Ambystoma tigrinum
Eastern Tiger Salamander
Subgenus: Heterotriton
family: Ambystomatidae
Taxonomic Notes: This taxon is often combined with A. mavortium, which AmphibiaWeb treats as a distinct species.

© 2000 John White (1 of 72)

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Conservation Status (definitions)
IUCN (Red List) Status Least Concern (LC)
See IUCN account.
NatureServe Status Use NatureServe Explorer to see status.
Other International Status None
National Status Pr (Special Protection) by Mexico
Regional Status None


Among the largest terrestrial salamanders, reaching up to 20 cm in length. Stout-bodied animals with broad heads and small eyes. Adults have a dark brown to grayish black dorsal color overlain with numerous, large, irregular, dirty brown to brownish yellow spots or vertical streaks. The belly is marked with irregular pale yellow blotches on a darker background. Aquatic larvae are olive-green, with large heads and long feathery gills. Gilled adults are rare but can occur in some permanent water bodies.

Distribution and Habitat

Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: Canada, Mexico, United States

U.S. state distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin

View distribution map using BerkeleyMapper.
A. tigrinum is the most widespread salamander species in North America (Lannoo et al. 1995), ranging from Southern Canada down through the United States and into northern Mexico, at elevations up to 3,660 m asl (Hammerson et al. 2008). Introduced in central California (Riley et al. 2003). Not found in most of the Great Basin, New England, or the Appalachians (Hammerson et al. 2008). Habitat includes bottom land deciduous forests, coniferous forests and woodlands, open fields and bushy areas, alpine and subalpine meadow, grasslands, semideserts and deserts, and (rarely) in streams. Tiger salamanders prefer sandy or friable soils for good breeding ground (Semlitsch 1998).

Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors

This species tends to breed from November to May, and migrates to breeding ponds on rainy nights. Breeding ponds range from vernal pools to clear montane water bodies to temporary, manure-laden lowland pools. Eggs are deposited en masse and are attached to the pond bottom or to submerged objects. Larvae hatch in 10-21 days. Adults can live up to 20 years in captivity but are thought to survive only 1-3 years in the wild (BCRS 2008).

A cannibalistic larval morph exists but is rare and appears to be constrained by pathogen density; cannibalistic larvae prey on sick conspecifics and thus appear to have an enhanced risk of disease in lakes with periodic bacterial blooms (Pfennig et al. 1991; Bolker et al. 2008).

Aquatic larvae live in shallow water, with bright light, while terrestrial adults usually shelter underground in burrows, either self-constructed or made by rodents or other burrowing animals. Larvae have five different types of photoreceptors (two rod types and three cone types, with cones being sensitive to red, blue or UV light); blue cone photoreceptors are lost during metamorphosis, probably an adaptation to the dim light experienced in the terrestrial phase (Chen et al. 2008).

A. tigrinum has been introduced to central California, where it has been found to hybridize with native A. californiense (Riley et al. 2003; Storfer et al. 2004; Fitpatrick et al. 2010).

Trends and Threats

This species appears to be relatively stable in numbers. A. tigrinum is an adaptable species and can be found in many different habitat types so long as there is a suitable body of water for breeding and a terrestrial substrate that lends itself to burrowing (Hammerson et al. 2008).

Disease is a threat, with salamanders serving as both hosts and reservoirs of pathogens. Recent research has focused on transmission of Bd and ranaviruses (family Iridoviridae) via movement of Ambystoma tigrinum captured for the bait trade (Jancovich et al. 2005; Picco and Collins 2008). A. tigrinum appears to be a carrier of the amphibian fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), as it can be infected by Bd but does not appear to suffer mortality (Davidson et al. 2003).

The ranavirus ATV has been shown to be responsible for epizootics in tiger salamanders in the western cordillera of North America, from Canada (Saskatchewan and Manitoba) to North Dakota, Utah Colorado, and Arizona in the United States (Jancovich et al. 1997, 2005; for map see Storfer et al. 2007). In Canada, mass mortality events in both larval and adult A. tigrinum were observed in four separate ponds in Regina, southern Saskatchewan, in 1997; these die-offs were shown to be due to a highly infectious and virulent iridovirus (Bollinger et al. 1999). Concurrently a die-off at a more distant site 200 km north of Regina was also shown to be due to an iridovirus (Bollinger et al. 1999). In the United States,A. tigrinum die-offs were observed in Utah, Arizona, and Colorado populations, and these die-offs were initially thought to be due to bacterial infections (Worthylake and Hovingh 1989; Pfennig et al. 1991; Hammerson 1999). Arizona populations of A. tigrinum stebbinsi periodically suffered mass mortality events, beginning in 1985, which were also initially ascribed to bacterial infections (Collins et al. 1998). However, examination of dead and dying individuals from an Arizona die-off in 1995 found that a new, highly virulent iridovirus was the cause, and it was named ATV (for "Ambystoma tigrinum virus") (Jancovich et al. 1997). Phylogenetic analysis suggests that the ATV virus is endemic to Arizona populations of A. tigrinum, with strains of higher virulence present in commercially available bait shop larval salamander populations and then transferred into wild salamander populations as infected animals are moved and released (Storfer et al. 2007). Although larvae suffer the greatest mortality, metamorphosed individuals are also susceptible to infection, with juveniles and adults harboring sublethal infections for five months or more and thus capable of transmitting the virus to uninfected salamanders (Brunner et al. 2004; Collins et al. 2004). Exposure to pesticide can increase susceptibility to iridovirus infection in A. tigrinum larvae; the herbicide atrazine both significantly reduced the number of peripheral leukocytes and significantly increased infection rates (Forson and Storfer 2006; Kerby and Storfer 2009). Recent surveys of Arizona populations (Kaibab Plateau) of A. tigrinum found high prevalence of ATV (up to 57% of individuals were infected). The high prevalence of infection without corresponding disease symptoms suggests that either survivors may have evolved tolerance or the virus may have been reduced in virulence (Greer et al. 2009).

Threats other than disease include deforestation and habitat loss and fragmentation in wetland and other areas, as well as pollution of breeding habitat, introduction of predatory fish, and road mortality from vehicles. Habitat loss may cause local extirpations, particularly in eastern populations, which are patchily distributed, small in size, and variably declining (Zappalorti 1994; Semlitsch et al. 1996; Petranka 1998; Church 2003; Hammerson et al. 2008). Threats to aquatic habitat include draining and infilling of ponds and wetlands and water level reduction due to diversion for irrigation, and pollution from pesticides (BCRS 2008). Wetland desiccation, likely due to climate change, has led to decline of this species and other amphibians in Yellowstone National Park (McMenamin et al. 2008). Introduction of predatory fish can be an important cause of declines (see Blair 1951; Corn et al. 1997; Zeiber et al. 2008); trout and tiger salamanders generally do not co-exist unless there are well-vegetated shallows providing refuge from fish, and mosquitofish prey on tiger salamander larvae. Road mortality is a seasonal threat in localities where salamanders must cross busy roads to reach breeding habitat. Mortality may be moderate to severe (Richardson et al. 1998; Clevenger et al. 2001).

Although A. tigrinum is sometimes found in the international pet trade, current pet trade levels do not appear to pose a major threat (Hammerson et al. 2008).

In British Columbia, Canada, its range overlaps with at least two protected areas: South Okanagan Grasslands Provincial Park, White Lake Grasslands Provincial Park (BCRS 2008).

Relation to Humans

Possible reasons for amphibian decline

General habitat alteration and loss
Habitat modification from deforestation, or logging related activities
Intensified agriculture or grazing
Drainage of habitat
Habitat fragmentation
Local pesticides, fertilizers, and pollutants
Predators (natural or introduced)
Climate change, increased UVB or increased sensitivity to it, etc.

First described by Green (1825). Eastern populations (those east of the Appalachian Mountains and the Apalachicola River Basin) are divergent from western populations and may constitute a distinct species (Church et al. 2003).


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Written by Andrea Swei (ande AT, UC Berkeley
First submitted 1999-02-23
Edited by Kellie Whittaker (2011-01-08)

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Citation: AmphibiaWeb: Information on amphibian biology and conservation. [web application]. 2016. Berkeley, California: AmphibiaWeb. Available: (Accessed: May 29, 2016).

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