General Adult Description: As adults, Western Tiger Salamanders are terrestrial. Adult Western Tiger Salamanders can display an incredible amount of color and pattern variability. This variability can include individuals with a dark black background with large, bold yellow bars extending from the venter to the dorsum to individuals with an olive green to gray background with a thin network of black markings. Typically, the Eastern Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) has small, yellow-brown markings scattered along the body on a dark background, and though this is variable, it does not display the wide range of color and pattern variability as seen in Western Tiger Salamanders.
General Larval Description: As juveniles, Western Tiger Salamanders are aquatic. Larval Western Tiger salamanders are typically yellowish-brown in coloration with little to no visible pattern or markings and have three pairs of external, feather-like gills used for respiration. As individuals age and begin metamorphosis, these external gills begin to shrink in size and markings and patterns begin to develop on the body. Additionally, the tail is enlarged with a thin, membranous fin extending from the tail musculature to aid in swimming, which shrinks as individuals are undergoing metamorphosis. As larvae, they are often called a “mudpuppy” or “waterdog” and may appear similar to the Mudpuppy (Necturus maculosus), a much different salamander that is permanently aquatic. Larval Western Tiger Salamanders can be differentiated from the Mudpuppy by the presence of five digits on the hind leg (versus only four in the Mudpuppy).
Behavior: Adult salamanders are infrequently encountered as most adult movement occurs in the early spring while they are moving to and from breeding habitats (fishless ponds, stock dams) during and shortly after heavy rains. Salamanders are typically nocturnal and are generalist predators feeding mostly on invertebrates.
Reproduction: Adult females lay eggs in small clusters typically attached to aquatic vegetation and woody debris. Oviposition typically occurs in fishless ponds. Breeding typically occurs in the early spring, and the timing is largely determined by temperature and rainfall events.
Habitat: Western Tiger Salamanders use a wide range of habitats including woodlands and prairie habitats. Typically, these habitats are relatively close to wetlands, lakes, and cattle ponds where breeding occurs. Adults can also be found in prairie dog burrows.
Species Range: Western Tiger Salamanders occupy a large region containing most of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains and when combined with Eastern Tiger Salamanders are the most widely distributed salamander in North America.
South Dakota Range: The exact range of this species is poorly understood in South Dakota. Generally, it is believed that this species occupies much of South Dakota west of the Missouri River. Additionally, it is present in the northeast and east-central regions of the state. Future studies should examine the boundaries between Eastern Tiger Salamanders and Western Tiger Salamanders in the state.
South Dakota Status: This species is not listed by South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks.
Account written by Drew R. Davis and Cameron L. Coke