California Tiger Salamander

By Kate Gore, Reptile Keeper

This is a California Tiger Salamander, one of 34 that we currently have behind-the-scenes at the Zoo. You can see our older resident salamander living on exhibit with the Red Legged Frog in the reptile house.

The 34 salamanders that we received earlier this year were part of a temperature study being done by UC Davis. These captive-born salamanders could not be released into the wild, so many of the UC Davis animals went to zoos. We hope in the future, the 34 may be involved in starting a new captive population program. There is so much we don’t know about these salamanders and what we learn by having them here can help the husbandry needs of many other salamander species.

One of the 34 young California Tiger Salamanders

As for the species itself, California Tiger Salamanders are one of the larger species of Ambystomids (a specific group of salamander species); they used to be spread all over the central valley of California, and into Southern California as well. Today’s populations are quite a bit lower, leaving them with a few suitable habitat locations in the central valley. This has led them to a California Species of Special Concern as well as a threatened federal species.

In the past few years, there has been a push to get the California Tiger Salamander listed as an endangered species, but questions have been brought up regarding their status as a species, as some believe they are a sub species of the Tiger Salamander. They are threatened primarily by habitat loss in the form of wetland development, as they lay eggs in vernal pools, where then the larvae hatch, being fully aquatic, until they lose their gills, and become fully terrestrial. The Axolotls in the reptile house look similar (only MUCH larger) to what a baby tiger salamander looks like.

With the loss of the wetlands, the California Tiger Salamanders have lost well over half of their habitat. Another population issue they are facing is the invasive Barred Salamander, who have been moving into tiger salamander habitats and hybridizing with them.

California Tiger salamanders can grow up to 8 inches long, able to eat all sorts of insects (earthworms and crickets are favored) and they can even eat young mice. They can partially “leap” up to grab their prey (even when the ‘prey’ is zookeeper fingers!). Within 6 months of ‘morphing’ into terrestrial salamanders, the patterns on their bodies will be permanent, making them less difficult to identify as individuals.

All of the salamanders have come to recognize when the keepers are there to feed them, they all come out from their hiding spots and approach the glass walls watching the keepers—and always with a big salamander grin!

Adult California Tiger Salamander
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