Eastern tiger salamander © Scott Gillingwater
The eastern tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) can grow to 35 centimetres in length, although most individuals are less than 20 centimetres long. This species’ tail is about half its total length. Adults have a black, dark brown or green back with olive to yellow blotches, spots and vertical streaks. The belly is olive or yellow with pale yellow blotches. The eastern tiger salamander has a large head, short snout, fat neck and plump body. Its toes are short, fat and unwebbed. The larvae have external, bushy gills and look like small adults.
The blue spots of the blue-spotted salamander differentiate them from the eastern tiger salamander. Jefferson’s salamander, the small-mouthed salamander and unisexual Ambystoma salamanders lack yellow markings. The spotted salamander’s body is blue-black.
The terrestrial adult eastern tiger salamander lives in a variety of habitat types, such as bottomland deciduous forests, conifer forests and woodlands, open fields and brushy areas. It burrows in loose soil or leaf litter, or takes over abandoned mammal and invertebrate burrows. It has also been found underneath rocks, logs and other types of ground cover. The species breeds in vernal (temporary) pools that do not have fish. The breeding sites must have water long enough for mating, egg laying, hatching, larvae development and metamorphosis to occur.
Eastern tiger salamanders are nocturnal (most active at night), and this behaviour helps reduce dehydration from exposure to direct sunlight. The female lays eggs in clumps adhered to vegetation or debris that is at least 30 centimetres underwater. A clutch contains 18 to 110 eggs, which hatch in about a month before the eggs hatch. The newly hatched larvae are nine to 17 millimetres long. They transform into adult salamanders by midsummer. Transformed salamanders may leave their wetland their first summer or remain, depending on temperature, food availability and water levels. The larvae eat aquatic invertebrates, small frogs and other salamanders. The terrestrial juveniles and adults feed on earthworms, molluscs, insects, small field mice, frogs and other salamanders. Captive eastern tiger salamanders have been reported to live up to 20 years.
Threats and Trends
The eastern tiger salamander was never widespread or abundant in Ontario. The only confirmed record was in 1915 on Point Pelee. Elsewhere in their range, threats to this species are wetland loss, pollution from runoff of fertilizers and pesticides, road mortality and collection for the pet trade.
Current Status and Protection
The eastern tiger salamander is currently listed as Extirpated under the Ontario Endangered Species Act, 2007 and Extirpated under the federal Species at Risk Act. These acts offer protection to individuals and their habitat. The species has also been designated as a Specially Protected Amphibian under the Ontario Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, which offers protection to individuals but not their habitat. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the global status of the eastern tiger salamander as Least Concern. The species’ status was last confirmed in February 2013. Additional detail about legal protection for species at risk in Ontario is available on our Legal Protection page.
Learn more about reptile and amphibian conservation and what you can do to help these species on our Reptile and Amphibian Stewardship page.