The Eastern tiger salamander

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118229669712518.jpg’, ”, ‘Big eater – The Eastern tiger salamander, Ambystoma tigrinum tigrinum, has a voracious appetite, consuming nearly any creature it can squeeze into its mouth and swallow whole. This salamander is an aggressive forager from the moment it begins life, first nipping at microorganisms and detritus, and later going after insect larvae, fish hatchings and its own siblings (it is highly cannibalistic). Once it leaves the pond, the tiger salamander lives primarily on snails and slugs, grubs and other insects, and earthworms.‘);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118229672411093.jpg’, ”, ‘Variations on a theme – Colors of the Eastern tiger salamander can differ widely. Its body is black to dark olive or muddy gray. The spots, which vary in size and shape, are colored muddy brown, gold, yellow or nearly white. Very rarely, individuals may be solid black with no spots at all.‘);

This is the largest land salamander in the world, and the most common salamander in our region.

Like other “mole” salamanders, the Eastern tiger salamander lives a secretive life, avoiding bright daylight and spending most of its life in burrows under leaf litter, logs and in the soil.

This salamander is at home on the prairie and in the woodland, and can adapt to a wider range of habitats than most other salamanders, so long as shallow spring ponds or wetlands are within walking distance during breeding season.

The best time to see Eastern tiger salamanders is in the early spring when warm rains are melting away the last of the winter snow. That’s when they leave their burrows and set off in search of mates, migrating to shallow waters in which to lay their eggs.

In some areas, the migration can involve hundreds or thousands of salamanders, marching through fields and forests, and across deadly highways, to reach breeding ponds.

Females lay gelatinous egg masses in water during March and April. The salamander larvae hatch about three to seven weeks later, and remain in water until midsummer—or, in some cases, for several years. They emerge from ponds as adults, and spend the rest of their lives on land, except when breeding. These salamanders may survive more than 16 years, although most are preyed on within the first year or two of life.

They may be found on cool, cloudy, and rainy days throughout the spring summer and fall season. While walking about, they sometimes fall into in-ground pools, window wells and other urban traps. Be kind and set them free.

from the June 20-26, 2007, issue

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