Eastern Tiger Salamander

Photo of an eastern tiger salamander with yellow spots.
Species of Conservation Concern
Scientific Name
Ambystoma tigrinum
Ambystomatidae (mole salamanders) in the order Caudata

The eastern tiger salamander is a dark, medium to large salamander with yellow or olive blotches over the head, body, and tail. The ground color is black or dark brown. The large spots or blotches vary greatly in size and shape; blotch color ranges from bright yellow to dull olive brown. The belly is dark gray or black with yellow to olive-yellow mottling. There are 11 to 14 riblike costal grooves. As with other members of genus Ambystoma, males usually have longer tails than females, and during breeding season they have a swollen cloaca.


Adult length: 7–8¼ inches, but can sometimes reach 13 inches.

Where To Find
Eastern Tiger Salamander Distribution Map

Presumed statewide. There are few to no records in the Osage Plains of southwest Missouri and the Mississippi Alluvial Basin of southeast Missouri. It is most common in the northern half of the state, especially in northwestern Missouri. Small, isolated populations occur throughout the Ozark Highlands in the former savanna and prairie regions.

Eastern tiger salamanders live in a wide variety of habitats, including woodlands, savannas, swamps, prairies, and old fields (near farm ponds), and they may sometimes be found in and around croplands. In Missouri, they are most commonly encountered in grassland habitat and are occasionally found in wells, basements, and root cellars. They spend most of their time in burrows or under logs and are active only at night.

Eastern tiger salamanders become migratory during autumn rains, moving to ponds where breeding will take place in winter or early spring. Unlike many of the salamanders in the genus, eastern tiger salamanders actively dig their own burrows in the soil, although they can live within crevices and burrows made by other small animals.

Eastern tiger salamanders need fishless water holes, ponds, and swamps to survive, and you can help them by developing and maintaining these features on your property.

Tiger salamanders belong to the mole salamander family, named because they spend most of their time underground, often in burrows made by small mammals or under logs and rocks. Your best chance of seeing a tiger salamander is at night in autumn, after a heavy rain.

Prey includes any animal small enough for them to swallow, ranging from small invertebrates to young mice, small frogs, and snakes, and even other salamanders. Common foods include earthworms, insects, spiders, slugs, and snails.

A species of conservation concern in Missouri. Loss and fragmentation of native prairies and savanna habit, loss of wetlands, patchy distribution, and small population size threaten this species in Missouri. Populations are declining overall when compared to historical levels. Constructing and maintaining shallow, fishless wetlands for breeding is vital to the long-term persistence of this species in Missouri.

Life Cycle

Days are spent in burrows or under logs, as these salamanders are active only at night. During autumn rains individuals migrate to fishless ponds where breeding will take place. Missourians have noted these salamanders near homes or crossing roads in November and December. Courtship and egg-laying occur in the water between February and April, peaking in March. Each female may lay up to 1,000 eggs deposited in small clumps of 23 to 110 eggs, with an average of 52. Eggs hatch within several weeks, or up to 40 to 50 days if water temperatures are cold. The aquatic, gilled larvae develop throughout summer and transform to land-dwelling subadults in late summer, June through August. The lifespan can be up to a decade or more; one tiger salamander in captivity set a record for living 20 years and 6 months.

Habitat conservation is important for keeping this species present in Missouri.

These nifty amphibians, though seldom seen, reward their viewers with their striking yellow or olive and black patterns. They are part of the amazing wild heritage of Missouri.

The larvae of this species are sometime erroneously called waterdogs. That term, however, is a common name for the mudpuppy.

At one time, larval tiger salamanders could be sold and used for fish bait in Missouri, but this market was eliminated because many bait animals carry infectious diseases that would negatively impact the native amphibians once established.

Numerous animals prey on tiger salamanders and their eggs and larval forms, including predaceous diving beetles, fish, herons, and loggerhead shrikes. The salamanders themselves prey on a host of invertebrates ranging from snails and slugs to insects and spiders.

Media Gallery
Similar Species

Where to See Species

Bee Creek CA was donated in 2011 to the Missouri Department of Conservation.  The area consists of forest, cropland, old field, and straddles Bee Creek.
About Reptiles and Amphibians in Missouri
Missouri’s herptiles comprise 43 amphibians and 75 reptiles. Amphibians, including salamanders, toads, and frogs, are vertebrate animals that spend at least part of their life cycle in water. They usually have moist skin, lack scales or claws, and are ectothermal (cold-blooded), so they do not produce their own body heat the way birds and mammals do. Reptiles, including turtles, lizards, and snakes, are also vertebrates, and most are ectothermal, but unlike amphibians, reptiles have dry skin with scales, the ones with legs have claws, and they do not have to live part of their lives in water.