The eastern tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) grows 20 to 35 centimetres in length. 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 of up to 100 eggs adhered to vegetation or debris that is at least 30 centimetres underwater. A clutch contains 100 to 5000 eggs, which hatch in two to three weeks. The newly hatched larvae are aquatic. Larvae transform into terrestrial juvenile salamanders and leave their wetland their first summer or the following spring. 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 25 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 both the Ontario Endangered Species Act, 2007 and the federal Species at Risk Act. The species has been designated as a Specially Protected Amphibian under the Ontario Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, which offers some protection to individuals and 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 2021.
Learn more about reptile and amphibian conservation and what you can do to help these species on our Reptile and Amphibian Stewardship page.
What You Can Do
- Report a sighting
- Get involved in reptile and amphibian conservation on your property, on the road and in your community
- Donate to support reptile and amphibian conservation
- Watch for reptiles and amphibians on the road
- Don’t release pet reptiles and amphibians into the wild
- Read more about the eastern tiger salamander in the Ontario Reptile and Amphibians Atlas publication.