Amphibians of Montana: From Water Dogs to Tiger Salamanders

From Waterdog to Tiger Salamander

Frogs and snakes

And salamander's tails,

That's what little boys are made of.

Isn't that the way it goes? Well, it does around my house. My kids love nature and, now that it is summer, they have discovered a whole new world of fun in the local ponds and waterways. Frogs, snakes, and big, slimy salamanders are just a few of the residents in the wetland areas of Montana. The blotched tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum melanostictum) is the current far out favorite.

Larvae or "Waterdogs"

What Is a Tiger Salamander?

The tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) is a land-dwelling amphibian that returns to the water to breed. Like most amphibians, the young metamorphose from a water-breathing larva to an air-breathing adult.

The blotched type is found in North America from Southern Alberta to Northern Colorado. Adults live most of the year in muddy burrows, usually dug by rodents. They emerge from hibernation in the late spring and migrate to ponds or vernal pools to breed. Females lay eggs in gelatinous bunches on aquatic plants; these eggs typically hatch within three weeks.

After breeding, the adults return to their muddy homes while the salamander larvae, called "waterdogs" are left to fend for themselves. Waterdogs are fish-like with large, feathery gills behind the head. They are approximately three inches (76mm) in length, are a light brown and grow darker as they mature. They almost immediately develop short legs. If they survive, the rest of their amazing transformation will occur in the late summer.

Blotched tiger salamander adults range from olive to brown to black with yellow blotches or stripes. Like the larvae, the adults generally get darker in color with age. They have a broad head and a wide mouth. Adults can reach up to nine inches (230mm) in length, making them the largest land-dwelling salamanders in the world. They can live up to 20 years or more in captivity.

Waterdogs feed on mosquito and other larvae when they are very small. As they grow, they will eat larger insects and worms. Unfortunately for them, they are eaten by just about everything: birds, snakes, fish, mammals and even used as fishing bait by humans. Most of the young will not survive to adulthood.

Sadly, the tiger salamander numbers are dropping alarmingly as habitats are destroyed and as weather patterns have shifted towards dryer conditions in recent years. The larva cannot survive if the breeding pools dry before they reach maturity.

Why Are Tiger Salamanders Dying in Yellowstone National Park?

According to Stanford researchers, global warming is to blame for the loss of suitable breeding pools for amphibians in Yellowstone National Park. Amphibians, such as salamanders and frogs, are considered early indicators of environmental change. Yellowstone wetlands, ideal for amphibian habitat, have been disappearing at an alarming rate. Huge declines in amphibian populations have been reported.

During one study, researchers observed the loss of four separate breeding pools. The pools dried so rapidly the adults were unable to migrate. Hundreds of adult and juvenile salamanders were left dead in the process. "It is a symptom of a much, much larger problem," said Sarah McMenamin, lead researcher.¹

Mom helping to catch creepy critters...what I will do for my boys, sheesh!

Tiger Salamanders as Pets

Tiger salamanders are popular as pets. They are generally acquired in the larval (aquatic) stage and so must be kept in an aquarium. Optimal water temperature is 65-70º F (18-21º C). Good water quality with proper pH must be maintained; this requires a filter and aeration.

When the larva begins to metamorphose into an adult, it will lose its gills and, therefore, its ability to live under water. Land area must then be provided and the amount of water reduced. This can be done gradually.

When metamorphosis is complete, the tank can be entirely terrestrial. The salamander will need moist, loose soil suitable for burrowing. Cages must be cleaned frequently so don't go for anything too elaborate. Provide some bark and a few rocks as well as a shallow dish of water (only an inch deep or so.) Larvae must be fed small insects, brine shrimp, and worms. Adults will eat crickets, worms, and other insects.

Salamanders supposedly become friendly or at least docile as they adjust to life in captivity. Until then, they may try to bite but have teeth too small to do any damage to humans, although they can do damage to each another. Do not house large and small salamanders together or adults with larvae. Be very careful when handling salamanders; they have very porous, delicate skin. Wash hand thoroughly before handling and use wet hands to touch the salamander.

Caring for Tiger Salamanders

More About Montana

  • Gallatin National Forest: the Secret to Escaping the Crowds of Yellowstone National Park
    You are enjoying (or perhaps still planning) a fantastic trip to Yellowstone National Park...
  • Camping with Kids in Bear Country
    Some of the most beautiful, scenic and natural places to camp are also full of wildlife. This is a positive feature of any camping destination. What could be better than catching a glimpse of an eagle, moose, elk, wolf or even bear?
  • Raising Swallowtail Butterflies and Caterpillars
    In this part of the world (Montana) the Two-tailed Swallowtail butterflies only have one brood per year and they overwinter in the pupal stage...


¹Global Warming Is Killing Frogs And Salamanders In Yellowstone Park, Researchers Say. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 12, 2011, from­/releases/2008/10/081028184830.htm

Mrs. Menagerie (author) from The Zoo on September 08, 2011:

Thanks howcurecancer!

[email protected] on September 08, 2011:

So much fun!

Mrs. Menagerie (author) from The Zoo on July 24, 2011:

Hahaha...thanks Matt! They're actually kinda cool...kinda.

mattdigiulio from Los Angeles on July 23, 2011:

Awesome! I never thought I'd WANT to read about tiger salamanders, but you changed my mind yet again. Voting up.

Best, Matt

Mrs. Menagerie (author) from The Zoo on July 21, 2011:

Hahahaha...I didn't know that porcupines had smelly excretions. I did just recently discover that snakes stink...ugh!

The Logician from now on on July 21, 2011:

The Porcupine, yes that porcupine. We got him in the mountains and I wanted to take him home to show my friends in the suburbs but first we were going to Niagara Falls at night - my brother and I had to ride 5 hours sleeping on the back seat of our Impala and right below my head in a chicken wire cage about 1 foot square was the porcupine (he was a young adult) on a piece of cardboard box on the floor of the back seat. This is when I discovered how badly porcupine's excretions smell - kept me up all the way to the falls...pewwwwwwwwww! I decided then this was one pet I wasn't keeping for long!

Mrs. Menagerie (author) from The Zoo on July 21, 2011:

Tsadjatko--you certainly have! (I checked out your latest the porcupine!)

The Logician from now on on July 21, 2011:

I've had some experience with menageries too. Great hub, I'm watching for more like this.

Mrs. Menagerie (author) from The Zoo on July 20, 2011:

Hi akirchner and thanks!

Audrey Kirchner from Washington on July 20, 2011:

Wow - I would have been passed out on the floor - I'm deathly afraid of snakes and salamanders although I know they're not the same really freak me out. All that said, spectacular subject and you indeed are a GREAT mom~! Thumbs up - great pictures and great global warming message.....good luck in the contest~!

Mrs. Menagerie (author) from The Zoo on July 12, 2011:

Paradise, the snakes make me want to scream and run but I actually think the salamanders are kinda cool:)

K9, thank you so much!

Denise, I'm glad you understand, thanks!

Cara, I just saw the photos of your kids with the starfish and other stuff...they would fit right in, heehee!

Simone---they are sort of awesome, in a slimy way...and thank you too!

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on July 12, 2011:

Whoah! Tiger Salamanders are awesome! Your family has way too much fun. Great photos, great tips on taking care of 'em... and great environmental points, too! I hope the salamanders at Yellowstone find a way to adapt to global warming-quick!

cardelean from Michigan on July 12, 2011:

My kids would love these if they were around us. They love to hunt for frogs, crayfish, and turtles in the summer. Nicely done.

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on July 12, 2011:

What fun! I remember the days of playing with frogs, toads, and snakes down by the river bank near our home. We had a load of boys in our neighborhood so there was always something interesting going on.

India Arnold from Northern, California on July 12, 2011:

What a fun Mom You are Mrs. M! I am fascinated by your shared adventures here. Luck boys you have my dear.

Up! and awesome.


Paradise7 from Upstate New York on July 12, 2011:

How cool!! And you're a great MOM, too, I know your boys much think so, because you help them catch creatures. My mom would have screamed and ran!

Tiger Salamander for Sale


We have several striking Tiger salamanders for sale at incredibly low prices. These are some of the most impressive amphibians in the world, reaching sizes of up to 14 inches. They avidly consume earthworms, waxworms, and even pinkie mice. This species makes a spectacular captive pet. When you buy a salamander from us, you automatically receive our 100% live arrival guarantee.

Sexing Your Tiger Salamander
Please feel free to request a male or female salamander (or any combination thereof) when you order our medium and adult sized amphibians, but please be aware that we cannot guarantee the sex. However, we can guarantee that someone very experienced with amphibians will attempt to select the specific salamander(s) you are requesting.

Shipping Your Tiger Salamander
We charge a flat $44.99 for overnight delivery to your doorstep, regardless of the number of reptiles, amphibians, or inverts you buy. Please read our shipping information page before ordering. Sorry, we do not ship internationally (U.S. only). Our delivery schedule can be found below:

When you buy a Tiger Salamander from us, you receive our 100% ironclad live arrival guarantee. Please read the details of our guarantee before ordering. Please note that we cannot ship the Ambystoma salamanders into the state of California.

Because we responsibly offer reptiles for sale online (as well as amphibians, tarantulas, and scorpions), we reserve the right to delay your order upon the fairly rare occurrence of unacceptable weather conditions. This is strictly for the safety of the animal(s), and you will be notified by e-mail if this does occur.

We accept VISA, Mastercard, American Express, Discover, and Paypal. We do not accept checks, money orders, or cashier's checks.

We offer exotic reptiles for sale online at absolute rock-bottom prices, which means we make these fascinating animals available to you affordably as pets, or even to start your own reptile breeding project. We are reptile enthusiasts who believe captive breeding is integral to the future of the market, as it not only helps protect wild herp populations, but is an incredibly rewarding experience that tends to intensify one's passion for these amazing prehistoric creatures. Whether you buy a snake, lizard, turtle, tortoise, or alligator, we are driven to provide the highest quality live reptiles for sale.

Amphibians are generally slower-moving, and have uniquely moist skin which means they are never far from a source of water. Their life cycle is nothing short of incredible: they hatch in water, spend weeks or months in metamorphosis, then become either terrestrial or remain primarily water bound. Some salamanders even breathe through their skin! Our live amphibians for sale online include frogs, toads, salamanders, and newts. Some are huge, some are small, and virtually all are amazing to observe in captivity. When you buy amphibians from us, you can rest assured they are fully guaranteed to arrive alive and in great condition. Why not start an amphibian breeding project today?

Reptile and amphibian food should be varied, which is why we offer an array of feeder insects for sale. It's always far more cost effective to buy feeder insects in bulk, which often saves up to 70% off pet store prices. Plus, the feeders are delivered right to your doorstep. We offer live crickets for sale, as well as mealworms, wax worms, nightcrawlers, and now even lizards, all at the lowest possible prices. Our reptile and amphibian feeder insects and lizards include a guarantee of live arrival.

Colorado State Amphibian

(A. mavortium)

Adopted on March 16, 2012.

Governor John Hickenlooper signed House Bill No. 12-1147 on March 16, 2012, adopting the western tiger salamander as the official amphibian of the State of Colorado. This small amphibian can be found in ponds and lakes statewide also look for them near rodent burrows and on ground surfaces at night during damp weather.

The Tiger Salamander is the only native and documented amphibian to be found in all 64 counties of Colorado. The idea for this legislation was brought to me by District 7 residents and you can learn more about their campaign for a state amphibian on facebook. They founded an organization called "Colorado for the Western Tiger Salamander" and created a FaceBook© page to promote their project.

Amphibians in the Spring

Among the many harbingers of spring are frogs peeping.

On the prairie, the boreal frog sings its loudest now.

Boreal frogs are heard everywhere in the spring and early summer. During their April-June breeding season their loud, short chirp that resembles the slow running of a thumb over the teeth of a comb, seems to come from every prairie pond and water-filled roadside ditch.

Frogs, which need to spend their lives in or near water, seem out of place in the semi-arid Northern Plains. What’s next? Alligators and crocodiles?

As one might expect, there are several toad species found on the prairie: Plains spadefoot, Great Plains toad, and Woodhouse’stoad.

When it comes to frogs, however, the boreal frog and the northern leopard frog are also at home, home on the range.

That’s because those animals have found their niche to reproduce and thrive in the brief spring wet season, then hang on to survive during summer’s dry heat.

By midsummer, the inch-long boreal frogs disappear underground, beneath vegetation, into water tanks, or even on building foundations, anywhere they can keep their skin moist.

For a great description of the boreal frog, including an audio file of its call, go the Montana Natural Heritage Program website.

This frog is not the only amphibian sign of spring.

The mid-April snowstorm that dropped several inches of snow on central Montana, also brought a tiger salamander sighting on the prairie.

It is a bit early for this salamander’s breeding season, but they are moving to breeding ponds.

Tiger salamanders are, perhaps, the weirdest looking creature on the prairie. Its body is typically a crazy quilt of blotched olive or pale yellow markings on a black or dark green background, kind of like a blacklight poster from the ‘60s.

Come summer tiger salamanders survive by spending daylight hours in borrows, under logs and rocks or in prairie dog burrows. People sometimes find this secretive six- to eight-inch-long amphibian in basements, window wells or stock tanks.

Just wait until a summer downpour when folks not used to this psychedelic looking critter find it on their patio.

Like all of Montana’s amphibians, the tiger salamander goes through a larval stage in water (tadpoles are the larval stage for frogs), but some never complete theirtransformation.

Instead they stay in water, become sexually mature and breed while keeping their external gills. These salamanders are called axolotls, water dogs, or mud puppies. The latter name, perhaps, because they spend their days in the bottom of ponds – the benthic zone — entering the upper water column at night.

Sometimes a lake in the middle of nowhere will be filled with these animals that are not quite salamanders, not quite fish. Where do you think the Axolotl Lakes in southwestern Montana got their names? Not from a bad hand at Scrabble.

The seasons continue to move all around us, sometimes soothing, sometimes bizarre, but always moving.

Among the largest of the salamanders, mudpuppies can exceed 16 inches in length, although the average is more like 11 inches. Their range runs from southern central Canada, through the midwestern United States, east to North Carolina and south to Georgia and Mississippi.

Mudpuppies live on the bottoms of lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams, and never leave the water. They hide themselves in vegetation and under rocks and logs, emerging at night to feed on whatever prey they can catch, including crayfish, worms, and snails.

Watch the video: Two beautiful tiger salamanders (September 2021).