Most salamanders are carnivores, which means they eat only animal protein. Their exact diet will depend on their size, age, their habitat, and the part of the world they live in.
Generally, salamanders eat worms, slugs, and a wide variety of insects in the wild. In addition, large salamanders are capable of eating mice, baby snakes, lizards, small frogs, and even other salamanders. Captive salamanders can be fed worms, slugs, crickets, and other soft-bodied insects.
Salamanders are very opportunistic feeders, so almost any prey they can catch and fit into their mouths is on the menu. However, they generally prefer soft-bodied prey, because it is easier to digest.
A Salamander’s Diet at the Different Stages of Its Life
Most salamanders (not all) go through three distinct life stages. They start their lives as tiny embryos inside jelly-covered eggs. After a few weeks, tiny salamander larvae hatch from these eggs.
The larvae live entirely in the water, just like frog tadpoles. After a few months, these larvae will go through a process known as metamorphosis and transform into adults.
During these life stages, salamanders will have slightly different diets.
What Baby Salamanders Eat In the Wild
Salamanders begin their lives as tiny embryos inside an egg. The first source of food for the developing embryo is the yolk of the egg.
The yolk contains enough nutrients to sustain the embryo until it is ready to hatch into the water. This can take anywhere from two to four weeks, depending on the species.
After hatching the larvae live a fully aquatic life and have gills to breathe in the water, just like fish.
Larval stage salamanders have huge appetites and eat:
- Aquatic insects
- Aquatic insect larvae
- Brine shrimp and other small aquatic invertebrates
As the larvae grow and get bigger, they will be able to eat larger things such as:
- Larger insects
- Frog tadpoles
- Smaller salamander larvae, and even immature fish
After approximately two to four months, the larvae will start transforming into adults through a process known as metamorphosis.
During this process, terrestrial salamanders species will lose their gills, some develop lungs (not all), and they develop strong legs for walking on land. Aquatic salamander species such as axolotls retain their gills and many of their larval features.
After fully going through a metamorphosis, terrestrial salamander species will leave the water for a life on land, only returning the water to breed.
Aquatic salamander species, on the other hand, will stay in the water and live an aquatic life just like the larvae.
What Adult Terrestrial Salamanders Eat In the Wild
Terrestrial salamanders will spend most of their time hiding in underground burrows, under logs, rocks, fallen leaves, and other natural cover. They are nocturnal animals, so they will leave cover to hunt for food at night.
Since they are fully grown, they have bigger mouths can eat larger things. They have ferocious appetites and will eat almost any prey they can overpower and fit into their mouths.
Here is a list of things that would make up an adult terrestrial salamanders diet in the wild:
- Worms (red worms, nightcrawlers, etc)
- Snails, slugs
- Insects (grasshoppers, locusts, cockroaches, beetles, moths, flies, etc)
- Ants, termites, mites, springtails
- Spiders, centipedes, Millipedes
- Maggots, grubs
- Small mice
- Small frogs & toads
- Baby snakes, lizards
- Smaller salamanders
Their exact diet will depend on their size. Smaller salamanders such as the red-back salamander will mostly eat worms, small slugs, snails, and small insects. On the other hand, larger salamanders such as the tiger salamanders are capable of eating much larger prey such as mice and small frogs.
What Adult Aquatic Salamanders Eat In the Wild
Aquatic salamanders stay in the water even after they mature into adults. Most (not all) aquatic salamanders will retain their gills and other larval features adapted for a life in the water.
Since salamanders get their food from the environments they live in, aquatic salamanders only eat food available in their aquatic environment and have a diet slightly different from that of terrestrial salamanders.
Here is a list of things that would make up an adult aquatic salamander diet in the wild:
- Aquatic insects, and terrestrial insects that fall into the water
- Aquatic insect larvae
- Water snails
- Frog & toad tadpoles
- Small fish
- Small frogs
- Smaller salamanders, Salamander larvae, and salamander eggs
- Amphibian and fish eggs (frog eggs, salamander eggs, and fish eggs)
- Brine shrimp, Daphnia, and other small aquatic crustaceans
Although most salamanders have teeth, they do not use them to chew their food. Rather they use them to maintain a firm grip on their prey as they slow it whole. For this reason, their exact diet will depend on their size, and they will never eat any prey too big for them to swallow whole.
The Plant Eating Salamander
Although most salamanders are obligate carnivores, Sirens (a type of aquatic salamander) have been observed eating plant matter (algae).
In the past, scientists thought that this planet matter was ingested accidentally when the salamander eats prey. However, a close study of their digestive systems revealed that their intestines and digestive bacteria are comparable to those of herbivorous fish.
In addition, the ingested plant matter is digested through fermentative digestion, just like in herbivorous animals.
This evidence shows that these salamanders are not obligate carnivores like other salamander species. However, their diet is still mainly carnivorous.
What Salamanders Eat In Captivity
Salamanders in captivity can eat all the food they would in the wild. The only reason they have a different diet is tha, most people aren’t able to easily obtain the wide variety of prey wild salamanders eat. So they resort to using food they can purchase in a pet store, or can cultivate on their own.
Even in captivity, terrestrial and aquatic salamanders will have slightly different diets. This is because of their different feeding habits.
Aquatic salamanders may readily accept dead bugs, and even fish food, while terrestrial salamanders will only accept live prey.
What Terrestrial Salamanders Eat In Captivity
Most terrestrial salamanders are not picky eaters. In the wild, they will eat a wide variety of prey including worms, beetles, flies, and grasshoppers. In captivity, you can feed them live worms and a wide variety of live feeder insects.
You could also feeder your captive salamander millipedes, woodlice, beetles, and other bugs you find when gardening. Just make sure you’re 100 percent sure the bugs are from a clean area with no pesticides or any other chemicals.
However, this is not recommended because wild bugs could be carrying parasites that can be passed on to the salamander. It is much safer to only use captive-bred prey.
Here is a list of things you can feed terrestrial salamanders in captivity:
- Worms (earthworms, whiteworms, blackworms, etc)
- Slugs, snails
- Mealworms, Waxworms, Phoenix worms, Silkworms, superworms
- Dubia roaches
- Wingless fruit flies
- Minnows and Pinkie mice (for large salamanders)
The most appropriate food will depend on the size of the salamander. Smaller salamanders such as the red-backed salamander can survive on a diet of pinhead crickets, small dubia roaches, flies small earthworms, and other small live foods.
Larger salamanders such as the tiger and spotted salamander can be offered larger prey items such as large earthworms crickets, dubia roaches, mealworms, and even feeder fish and the occasional pinkie mouse.
A varied diet is recommended, so be sure to change up the food items offered to the salamander every few feedings.
What Aquatic Salamanders Eat In Captivity
Aquatic salamanders can eat all the foods terrestrial salamanders eat. However, in addition to that, they can also be fed aquatic prey such as:
- Aquatic insect larvae (such as mosquito larvae and glassworms)
- Brine shrimp
Some aquatic salamander species will also accept floating food sticks and cooked shrimp. Experiment with different food items and see which one your salamander likes best. If it rejects a particular food item, offer it a different one.
However, most salamanders (both Aquatic and terrestrial) readily accept nightcrawlers and live feeder insects.
Gut Loading & Nutrient Supplements
In the wild, insects feast on tasty nutritious plants, roots, fruits, and other insects. This varied and rich diet makes wild insects very nutritious.
On the other hand, most captive-bred feeder insects are raised on a cost-conscious diet meant to help them grow quickly and to reproduce. This means feeder insects are usually arent as nutritious as wild insects.
For this reason, it is important to gut-load your feeder insects before offering them to your salamander.
Gut loading is the process of feeding feeder insects a special diet shorty before the insects are consumed by the salamander. What goes into your insects, goes into your salamander. If your feeder insects are malnourished your salamander isn’t going to get many nutrients from them.
The process of gut loading is simple:
- Give your feeder insects highly nutritious foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables with lots of vitamin C. This diet needs to be given to the insects at least 48 hours before your salamander eats them.
- After eating this nutritious diet, the insects will pass the nutrients on to the salamander when they are eaten.
Another way to ensure your salamander gets all the nutrients it needs is by ‘dusting’ prey with vitamin and mineral supplements.
The process of dusting is simple.
- Place the prey items into a small container
- Sprinkle some supplement powder into the container (the supplement need to be just enough to lightly dust the prey)
- Gently shake the container so the supplements lightly coat (dust) the prey.
When the salamander eats this dusted prey, it will also consume nutrient supplements and will remain healthy.
What Baby Salamanders Eat In Captivity
In the wild, salamander larvae feed on small aquatic animals. In captivity, they need to be fed tiny live prey.
When they first hatch, they can be fed :
- Newly hatched brine shrimp,
- Baby daphnia
- Chopped whiteworms
- Chopped tubifex worms, and chopped bloodworms.
After a few weeks, the larvae will be bigger meaning they will be able to eat larger foods such as
- Adult brine shrimp
- Adult daphnia
- Whole tubifex worms
- Bloodworms, and chopped earthworms.
As the larvae grow and get close to metamorphosis, they will be able to eat larger things such as small snails, slugs, small crickets, waxworms and guppies, and minnows.
Once the larvae go through metamorphosis, they can be fed springtails, wingless fruit flies, pinhead crickets, small dubia roaches, and other appropriately sized live foods. A general rule is to never offer a salamander anything larger than the width of its mouth.
The insects fed to larvae have to be gut-loaded to make them more nutritious.
What Human Food Can Salamanders Eat?
Aquatic salamanders and large aquatic larvae may accept thin slices of freshwater fish such as salmon or trout, raw shrimp, thin slices of beef liver, kidneys, and other lean meats such as chicken.
Terrestrial salamanders on the other hand may not accept any ‘human foods‘ since they gernally like to hunt live prey.
Still, it not a good idea to feed salamanders any human food as it not part of their natural diet in the wild. Also, some meats have a hight fat content and could cause the salamander to gain excessive weight.
How Much and How Often to Feed a Captive Salamander
Generally, adult salamanders will need to be fed every two to three days, while younger salamanders are still growing so they need to be every day or two. However, salamanders are ectothermic (cold-blooded) animals so the temperature will affect the frequency of feeding.
If the temperature is 64°F (18°C) or less, the salamander will have a lower rate of metabolism and lower energy requirements, so one feeding session a week will be sufficient.
At temperatures over 64°F (18°C), the salamander will have a much higher rate of metabolism and increased energy requirements so it will need to feed about two to three times a week.
Regarding how much to feed your salamander, a general rule is to only feed it as much as it can consume in a 15-20 minute feeding session. It may take a little bit of experimentation to figure this out.
Start by offering your salamander one or two nightcrawlers(or any other food item). If it eats all of them in a single feeding session, increase the amount offered by 1 worm. Monitor the weight of the salamander and ensure it is not overeating and becoming overweight.
Avoid leaving uneaten food such as crickets, in the salamanders’ tank for too long as they could bite or irritate the salamander. This is especially important in an aquatic setup where dead insects could rot and spoil the water.
How Long Can a Salamander Go Without Eating?
Most healthy salamanders can go for as long as two to three weeks without eating if the environmental temperatures are low. However, some salamanders such as mudpuppies can maintain large fat reserves and are able to go for over a month with little to no food in the wild.
How to Feed a Captive Salamander
The easiest way to feed a salamander is to simply put the prey into its tank and let the salamander catch and eat. However, you could also hand feed your salamander.
This may be necessary to prevent salamanders housed in the same tank from injuring each other during aggressive feeding. It may also be necessary to prevent one salamander from eating all the food, while the other salamander starves.
To hand feed, use long forceps to gently hold the food item, then place it near the nose of the salamander you intend to feed. Once he sees it, he will grab it and do the rest.
For aquatic salamanders, an alternative to hand feeding would be to maintain a small population of freshwater shrimp or crayfish in the aquarium at all times. These will act both as a food source and as a clean-up crew as they scavage for uneaten food.
Why Isn’t My Salamander Eating?
The first reason a salamander may reject food may have to do with the time – In the wild salamanders are nocturnal animals and primarily feed at night.
Some captive salamanders may reject food during the day and only feed when it’s dark (at night or when the lights are turned off. To remedy this problem, try feeding the salamander as close as possible to the time at which the lights are turned off.
A second reason a salamander may reject food may have to do with the temperature – Salamanders are ectothermic animals, which means the temperature of their environments will affect their internal temperature.
At lower temperatures, salamanders will have a very low rate of metabolism, and will not have the biggest appetites. This is natural and not a problem. With an increase in temperature, the salamander will have an increased appetite.
A third reason a salamander may reject food may be that it is under stress – This is a very common problem with newly acquired salamanders that are under stress or still getting used to a new place. To remedy this, try calming the salamander by placing it in a dark room.
You could also try to entice the salamander to eat by hand-feeding it using forceps.
A fourth reason a salamander may reject food may be that, it is not used to eating the food you are offering – Salamders in different habitats may have different diets. For instance, a fire salamander in Europe may have a diet that includes certain foods that would be unfamiliar to a tiger salamander in the United States.
To remedy this problem, try offering the salamander a different food item. Most salamanders will readily accept live worms and bugs.
A fifth reason a salamander may reject food may be due to disease or fungal/parasitic infection – Carefully monitor your salamander for any signs of disease or infection, if you notice anything, contact a herp veterinarian for further instructions.
Several feeding mistakes are very common among new salamander owners.
Not Using a Varied Diet
Like us, salamanders need a balanced diet to remain strong and healthy. Different foods have different nutrients, so feeding your salamander a limited diet means it will not get certain nutrients.
It is important to change up the food items offered to the salamander every few feeding so it gets a variety of nutrients and remains healthy.
Not Gut Loading Insects
As mentioned earlier, feeder insects bred in captivity are usually raised on a poor diet. As a result, they are not as nutritious as wild insects.
For reason, all feeder insects need to be gut-loaded to make them more nutritious before your salamander eats them. Forgetting to gut-load insects will mean your salamander will eat insects with a low nutritional value.
Using Wrong Size Prey
Salamanders do not chew their food, rather, they swallow it whole. This means giving a tiny salamander a large insect will be problematic. It will most likely refuse to eat it, and if it does attempt to do so, it may injure itself in the process.
Only give your salamander appropriately sized prey. A general rule is to only offer prey no larger than the width of the salamander’s mouth.
Feeding High-Fat Foods Too Frequently
Salamanders are not very active animals, they mostly just sit around so they do not burn many calories. This means giving a captive salamander high-fat foods such as wax worms or pinkie mice may lead to obesity. High-fat foods should only be used as an occasional treat.
Feeding a Starved Salamander Too Much Too Quickly
Some people purchase or find salamanders that have been starved for long periods, and decide to offer them a lot of food. While this may seem like a kind act, it can lead to a serious condition known as refeeding syndrome which can be fatal for the animal.
Refeeding syndrome is caused by sudden shifts in fluids and electrolytes that help the body metabolize food.
For this reason, starved salamanders should be fed small quantities of food every day until they put on a healthy weight. The quantity of food offered can be increased, and the frequency of feeding can be reduced as the animal gets healthier.
In the wild, salamanders have to hunt for their prey. However, in captivity, they seem to have a never-ending supply of food. This makes overfeeding a real possibility. A salamander may overeat and become obese. Obesity can then lead to several health problems for the salamander.
On the other end, underfeeding means the salamander will starve and have poor health.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can Salamanders Eat Fruit or Vegetables? No, salamanders can not eat fruit, vegetables, or any other plants. Their digestive systems are not capable of digesting plant matter, so a plant meal could rot inside the salamander and be fatal.
As mentioned earlier, sirens are the only salamander species that have been observed eating plant matter (algae) and are even capable of digesting the algae via fermentative digestion. This makes them the only omnivorous salamander species known to science.
Can Salamanders Eat Fish Food? Adult aquatic salamanders and salamander larve can eat fish food, but only the food you will feed to your carnivorous fish. Salamanders are generally obligate carnivores, so they won’t like any plant-based foods or flakes.
They will eat meat-based fish pellets or just about anything you feed to your carnivorous fish; live foods, frozen foods, or pellets.
Can Salamanders Eat Bread? In general, salamanders do not eat bread or any other plant based foods. However, some salamander larvae may occasionally eat breadcrumbs that fall into the water.
What Salamanders Eat Dead Bugs? Fire salamanders are the only salamander species that are known to eat dead bugs and other dead prey items. Rather than being attracted to movement (as they would with live prey), they find dead bugs by using their sense of smell.
Salamanders are not picky eaters. They will readily eat almost any prey they can catch and eat a wide variety of food in their natural environment. In captivity, they mainly survive on a diet of worms and a variety of feeder insects.
If you own or recently acquired a salamander, don’t forget to give it a varied diet so it gets all the nutrients it needs!