Marbled salamanders are beautiful amphibians characterized by their black body with silvery-gray markings. These salamanders are a popular pet for beginners due to their small size and general hardiness.
Like all terrestrial salamanders, marbled salamanders are strict carnivores, which means they only eat animal protein.
Marbled salamanders are opportunistic predators that will eat any prey they can catch and fit into their mouths. In the wild, they eat snails, worms, spiders, and a wide variety of insects. In captivity, crickets, dubia roaches, nightcrawlers, grubs, and other soft-bodied insects make up most of their diet.
Like most salamanders, marbled salamanders begin their lives as tiny aquatic larvae feeding on zooplankton and other tiny aquatic animals. As they grow, they begin to eat larger prey, such as small insects, tadpoles, and other aquatic larvae.
After four to six months, the larvae go through a process known as metamorphosis and leave the water for a life on land. On land, their diet shifts to mainly land-based prey such as insects and worms, but they aren’t picky with what they eat.
What Marbled Salamanders Eat in the Wild
As mentioned earlier, tiger salamanders begin their lives as tiny larvae. These larvae have feathery gills for breathing underwater, a flat tailfin, and live entirely in the water like frog tadpoles.
After a few months, the larvae will go through metamorphosis in which they will lose their gills and develop adult features for a life on land.
During these different life stages, marbled salamanders will have a different diet.
What Baby Marbled Salamanders Eat in the Wild
Marbled salamanders begin their lives as tiny embryos inside eggs. At this stage, they get all their nutrition from the yolk of the egg. It contains enough nutrients to sustain the developing larvae until it is ready to hatch into the water.
The first source of food for the embryo is the yolk of the egg. The yolk provides enough nutrition to sustain the developing larvae until it’s ready to hatch into the water.
When they first hatch, marbled salamander larvae will feed on
- Aquatic mites
- Tiny aquatic insect larvae
- Newly hatched daphnia and other near-microscopic aquatic invertebrates
As they grow, they can eat larger prey such as
- Small insects
- Small worms
- Snails, leeches
- Tadpoles and larvae of other kinds of salamanders
Marbled salamander larvae are aggressive predators. Since marbled salamanders lay eggs in temporary fishless ponds (vernal pools), the larvae are often one of the dominant predators in their ponds.
What Sub-Adult Marbled Salamanders Eat in the Wild
After four to six months, the larvae would have grown enough to slowly begin transforming into adults through a process known as metamorphosis, which prepares them for a life on land.
Once this process is fully complete, the larvae will leave the pond to live on land. At this point, their diet will shift away from aquatic prey and toward terrestrial prey. However, since they are not fully grown yet, they can only eat small prey.
Sub-adult marbled salamanders will eat
- Small worms
- Small slugs, snails
- Crane flies and other small insects
What Adult Marbled Salamanders Eat in the Wild
Adult marbled salamanders are fully grown, meaning they have bigger mouths and stronger jaws. This means they can eat larger prey.
Like the sub-adults, fully grown marbled salamanders only eat live prey and will avoid dead bugs and other dead prey.
Here’s a list of things that will make up an adult marbled salamanders’ diet in the wild.
- Worms, slugs, snails, leeches
- Spiders, cockroaches, wasps
- Grasshoppers, moths, butterflies
- Crickets, house flies, fruit flies, crane flies, sawflies
- Grubs, and other small insects such as woodlice
They are not picky eaters so almost any prey they can overpower and fit into their mouth is on the menu.
What Adult Marbled Salamanders Eat In Captivity
Captive marbled salamanders can eat all the food they would in the wild. The only reason they have a different diet is that most people can not obtain a wide variety of wild prey, so they are limited mostly to the food they can purchase in a pet store or cultivate on their own.
However, even captive marbled salamanders need to eat a varied diet, just like those in the wild. Also, like their wild counterparts, they will only accept live prey.
They can be fed worms and feeder insects such as crickets, and dubia roaches. You could also feed your salamander wild-caught bugs. Just make sure you’re 100% sure they are from a clean area that is free of pesticides and other chemicals.
Here’s a list of things you can feed a marbled salamander in captivity:
- Dubia roach nymphs
Choosing the correct size of prey/feeder insect is very important. If the insects are too large, your salamander will most likely ignore them and go hungry.
A good rule of thumb is to never give a salamander any prey larger than the width of its mouth. For adult marbled salamanders this usually means crickets that are small/medium in size.
A varied and balanced diet is recommended so switch up food items every two or three feedings. A good substitute for crickets would be dubia roaches.
Gut Loading & Dusting Feeder Insects
In the wild, marbled salamanders get all the vitamins and minerals they need from the wide variety of prey they eat. In captivity, their diet is simplified and limited to only a few things. In addition, feeder insects raised in captivity do not contain as many nutrients as wild insects.
If your salamander is given a low nutrient diet, it could develop metabolic bone disease which is a fairly common issue in amphibians. It develops as a result of an imbalance of vitamin D3, phosphorous, and calcium.
Amphibians cannot process calcium without vitamin D, which is activated by ultraviolet light. For this reason, you must ensure all of your insects are well gut-loaded before feeding them to your animals
Gut loading is the process of feeding insects nutritious foods at least 48 hours before feeding them to your salamander.
The nutrients in the insects will be passed on to the salamander, giving your animal a healthy and balanced diet.
The process is simple
- Give your feeder insects nutrient-dense foods, such as healthy fresh vegetables with lots of vitamins.
- After eating this food, the feeder insect will be super nutritious and pass the nutrients on to the salamander when they are eaten.
Besides gut loading, another way to ensure your marbled salamander gets all the vitamins and minerals it needs is by dusting its food with calcium and vitamin supplements.
The most common way salamander owners do this is through the use of a commercially manufactured vitamin and mineral supplement such as Rep-Cal.
The process is simple
- First, add a small pinch of supplement powder into a small container such as a cup or an empty cereal container. The powder should only be enough to lightly dust the insects.
- Place one feedings worth of feeder insects in the container
- Gently shake the container so the supplements lightly coat the insects
Once finished, you can offer the dusted insects to your marbled salamander. It will consume the supplements when it eats the insects.
How Much & How Often to Feed Your Marbled Salamander
As a guideline, adult marbled salamanders will need to eat two to three times a week, while young salamanders will need to be fed every day or two. However, the temperature of the enclosure will determine the frequency of feeding.
Salamanders are ectothermic (cold-blooded) animals, which means they cannot regulate their body temperature. Their body temperature changes as the temperature in their surroundings changes.
For this reason, the temperature of the enclosure will influence the appetite of your marbled salamander.
If the temperature is at 64°F (18°C) or less, your salamander will have a slower metabolism, so feeding once a week will be enough.
At temperatures over 64°F (18°C), your salamander will have a much faster metabolism and will need to be fed much more frequently (two or three times a week).
Concerning how much to feed your marbled salamander, the general rule is to only offer as much as the salamander can eat in 20 minutes.
As a guideline, most salamanders won’t eat more than 8-12 crickets a week. Use personal judgment to ensure most of the food offered is being consumed
Generally, marbled salamanders will eat more food at warmer temperatures and have a decreased appetite at colder temperatures.
How Long Can a Marbled Salamander Go Without Eating?
Most healthy marbled salamanders can go for as long as 10 days without eating if the environmental temperatures are low. However, this isn’t to say you should test the endurance of your salamander.
In most situations, marbled salamanders will have to be fed at least two times per week.
How to Feed a Marbled Salamander in Captivity
The easiest way to feed a salamander is to simply dump the food into its enclosure and let the salamander have its fill.
However, some salamanders, especially those that are still getting used to a new place may be shy and reluctant to eat. In this case, you could entice the salamander to eat with the use of some feeding tongs.
Use the tongs to gently hold the food item, then rub it near the nose of the salamander. Once he sees it, he will grab it and do the rest.
What Baby Marbled Salamanders Eat In Captivity
Like those in the wild, captive marbled salamander larvae are aggressive predators and should be fed tiny live foods.
The most appropriate foods will depend on the size and age of the larvae. Newly hatched larvae should be fed newly hatched brine shrimp, daphnia and chopped white worms, and chopped tubifex worms.
When the larvae are two-three weeks old, they will be large enough to eat bigger things, such as adult brine shrimp, daphnia, glass worms, and chopped earthworms.
Once the larvae go through metamorphosis and transform into small adults, their diet will shift towards land prey. They can be fed wingless fruit flies, pinhead crickets, and other small live prey. As they get bigger, they will be able to eat larger things.
Reasons a Marbled Salamander May Reject Food
- The most common reason a marbled salamander won’t eat is that it is under stress, or still getting used to a new place. This is a very common problem with new salamanders.
To remedy this, try hand-feeding the salamander with the help of feeding tongs/tweezers. Use the tongs to gently hold the prey item, and wiggle it in front of the salamander to entice it to eat.
- Another reason a marbled salamander may be the temperature. As mentioned earlier, Salamanders are ectothermic (cold-blooded) animals.
This is perfectly normal and nothing to be worried about. With an increase in temperature, the salamander will have a much faster metabolism and a larger appetite.
- A third possible reason a marbled salamander may be reluctant to eat is that it may not be accustomed to eating the food you are offering.
Try offering a different prey item to remedy this problem.
- A third and more serious reason a salamander may reject food is due to disease or an infection.
Carefully inspect the salamander for any sign of infection, and contact a veterinarian for further instructions.
Common Feeding Mistakes
There are a few common mistakes many new salamander owners make when feeding their pets.
Using Dead Bugs
In the wild, marbled salamanders are ambush hunters that are attracted to prey by movement (motion). For this reason, marbled salamanders won’t eat dead bugs. If you offer your salamander dead bugs, it will most likely ignore the food and starve. You should only offer live bugs and other prey items.
Forgetting to Gut Load Insects
As mentioned earlier, captive-bred feeder insects do not contain as many nutrients as wild insects. They are often raised on a cost-conscious diet that is aimed at making them grow quickly and keeping costs low.
Forgetting to gut load or dust insects before feeding them to your salamander means the salamander will not get all the nutrients it needs. This nutritional deficiency can lead to serious health problems, and could even be fatal.
Not Using a Varied Diet
Different food items have different nutrients. Not giving a salamander a varied diet means it will not get the right variety of nutrients it needs and may end up weak and malnourished.
Switch up the food items offered to the salamander every few feedings so it gets a nutrient-rich diet.
Marbled salamanders have huge appetites, so overfeeding is a real possibility. Obesity could lead to several health problems. Alternatively, underfeeding means the salamander will be undernourished and have poor health.
Marbled salamanders are very opportunistic predators that make the best use of the food sources in their environment. They are mainly insectivores, which means their diet consists mostly of live insect prey. However, they will eat almost any prey they can fit into their mouths.
If you have a pet marbled salamander, remember to give it a varied diet and gut load and dust feeder insects every few feedings so your salamander gets all the nutrients it needs!