. This substance is produces within the tail glands and excretes when threatened. To warn

predators, the salamander will curl its head and tail over their back, which makes their poisonous glands

visible (Cooper D, 2010). Another form of defense in which all Caudata possess is their ability to

regenerate their tails. When attacked and grabbed from the tail, salamanders are able to quickly shed it

and run away to safety (Voss GJ et al, 2013).

6.0 Reproduction

6.1Habitat Requirements

As previously mentioned, these salamanders will breed in permanent or semi-permanent waterbodies

including wetlands and vernal pools that are approximately 2 to 4 ft. deep (COSEWIC, 2013; Liguori S &

Clark K, 2014). The vernal pools are an optimal breeding ground for the salamander as they temporarily
provide water to sustain the breeding and metamorphosis and are free of fish predators (Liguori S & Clark

K, 2014). The salamanders prefer ponds or wetlands that provide adequate vegetation that can be used as

cover. For wetlands, this includes Sphagnum spp. and Carex spp along with some floating vegetation

(Liguori S & Clark K, 2014). The breeding season typically occurs a few weeks after the ice melts,

following spring rains (COSEWIC, 2013).

6.2 Sexual Selection

A study conducted by Howard RD et al (1997) concluded that sexual selection is present among Eastern

Tiger Salamanders. The results of the study showed that female salamanders were choosing males with

longer tails even though they offered no advantages. The study also found that larger males tend to

interrupt courting males more frequently than those of small size. Therefore, males that were larger in size

were able to disrupt smaller males in hopes of attracting females whereas females were choosing based on

tail length, not body size (Howard RD et al, 1997).

Male competition for females is distinctly present in this species. Aside from physical

competition, the Eastern Tiger Salamander may also “trick” a female into collecting his spermatophore. A

smaller, sometimes weaker male will impersonate a female salamander in order to deceive the other

males. When a female is interested in a potential mate, the female impersonator will sneak in and deposit

his spermatophore on top of the rival males, thus forcing the female to collect his spermatophore for

fertilization (National Geographic, 2014).

5.3 Life Cycle

After the salamanders have congregated at a breeding site, the males will begin the reproduction cycle by

performing a brief courtship for the females. The male will then deposit a spermatophore, or “sperm

packet”, at the bottom of the pond. If a female is interested, she will pick up the spermatophore with her
cloaca in which will fertilize her eggs (COSEWIC, 2013). Shortly after

that, the female will lay her darkly pigmented clumps of eggs on

vegetation or debris that is approximately 30cm below t he water surface.

A female’s clutch can range from 18-110 eggs which size at about 5.5cm

by 7cm (COSEWIC 2013; Ontario Nature, 2013). Eggs will generally

hatch 19-50 days after incubation, depending upon water temperature.

The larvae will transform into adult salamanders usually by midsummer

but may also depend on food availability, climate, density and pond
Figure 3. Eastern Tiger Salamander egg mass
on submerged vegetation (White J, 2008)
hydroperiod. As previously mentioned, Tiger Salamanders will grow much faster than the larvae of other

salamanders (COSEWIC, 2013). These salamanders can live from 12-15 years in the wild (National

Geographic, 2014).

7.0 Threats and Conservation Status

The main reason as to why these salamanders are disappearing is strictly due to habitat loss and pollution

of both their terrestrial and aquatic environments. With regards to the aquatic habitat, increased fish

stocking in lakes which were virtually fish-free has caused increased predation of the salamanders

(Hammerson GA et al, 2008). With habitat loss, wetland conversion and fish stocking, the breeding

grounds for the salamander have become increasingly rare. The terrestrial habitat, specifically prairies and

oak savanna, have also become increasingly rare due to habitat loss and agriculture (Liguroi S & Clark K,

2014). Other factors such as multi-year droughts, water management, roadkill, and agricultural activities

all contribute to the decline of the population (COSEWIC, 2013). With that being said, the Eastern Tiger

Salamander populations are becoming more and more at risk – especially in Canada.
7.1 Global Conservation Status

According to NatureServe Explorer (2003), the Eastern Tiger Salamander has a global status of G5 which

indicates that the population is secure. On a global scale, this salamander is common, widespread and

abundant (NatureServe, 2003). However, in various populations across United States, Canada and Mexico

numbers have been declining. The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Red List of

Threatened Species (2014.2) shows the Eastern Tiger Salamander’s rank as Least Concern (Hammerson

GA, 2008). This indicates that although the population may be widespread, the population is under some

stress. It is critical that these salamanders are continually monitored and aided with restoration efforts to

help these species survive.

7.2 Canadian Conservation Status

In Ontario, the historical population site of Point Pelee, Ontario has disappeared. The Eastern Tiger

Salamander is currently listed under the Species at Risk act as extirpated meaning that the population is

non-existent. The population in Manitoba however, assessed by Committee on the Status of Endangered

Wildlife in Canada has been designated as special concern (COSEWIC, 2013).

7.3 Canadian Restoration

Currently, the Eastern Tiger Salamander has no restoration effects specifically, however active restoration

of prairie and oak savanna habitats are being continuously implemented by both government and not-for-

profit environmental groups. The extirpated population in Point Pelee, Ontario currently has no hope of

housing Eastern Tiger Salamanders. All of the breeding ponds are inhabited by fish and habitat loss has

forced this species out of its once permanent home. The Manitoba population however is still suitable for

the Tiger Salamander and hopes of sustaining the Eastern Tiger Salamander population is near

(COSEWIC, 2013).
8.0 Tiger Salamanders as Pets
Because of their interesting colourations and large size, the Eastern Tiger Salamander is very popular

among the pet industry. These species are also easily maintained and cared for which attracts most pet

owners. However, like most pets, humans have been releasing their captive salamanders into non-native

habitats. Although this may seem like it’s helping the population, it is just adding more competition and

stress to the other indigenous species (COSEWIC, 2013).

9.0 References
Cooper D. 2010. [Online]. Fun facts about the tiger salamander. Bright Hub. Accessed on 23 October
2014. Available from: <http://www.brighthub.com/environment/science-environmental/articles/

COSEWIC. 2013. COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Eastern tiger salamander (Ambystoma
tigrinum) in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. Vol 8.
Pp. 1-53.

Graham D. 1997. [Online]. Tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum). South Dakota Department of Game,
Fish and Parks. Northern State University. Accessed on 23 October 2014. Available from:

Green J. 1825. Description of a new species of salamander. Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences
of Philadelphia. Vol 5. Pp. 116-118.

Hammerson GA, Shaffer HB, Church D, Parra-Olea G, & Wake D. 2008. [Online]. Ambystoma tigrinum.
The IUCN List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. Accessed on 21 October 2014. Available
from: <http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/59072/0>

Howard RD, Moorman RS & Whiteman HH. 1997. Differential effects of mate competition and mate
choice on eastern tiger salamanders. Journal of Animal Behaviour. Vol 53. Pp. 1345-1356.

LeClere JB. 2005. [Online]. A field guide to amphibians and reptiles of Iowa. HerpNet. Eastern Tiger
Salamander – Ambystoma tigrinum. Accessed on 23 October 2014. Available from:

Liguori S & Clark K. 2014. [Online]. New Jersey endangered and threatened species field guide.
Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey. Accessed on 22 October 2014. Available from: <
National Geographic. 2014. [Online]. Tiger salamander. Accessed on 23 October 2014. Available from:

NatureServe. 2003. [Online]. Ambystoma tigrinum (Green, 1825). NatureServe Explorer. Online
Encyclopedia of Life. Version 7.1. Accessed on 23 October 2014. Available from:

Ontario Nature. 2013. [Online]. Eastern tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum). Reptiles and
Amphibians of Ontario.

Royal Ontario Museum. 2010. [Online]. Eastern tiger salamander; species at risk. Ontario Ministry of
Natural Resources. Accessed on 21 October 2014. Available from:
<http://www.rom.on.ca/ontario/ risk.php?doc_type=fact&id=285>

Steen DA, Smith LL, Miller GJ, & Sterret SC. 2006. Post-breeding terrestrial movements of Ambystoma
tigrinum (Eastern tiger salamanders). BioOne. South Eastern Naturalist Journal. Vol 5(2). Pp.

Vitt LJ & Caldwell JP. 2014. Herpetology: an introductory biology of amphibians and reptiles (fourth
edition). El Sevier Inc. Academic Press Publications. Oxford, London. ISBN 978-0-12-3869197

Voss GJ, Kump KD, Walker JA & Voss RS. 2013. Variation in salamander tail regeneration is associated
with genetic factors that determine tail morphology. Plos One. Vol 8(7).

List of Figures

Figure 1. Eastern Tiger Salamander; Ontario Nature.

Gillingwater, S. 2014. [Online]. Eastern tiger salamander photo. Reptiles and Amphibians of Ontario.
Ontario Nature. Accessed on 21 October 2014. Available from:

Figure 2. Species range map for Eastern Tiger Salamander.

IUCN. 2005. [Online]. Species Range Map for Eastern Tiger Salamander. The IUCN Red List of
Threatened Species. 2014.2. Accessed on 21 October 2014. Available from:

Figure 3. Eastern Tiger Salamander egg mass on submerged vegetation.

White J. 2008. [Online]. Night tigers: reptiles and amphibians. The Nature of Delaware. Delaware Nature
Society Blog. Accessed on 23 October 2014. Available from: