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ANIMAL
OF THE WEEK
After about two months of staying close to the mother, Amur tiger cubs will begin to follow her on hunting trips. read more >

Barred tiger salamander

Scientific name: Ambystoma tigrinum mavortium




CLASS: Amphibia
ORDER: Caudata
FAMILY: Ambystomatidae

FEEDING TYPE: Carnivore
STATISTICS: Weight: unknown; Length: 33-35 cm, 15-20 cm in Kansas

DESCRIPTION:
The barred tiger salamander has a wide, flat skull with small round eyes. It has smooth, moist skin and is dark brown or black in color with yellow or yellowish-green thick spots or bars. It has a thick body and up to 14 vertical grooves down the sides of its belly between its two sets of legs. The underbelly is usually lighter in color or mottled with a darker color, and it has a light yellow chin area. The bars or blotches may not go all the way down to the belly. Females are heavier than males and have longer bodies, whereas males have proportionately longer tails than the females.

RANGE:
West-central Canada, across the United States, to the southern Sierra Madre Occidentalis in Mexico.

HABITAT:
Bottomland deciduous forests, conifer forests and woodlands, open fields and brushy areas, alpine and subalpine meadows, grasslands, semideserts, deserts, and temporary collections of water in ditches or flood plain pools.

ADAPTATIONS:
In summer and winter months, adult tiger salamanders usually stay buried underground in the dens of animals like prairie dogs and various types of crayfish to stay away from extreme temperatures and moisture levels.
This species of salamander does not seem to have a favorite time of year, but instead is active whenever the temperatures are more to its liking. Not much is known about home ranges or when it really starts moving around in the spring.

When scared, this species can create a pool of slime from the upper base of its tail that it uses as a defense against predatory animals and perceived threats. Its coloration helps it simultaneously blend into its background and warn predatory animals against eating it. It is mildly poisonous, but other animals are wary of brighter colors like yellow or orange as warning colors from other more poisonous animals.
Some adults never grow out of the nymph stages and keep the gills along the sides of their face. This allows them to stay in aquatic environments to hunt food and provides a greater area to hunt in.

REPRODUCTION/GROWTH:
Salamanders can breed in areas that are temporary, like ditches, cattle tanks and sluggish streams, or in more permanent areas such as ponds in farms, quarries, or woodland areas. Most of this species’ eggs are between two and three mm in diameter and are covered in three layers of membranes. Eggs are laid in masses on reeds and along the banks of their pool of water. Incubation time varies from place to place depending on area conditions, the season, and temperatures in which the eggs were laid. The clutch sizes vary greatly depending on the same factors, but the female can lay up to 1,000 eggs at one time.

PREY/PREDATOR:
Prey to birds, mammals, and other barred tiger salamanders
Predator to insects, small fish, frogs, toads, tadpoles, earthworms, other salamanders, mice and almost anything it can physically eat.

WILD DIET:
Insects, earthworms, small fish, frogs, toads, tadpoles, other salamanders, mice, and almost anything it can physically eat.

STATUS:
Common in Kansas, not currently endangered or threatened on any lists.

SPECIAL NOTES:

  • The barred tiger salamander is the only salamander found in the western half of Kansas, and is one of the largest salamanders in North America.
  • The tiger salamander has a gene for cannibalistic morphs, which is thought to be triggered in years with less than adequate rainfall. Individuals with this gene are larger from the first days and begin eating smaller things as soon as they hatch. This gene also makes them grow at a much faster rate than their siblings, and individuals can reach 11-13 inches. Along with their larger size, their jaw muscles are also unusually pronounced and are much stronger than their siblings. They will eat other salamanders, their own brothers and sisters, and even other cannibalistic morphs. Under a microscope, individuals with this gene also show a much more pronounced dental structure. Cannibalistic morphs are rare.
  • Depending on how scientists categorize a species by DNA sequence, there are either seven or eight different species of tiger salamander. There is currently an argument whether the Plateau (valasci) species in Mexico is genuinely unique or not.
  • It has been recorded that a barred tiger salamander can accurately sling slime from its tail over one meter away all over a scientist’s arms, shoulders, and head.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

  1. Collins, Joseph T. Amphibians & Reptiles in Kansas. Third Ed. Lawrence, Kansas. The University of Kansas Museum of Natural History Press. 1993
  2. Petranka, James W. Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Washington and London. The Smithsonian Institution Press. 1998
  3. Lannoo, Michael J. Status and Conservation of Midwestern Amphibians. Iowa City, Iowa The University of Iowa Press. 1998.
  4. CITES. November 2008 http://www.cites.org/eng/resources/species.html
  5. IUCN 2008. 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 10 November 2008.

Published: September 2010

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