Did you know that as you sleep this month, there may be a tiger mating in a nearby pond or marsh? Although large for a salamander, at 7 or 8 inches long, the eastern tiger salamander is not a creature whose nearby presence is likely to keep you up at night. But you’ll probably have to be up at night to see this animal. I have never seen a tiger salamander in the wild in Missouri, almost certainly because my outdoor experiences are mostly restricted to daylight hours. The species is thought to occur throughout Missouri but is more common in northern Missouri counties.
Classified within the group of “mole salamanders,” the adult tiger salamander spends most of its time in underground burrows or under logs. It is usually active only at night, especially after a heavy rain. Sometimes the adults are found in wells, basements and root cellars. The adult will feed on prey items that consist of almost any animal small enough for it to swallow--earthworms, insects, spiders, slugs and snails. As is the rule for amphibians, it has a requirement for water during a portion of its life cycle. It moves to fishless ponds and marshes for reproduction, with courtship and egg-laying in the water occurring from February through April. Eggs will hatch in a few weeks and the aquatic larvae, with gills, will develop in the pond throughout the summer. By early September, they have developed into land-dwelling subadults.
Landowners who wish to make their property more amphibian-friendly should provide shallow, fishless ponds for reproduction. A dozen or more species of toads, frogs and salamanders may benefit from these properly constructed habitats. Such wetland sites were among the first to be eliminated when Missouri was settled, and recreating them can pay great dividends in returning wildlife diversity to our landscape. What better time to begin a small wetland restoration than “The Year of the Tiger!”