First tiger of the trip…

Tiger salamander, that is! Chris and I spent Thursday evening and all of Friday driving across Missouri, up along the Loess Hills into Iowa, across the Missouri River into Nebraska, and all the way through mile after surreal mile of the vast Sand Hills before dropping down the Pine Bluff escarpment into Chadron, Nebraska. We expected the fun would start the next morning, when we would meet up with Matt Brust and travel to ‘secret’ spots in the Badlands for our first tiger beetle target, the gloriously beautiful Cicindela pulchra. As we unloaded our bags from the truck and headed towards the motel entrance, we spotted this gorgeous tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) ambling across the parking lot. Wow – I had never seen a tiger salamander before now, but still there was no question in my mind what we had just found. Immediately we knew we wanted to get photographs, and the motel parking lot seemed the most inhospitable of places for this poor fellow, so I hurriedly made a makeshift terrarium using one of the containers I had brought along for keeping adult tiger beetles and placed him in it. He was dry, so as soon as we got in the room I wetted him down and added a petri dish of water to the habitat.

Actually, I knew I wanted more than photographs, as I had the impression that these largest of all North American salamanders are also among the easiest to keep as pets. I knew that my daughters would enjoy such an experience (not to mention myself!). First, however, I wanted to make sure that 1) tiger salamanders were not listed as a species of conservation concern in Nebraska, 2) my taking or possessing this individual was legal, and 3) I knew exactly what I would be getting into if I were to keep it. Google to the rescue! I found the Nebraska Game & Parks website, which states:

A fishing permit is required to take, or attempt to take, fish, bullfrogs, snapping turtles, tiger salamanders or mussels by any method.

A link at the site directed me to a page where I could purchase a 1-Day Nonresident Fishing Permits ($9.50 – proceeds go to support Nebraska Game and Fisheries programs) – enter my credit card number, download the PDF, and now I’m legal.

A little more Googling revealed this excellent series of videos with information on caring for tiger salamanders as pets , and I was sold. I’ll wait until I get home next week and let the kids decide what to name it, and I’m hopeful it will live a long, sluggish life getting fat on fall armyworms, corn earworms, and tomato hornworms.

Photo Details: Canon 50D w/ 100mm macro lens (ISO 100, 1/250 sec, f/11), Canon MT-24EX flash (F.E.C. -2/3) w/ Sto-Fen + GFPuffer diffusers. Typical post-processing (levels, minor cropping, unsharp mask).

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

About Ted C. MacRae

Ted C. MacRae is a research entomologist by vocation and beetle taxonomist by avocation. Areas of expertise in the latter include worldwide jewel beetles (Buprestidae) and North American longhorned beetles (Cerambycidae). More recent work has focused on North American tiger beetles (Cicindelidae) and their distribution, ecology, and conservation.
This entry was posted in Amphibia, Vertebrata and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to First tiger of the trip…

  1. That’s a beautiful specimen. I saw my first Tiger Salamander in Missouri about 40 years ago in rural St. Charles County. That area is now all houses.

    • I see southern redbacked salamanders around my house frequently, and I think there are several rather rare and locally distributed species down in the Ozarks.

      St. Charles is pretty well destroyed.

  2. Very cool! I’m sure that it’ll make a cool pet for you and yours. You must have quite the menagerie from these trips now!

    • He ate a rather large grasshopper tonight – thrashed it good while he was subduing it.

      Yep – we now have a centipede (fang), tiger beetles (not named), tarantula (hairy), and now a salamander (to be named) to take care of.

  3. randomtruth says:

    You lucky stiff. That’s a serious stunner. I have yet to see an Amby, but out here in Cali they’re a bit more rare, and there’s usually a sniper’s laser dot on you whenever you see one. Hope you all live together in happy harmony. Can’t wait to hear what the kids name it.🙂

  4. Kurt says:

    What a beauty! Great shots Ted!

  5. Love the tiger salamanders, which we get up here in Alberta as well. Funny that you need a ‘Fishing’ Permit to capture amphibians, reptiles and molluscs…

    To add to the confusion, don’t they allow the use tiger salamander larva for bait in the U.S.?

    • Yes, and that’s the main reason it is now so widespread across the US.

      I don’t make the regulations, I just do my best to follow them. It was worth the 9 bucks to not have to worry about a laser dot on my back.🙂

  6. Margarethe says:

    I’ve kept and bread the European Salamander Salamandra salamandra as a kid. Loved them!. They store sperm, so if you got a female, she may surprise you for years to come,,,,
    Skin diseases (fungal I think) put an end to the population in my terrarium after 8 years )-:

  7. jason says:

    That is such an awesome find, Ted. Beautiful shots! I know it’ll have a good home with you and the girls.

  8. Pingback: First tiger of the trip…

  9. Joy K. says:

    Wow! It looks like a kid went out-of-control with a yellow marker!

  10. Liz says:

    What a beauty. Lucky you to find it in the parking lot, of all places.

    • I felt pretty sorry for it when I found it – it was dry and all covered with dust. Looked much better in the photos after a good wetting down. I wonder – what would make it venture out into a parking lot?

  11. joan knapp says:

    That’s a beautiful salamander. And it looks quite happy in the lower photograph. It’s also great that you were able to find such good online resources to enable you to keep it.

    • She does look like she’s smiling (I don’t know that it’s a female, but the girls named it ‘Sallie’). They are also taking very good care of her – feeding her an earthworm or cricket and cleaning her water daily.

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