What Do Spotted Salamanders Eat? – The Ultimate Guide

Spotted salamanders are colorful amphibians found in parts of the eastern United States and Canada. These salamanders are easily identifiable by their bluish-black skin, and the beautiful yellow spots extending from their head to tail. But what do spotted salamanders eat?

Spotted salamanders are opportunistic carnivores that will eat almost any prey that can fit into their mouths. Spiders, millipedes, worms, slugs, and a wide variety of insects make up most of their diet in the wild. In captivity, they can be fed earthworms, crickets, grubs, and other soft-bodied insects. 

Spotted salamanders start their lives as tiny aquatic larvae, feeding on aquatic insects, insect larvae, and small crustaceans such as daphnia and fairy shrimp. As they grow into adults, they can eat larger prey, such as frog tadpoles, larger insects, and even other salamanders.

Spotted salamanders are obligate which means they will never eat plants or any vegetation. Their digestive systems are not capable of digesting plant matter, so a plant meal can be fatal for a spotted salamander.

What Spotted Salamanders Eat In the Wild

Spotted salamanders start their lives as tiny aquatic larvae with external feathery gills and a flat tailfin for their life in the water. Two to five months later, these larvae will go through a process known as metamorphosis and transform into adults with lungs for a life on land.

Spotted Salamander eating worm

During these life stages, tiger salamanders will have a slightly different diet, based on the food sources in their environment.

Larval spotted salamanders mostly eat tiny insects, tiny crustaceans, and worms, but adult salamanders can eat small frogs and even other salamanders. They are very opportunistic feeders, so almost any prey they can overpower and fit into their mouth is on the menu.

What Baby Spotted Salamanders Eat in the Wild

Spotted salamander larvae are aggressive predators that will hunt and eat small invertebrates they can catch. Since spotted salamanders lay eggs in fishless ponds (vernal pools), the larvae are often one of the dominant predators in their ponds.

When they first hatch, they feed on

  • Aquatic insects
  • Mosquito larvae
  • Small worms
  • Small crustaceans such as fairy shrimp

As they grow bigger, they can eat larger prey, such as

  • Frog tadpoles
  • Immature fish
  • Small insects
  • Slugs, snails, leeches, and even other salamander larvae.

What Sub-Adult Spotted Salamanders Eat in the Wild

After a few 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.

During this process, they lose their gills, develop lungs for breathing air, and their flat tail fin will thicken and become more rounded.

Once this process is fully complete, the larvae will leave the pond for a life on land. At this point, their diet will shift away from aquatic prey and toward mainly terrestrial prey. However, since they are not fully grown yet, they can only eat small prey.

Sub-adult spotted salamanders will eat

  • Small worms
  • Small slugs, snails
  • Crane flies and other small insects

What Adult Spotted Salamanders Eat in the Wild

What adult tiger salamander eat in the wild

Adult spotted salamanders are fully grown, meaning they have bigger mouths and stronger jaws. This makes them able to eat larger prey.

Here’s a list of things that make up an adult spotted salamanders diet in the wild:

  • Worms, grubs
  • Centipedes, millipedes
  • Spiders, cockroaches, wasps
  • Snails, slugs, leeches  
  • Tadpoles, small frogs (and frog eggs)
  • Immature fish (and fish eggs)
  • Smaller salamanders and salamander larvae
  • Baby mice
  • Moths, butterflies
  • Beetles and a wide variety of other bugs such as grasshoppers and fruit flies 
They generally like to eat live prey and will rarely eat bugs or other prey items

While spotted salamanders have teeth, they don’t use them to chew. They only use their teeth to grab their prey, then swallow it whole, so they will never eat anything they can not swallow whole.

What Spotted Salamanders Eat In Captivity

What Spotted Salamanders Eat In Captivity

Spotted salamanders in captivity can eat all the food they would in the wild. The only reason they have a different diet is that we can’t easily obtain a wide variety of prey. We are mostly limited to what we can purchase in a pet store, or cultivate on our own.

In captivity, 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 spotted salamander in captivity:

  • Earthworms (Nightcrawlers, red worms, etc) 
  • Crickets
  • Dubia roaches
  • Mealworms 
  • Waxworms
  • Silkworms
  • Super worms
  • The occasional pinkie mouse 

Young salamanders can be fed springtailspinhead crickets, small red worms, and small wax worms. As they grow, larger prey items can be added to their diet. A rule of thumb is to never give a salamander anything larger than the width of its mouth.

A varied diet is recommended, so food items will have to be changed every few feedings. Crickets and be substituted by dubia roaches and mealworms can be substituted by silkworms.

Spotted salamanders in captivity are prone to obesity, so high-fat foods such as waxworms and pinkie mice should primarily be used as an occasional food item. However, they can be used to put a healthy weight on overly thin or stressed salamanders.

Dusting & Gut Loading Feeder Insects

In captivity, spotted salamanders do not have access to the wide variety of prey they eat in the wild. In addition, feeder insects are usually raised on a poor diet, so they are not as nutritious as wild insects.

For this reason, it is recommended to gut-load feeder insects before feeding them to your spotted salamander.

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. What is inside the insects will determine how nutritious of a meal they are.

The process is simple

  • Give your feeder insects nutrient-dense foods, such as fresh vegetables with lots of vitamin C.
  • After eating this food, the feeder insect will be super nutritious and pass the nutrients on to the salamander when they are eaten.

Doing this helps the salamander get all the nutrients it needs so it can stay strong and healthy.

Dusting

Besides gut loading, another way to ensure your spotted 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 spotted salamander. It will consume the supplements when it eats the insects.

Occasionally skipping a dusting or gut load is fine. But make sure to dust and gut load the feeder insects the majority of the time.

How Much & How Often to Feed a Spotted Salamander in Captivity

Adult spotted salamanders have to feed two times a week, while younger spotted salamanders will have to be fed every day or two.

How much to feed your salamander will depend on the food being offered. However, a general rule is to only offer the salamander as much food as it will eat in 15-20 minutes.

In my personal experience, I have found that spotted salamanders will eat four to six two-week-old crickets in a single session. This is just my own experience so you will have to experiment on your own.

Start by offering the salamander four crickets (or any other food item). If it eats all the crickets in a single feeding session, slowly increase the amount given by one cricket. Monitor the weight of the salamander and make sure it’s not becoming overweight.

Avoid leaving uneaten insects in the salamanders’ enclosure for too long because they could bite or irritate the salamander. Remove all uneaten food within 2 hours of feeding.

How Long Can a Spotted Salamander Go Without Eating?

Most healthy spotted salamanders can go for as long as10 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, spotted salamanders will have to be fed at least two times per week.

What Baby Spotted Salamanders Eat In Captivity

In the wild, spotted salamander larvae are aggressive predators that eat tiny aquatic prey they can catch.

In captivity, spotted salamander larvae should be fed tiny live foods. The 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 transform into adults, 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.

Salamander larvae are rapidly developing so they have high energy demands. For this reason, it’s a good idea to leave live food with them all the time so they can eat whenever they want to. Otherwise, they will have to be fed 2-3 times per day. As they grow larger, the frequency of feeding can be reduced.

How to Feed a Captive Spotted Salamander

The easiest way to feed a salamander is to simply dump the food into an exposed area of its enclosure. When the salamander sees the prey moving, it will hunt and eat it, just like it would in the wild.

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 tweezers.

Use the tweezers to gently hold the food item, then rub it near the nose of the salamander. Once he sees it, he will grab and eat it.

Why Isn’t My Spotted Salamander Eating?

  • The Prey Item Being Offered Is Too Big

The first reason a spotted salamander may reject food is that the prey item you are offering is just too big. Remember, salamanders do not chew their food, so they will not eat anything they can now swallow whole.

If you offer a young spotted salamander an excessively large worm or insect, it most likely won’t even attempt to eat it. As a general guide, never offer a salamander any prey larger than the width of its head.

  • It Is Not Accustomed to the Food Item Being Offered

Another possible reason a spotted salamander may reject food is that it is not used to eating the food you are offering. Try switching the food item being offered. Most salamanders will readily accept worms and crickets.

  • It Is Still Getting Used to a New Place Or Is Under Stress

Sometimes, a salamander may not eat because it is under stress or getting used to a new place. This is a very common problem among new salamanders.

To remedy this, try moving the salamander to a dark room, and leave it alone to relax and settle down for a while. In the wild, salamanders are nocturnal creatures, so they will be more active in the dark.

  • The Environmental Temperatures Are Low 

A fourth possible reason may be the temperature. Remember, salamanders are ectothermic (cold-blooded) animals, which means the temperature of their environments affects their internal temperature.

At temperatures of 64°F (18°C), spotted salamanders will have a slower metabolism, and won’t have the biggest appetite so may do with a single feeding session a week.

This is nothing to be worried about. With an increase in temperature, the salamander will have a much faster metabolism and a larger appetite.

  • Disease or a Parasitic Infection 

A fifth and more serious reason a spotted 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 salamander owners make while feeding their pets.

Feeding Dead Bugs

In the wild, spotted salamanders are hunters that are attracted by the motion (movement) of their prey. Most spotted salamanders won’t eat dead bugs, so a captive spotted salamander that is offered dead bugs will most likely reject the meal and starve. Only feed live bugs and other prey items!

Using the Wrong Size Feeder Insects

Offering a small salamander a large roach will be problematic. The salamander will not be able to eat the insect and will starve. Remember, salamanders don’t chew their food, so they will never eat anything they can not swallow whole. Do not give the salamander anything larger than the width of its mouth.

Using a Limited Diet

Different foods have different nutrients. Feeding a salamander a varied diet means it will get the right amount of nutrients from different food sources and stay strong and healthy. A limited diet is the exact opposite of this. The salamander may not get certain nutrients and end up weak and malnourished.

Overfeeding/Underfeeding

Spotted 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.

Conclusion

Spotted Salamanders are very opportunistic feeders and make the best of the food sources available in their environment. They will eat almost any prey small enough to fit into their mouths.

Since they are slow-moving animals, they use an ambush hunting technique. They will burrow in the dirt, then use their sticky tongs to catch prey that passes in front of them. They are not picky eaters so they will eat almost any prey they can catch.