AmphibiaWeb - Ambystoma tigrinum


(Translations may not be accurate.)

Ambystoma tigrinum (Green, 1825)
Eastern Tiger Salamander
Subgenus: Heterotriton
family: Ambystomatidae
genus: Ambystoma
Species Description: Green, J. (1825). "Description of a new species of salamander." Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 5: 116–118.
Taxonomic Notes: This taxon is often combined with Ambystoma mavortium, which AmphibiaWeb treats as a distinct species.
Ambystoma tigrinum
© 1985 Alan Resetar (1 of 86)
Conservation Status (definitions)
IUCN Red List Status Account Least Concern (LC)
NatureServe Use NatureServe Explorer to see status.
National Status Pr (Special Protection) by Mexico
Regional Status None
conservation needs Access Conservation Needs Assessment Report .


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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

Berkeley mapper logo

View distribution map in BerkeleyMapper.
amphibiandisease logo View Bd and Bsal data (108 records).
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).

Terrestrial adults are often in underground burrows and "borrow" such shelter from other animals such as ground squirrels (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; Fitzpatrick et al. 2010).

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 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).

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).

In the Ambystoma genus, there are unisexual populations that can hybridize with A. jeffersonianum, A. laterale, A. texanum, A. trigrinum, and A. barbouri to create ploidy-elevated offspring. They can range from diploid to pentaploid and there are over 20 different nuclear genomic combinations. Most Ambystoma unisexuals have an A. laterale nuclear genome, while the other types of donated genomes can replace each other, as seen in recent populations of A. barbouri being the replacement donor for A. jeffersonianum. Ambystoma unisexuals’ mtDNA is most similar to A. barbouri, however A. barbouri is the least common sperm donor. Tetraploid and pentaploid unisexuals tend to have a higher mortality rate than triploid unisexuals (Bogart et al. 2009).


Blair, A. P. (1951). "Notes on the herpetology of the Elk mountains, Colorado." Copeia, 1951, 239-240.

Bogart, JP, Bartoszek, J, Noble, DWA, Bi, K (2009). "Sex in unisexual salamanders: discovery of a new sperm donor with ancient affinities." Heredity, 103, 483-493. [link]

Bolker, B. M., de Castro, F., Storfer, A., Mech, S., Harvey, E., and Collins, J. P. (2008). ''Disease as a selective force precluding widespread cannibalism: A case study of an iridovirus of tiger salamanders, Ambystoma tigrinum .'' Evolutionary Ecology Research, 10, 105-128.

Bollinger, T. K., Mao, J., Schock, D., Brigham, R. M., and Chinchar, V. G. (1999). ''Pathology, isolation, and preliminary molecular characterization of a novel Iridovirus from tiger salamanders in Saskatchewan.'' Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 35, 413-429.

British Columbia Recovery Strategy Series. 2008. Recovery Strategy for the Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum), Southern Mountain Population in British Columbia.

Brunner, J. L., Schock, D. M., Davidson, E. W., and Collins, J. P. (2004). ''Intraspecific reservoirs: complex life history and the persistence of a lethal ranavirus.'' Ecology, 85, 560-566.

Chen, Y., Znoiko, S., DeGrip, W. J., Crouch, R. K., and Ma, J.-X. (2008). ''Salamander blue-sensitive cones lost during metamorphosis.'' Photochemistry and Photobiology, 84, 855-862.

Church, D. R. (2003). Population Ecology of Ambystoma tigrinum (Caudata: Ambystomatidae) and Occupancy Dynamics in an Appalachian Pond-breeding Amphibian Assemblage. Unpublished Ph. D. dissertation, University of Virginia.

Clevenger, A. P., McIvor, M., Chruszcz, B., and Gunson, K. (2001). ''Tiger salamander, Ambystoma tigrinum, movements and mortality on the Trans-Canada highway in southwestern Alberta.'' Canadian Field-Naturalist, 115, 199-204.

Collins, J. P., Brunner, J. L., Jancovich, J. K., and Schock, D. M. (2004). ''A model host-pathogen system for studying infectious disease dynamics in amphibians: tiger salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum) and Ambystoma tigrinum virus.'' Herpetological Journal, 14, 195-200.

Collins, J. P., Jones, T. R., and Berna, H. J. (1988). ''Conserving genetically distinctive populations: the case of the Huachuca Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum stebbinsi Lowe) .'' Management of Amphibians, Reptiles, and Small Mammals in North America. R. L. Szaso, K. C. Stevenson, and D. R. Patton, eds., U. S. Department of Agriculture/Forestry Service General Technical Report RM-166, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, Fort Collins, CO.

Corn, P. S., Jennings, M. L., and Muths, E. (1997). ''Survey and assessment of amphibian populations in Rocky Mountain National Park.'' Northwestern Naturalist, 78, 34-55.

Davidson, E. W., Parris, M., Collins, J. P., Longcore, J. E., Pessier, A. P., and Brunner, J. (2003). ''Pathogenicity and transmission of chytridiomycosis in tiger salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum).'' Copeia, 2003, 601-607.

Fitzpatrick, B. M., Johnson, J. R., Kump, D. K., Smith, J. J., Voss, S. R., and Shaffer, H. B. (2010). ''Rapid spread of invasive genes into a threatened native species.'' Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 107, 3606-3610.

Forson, D. D., and Storfer, A. (2006). ''Atrazine increases ranavirus susceptibility in the tiger salamander Ambystoma tigrinum.'' Ecological Applications , 16, 2325-2332.

Green, J. (1825). ''Description of a new species of salamander.'' Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 5, 116-118.

Greer, A. L., Brunner, J. L., and Collins, J. P. (2009). ''Spatial and temporal patterns of Ambystoma tigrinum virus (ATV) prevalence in tiger salamanders Ambystoma tigrinum nebulosum.'' Diseases of Aquatic Organisms, 85, 1-6.

Hammerson, G., Shaffer, B., Church, D., Parra-Olea, G., and Wake, D. 2008. Ambystoma tigrinum. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. . Downloaded on 29 December 2010.

Irschick, D.J. and Shaffer, H.B. (1997). ''The polytypic species revisited: Morphological differentiation among tiger salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum) (Amphibia: Caudata).'' Herpetologica, 53(1), 30-49.

Jancovich, J. K., Davidson, E. W., Morado, J. F., Jacobs, B. L., and Collins, J. P. (1997). "Isolation of a lethal virus from the endangered tiger salamander Ambystoma tigrinum stebbinsi." Diseases of Aquatic Organisms, 31(3), 161-167.

Jancovich, J. K., Davidson, E. W., Parameswaran, N., Mao, J., Chinchar, V. G., Collins, J. P., Jacobs, B. L., and Storfer, A., (2005). ''Evidence for emergence of an amphibian iridoviral disease because of human-enhanced spread.'' Molecular Ecology, 14, 213-224.

Kerby, J. L., and Storfer, A. (2009). ''Combined effects of atrazine and chlorpyrifos on susceptibility of the tiger salamander to Ambystoma tigrinum virus.'' Ecohealth, 6, 91-98.

Petranka, J. W. (1998). Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C. and London.

Pfennig, D. W., Loeb, M. L. G., and Collins, J. P. (1991). ''Pathogens as a factor limiting the spread of cannibalism in tiger salamanders .'' Oecologia, 88, 161-166.

Picco, A.M., Collins, J.P. (2008). ''Amphibian commerce as a likely source of pathogen pollution.'' Conservation Biology, 22(6), 1582-1589.

Richardson, J. S., Klenner, W., and Shatford, J. (1998). ''Tiger Salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum) in the South Okanagan: effects of cattle grazing, range condition and breeding pond characteristics on habitat use and population ecology.'' Annual progress report prepared for the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund.

Riley, S. P. D., Shaffer, H. B., Voss, S. R., and Fitzpatrick, B. M. (2003). ''Hybridization between a rare, native tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense) and its introduced congener.'' Ecological Applications, 13, 1263-1275.

Semlitsch, R. D. (1998). '' Biological delineation of terrestrial buffer zones for pond-breeding salamanders.'' Conservation Biology, 12, 1113-1119.

Semlitsch, R. D., Scott, D. E., Pechmann, J. H. K. and Gibbons, J. W (1983). ''Structure and dynamics of an amphibian community: evidence from a 16-year study of a natural pond.'' Long Term Studies of Vertebrate Communities. M. L. Cody and J. A. Smallwood, eds., Academic Press, San Diego, 608-616.

Storfer, A., Alfaro, M. E., Ridenhour, B. J., Jancovich, J. K., Mech, S. G., Parris, M. J., and Collins, J. P. (2007). ''Phylogenetic concordance analysis shows an emerging pathogen is novel and endemic.'' Ecology Letters, 10, 1075-1083.

Storfer, A., Mech, S. G., Reudink, M. W., Ziemba, R. E., Warren, J., and Collins, J. P. (2004). ''Evidence for introgression in the endangered Sonora tiger salamander, A. tigrinum stebbinsi.'' Copeia, 2004, 783-796.

Worthylake, K. M., and Hovingh, P. (1989). ''Mass mortality of salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum) by bacteria (Acinetobacter) in an oligotrophic seepage mountain lake.'' Great Basin Naturalist, 49, 364-372.

Zappalorti, R. T. (1994). Results of a 5-year monitoring study and a translocation, repatriation, and conservation project with the tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) in southern New Jersey. Herpetological Associates File No. 94.03-B

Zeiber, R. A., Sutton, T. M., and Fisher, B. E. (2008). ''Western mosquitofish predation on native amphibian eggs and larvae .'' Journal of Freshwater Ecology, 23, 663-671.

Originally submitted by: Andrea Swei (first posted 1999-02-23)
Life history by: Nessa Kmetec (updated 2022-10-05)
Trends and threats by: Nessa Kmetec (updated 2022-10-05)
Comments by: Nessa Kmetec (updated 2022-10-05)

Edited by: Kellie Whittaker, Michelle S. Koo (2022-10-05)

Species Account Citation: AmphibiaWeb 2022 Ambystoma tigrinum: Eastern Tiger Salamander <> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed Jun 18, 2024.

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Citation: AmphibiaWeb. 2024. <> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed 18 Jun 2024.

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