Tiger salamanders are a popular pet due to their tame and non-aggressive nature. Like most salamanders, they are obligate carnivores, which means they eat prey instead of plants or vegetation.
Tiger salamanders are opportunistic predators that will eat almost any prey they can fit into their mouths. Snails, slugs, earthworms, spiders, and insects make up most of their diet in the wild. In captivity, they can be fed crickets, dubia roaches, nightcrawlers, mealworms, and the occasional pinkie mouse.
Tiger salamanders typically go through 3 distinct life stages and eat different food at every stage. They begin their lives as aquatic larvae, feeding on small crustaceans, aquatic insects, insect larvae, and other aquatic invertebrates.
As they develop into adults, their diet shifts more towards land insects, but they aren’t picky with what they eat. They will readily eat almost any prey that they can fit into their mouth.
What a Tiger Salamander Will Eat at the Different Stages of Its Life
These larvae are fully aquatic and have external feathery gills and a flat tailfin for their life in the water. Two to five months later, these larvae will transform into adults with lungs for a life on land.
During these life stages, tiger salamanders will have a slightly different diet, based on the food sources in their environment.
What Baby Tiger Salamanders Eat in the Wild
Tiger salamanders begin their lives as tiny embryos inside an egg sack. 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 is ready to hatch into the water. This can take anywhere from 20-50 days. When the larvae hatch, they have well-developed eyes, mouths, external gills, and broad tails – and will feed on:
- Aquatic mites
- Water fleas and other near-microscopic aquatic invertebrates
As they grow, they can eat larger prey such as
- Small insects
- Fairy shrimp
- Aquatic insect larvae (especially mosquito larvae)
- Small worms
- Snails, leeches
Large larvae even feed on small tadpoles, and other smaller salamander larvae, including their own species.
Tiger salamander larvae are aggressive predators. Since tiger salamanders lay eggs in fish-free ponds, the larvae are often one of the dominant predators in their ponds.
What Juvenile Tiger Salamanders Eat in the Wild
After about 2.5 to 5 months, the larvae will slowly begin transforming into sub-adults through a process known as metamorphosis, which prepares them for a life on land.
During this process, their gills shorten (and are eventually absorbed into the head), they develop lungs for breathing air, and their flat tail will thicken and become more rounded.
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.
Wild juvenile tiger salamanders will eat:
- Small worms
- Small snails, slugs
- Small insects, and other invertebrates on land
What Adult Tiger Salamanders Eat in the Wild
Adult tiger salamanders are fully grown, meaning they have bigger mouths and stronger jaws.
They can eat all the food they ate as juveniles, but their larger size allows them to also eat things they did not eat as juveniles.
Here’s a list of things that will make up an adult tiger salamander’s diet in the wild.
- Worms, Snails, Slugs, Leeches
- Small frogs, Lizards, Baby snakes, Small mice
- Spiders, Wasps, Cockroaches, Bees, Beetles
- Locusts, Grasshoppers, Moths, Butterflies
- Crickets, Flies (fruit flies, house flies, crane flies, sawflies, etc)
- Mosquitos, Insect larvae (maggots, grubs, etc)
- Woodlice, and other insects in their environment.
What Adult Tiger Salamanders Eat In Captivity
Tiger salamanders in captivity can eat all the food they would in the wild. The only difference here is that many people aren’t able to easily obtain most of the food that a tiger salamander would eat in the wild.
So they resort to food that they can purchase in a pet store, or cultivate on their own.
However, even in captivity, it’s a good idea to keep the diet of your tiger salamander as close to its wild diet as possible. This means you have to feed it live prey.
Earthworms and feeder crickets seem to be a favorite among many tiger salamander owners. It is recommended to gut load the crickets to make them more nutritious (more information on that is below).
Here’s a list of things you can feed a tiger salamander in captivity:
- Nightcrawlers & earthworms (It is not recommended to use the red-ringed ones – genera Eisenia and Dendrobaena).
- Crickets, dubia roaches, flightless fruit flies
- Mealworms, wax worms, black soldier fly larvae
- Silkworms, hornworms
- The occasional pinkie mouse (but only if your salamander is big enough to eat it).
Nightcrawlers can make up a majority of their diet. However, the key to a healthy salamander is a varied and nutritious diet, so remember to switch up the food items offered every few feedings.
Again, IT IS NOT RECOMMENDED to feed red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) to your salamander, because they exude a noxious fluid and are toxic to many animals. Some salamanders will not accept to eat them, and if they do accept them, they may be harmed by the worm’s toxins.
As for mealworms, it’s a good idea to only use the ones that have just shed, and still have soft bodies, as the hard exoskeleton of fully-formed mealworms is very hard for many amphibians to digest.
Also, it is important to use the right size of feeder insects. 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 insect larger than the distance between its eyes.
Can You Feed a Captive Tiger Salamander Wild Bugs?
You could feed your salamander wild-caught bugs, as long as you’re sure they’re from an area that’s free of pesticides and other chemicals. Avoid feeding bugs that can sting or bite, such as large spiders, hornets, bees, etc
However, this is generally not a good idea because wild bugs could be carrying parasites that are harmful to the salamander.
It is much safer to only feed your salamander captive-bred feeder insects. You can buy a wide variety of safe feeder insects online, or even at your local pet store.
Dusting, Gut Loading & Nutrient Supplements
In the wild, tiger 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, captive-bred feeder insects are often raised on a cost-conscious diet that is meant to help them grow quickly. This means they are not as nutritious as wild insects that eat a wide variety of vitamin and mineral-rich food.
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, it is important to increase the nutritional value of the food you give to your salamander.
This is mainly done in two ways: dusting, and gut loading.
Gut loading is the process by which feeder insects, (other prey items) are fed nutrient-dense foods at least 48 hrs before they are offered to the salamander. The intention is to pass those nutrients on to the salamander when the insects are eaten.
In this context, you want to give your crickets, or other prey items, foods with lots of nutrients – for example, fresh fruits and vegetables with lots of vitamin C.
After consuming this food, the insects will be much more nutritious and pass the nutrients on to the salamander when they are eaten.
Besides gut loading, another way to ensure your tiger salamander gets all the vitamins and minerals it needs is by dusting its food with high-quality powder calcium and vitamin supplements.
Most hobbyists use commercially manufactured supplement powder specifically designed for reptiles and amphibians.
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 feeding’s 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 salamander.
It is important to know what calcium formula is right for your pet, whether it be no D3, low D3, or high D3.
Since tiger salamanders are primarily nocturnal, they are not going to metabolize the D3 from the sun – but will instead absorb it from their diet. For this reason, it’s recommended that you use a calcium supplement that is high in D3.
It’s a good idea to alternate between a calcium a multi-vitamin powder. If you dust with a calcium powder, next time remember to dust with a multi-vitamin powder instead, and vice-versa.
How Much & How Often to Feed Your Tiger Salamander
Generally, adult tiger salamanders will need to be fed two or three times a week, while young tiger salamanders will need to be fed every day or two. However, the temperature of the enclosure will determine the frequency of feeding.
If the temperature is 64°F (18°C) or less, your tiger 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 salamander, the general rule is to only offer as much as the salamander can eat in a 20-minute feeding session.
For adults, this can mean 2 nightcrawlers or between 3 and 6 two-week-old crickets, but there is no absolute figure here; so it has to be learned with a bit of experimentation.
Generally, tiger salamanders will eat more food at warmer temperatures and have a decreased appetite at colder temperatures.
Monitor the number of food item items left over after each feeding session. In addition to this, keep an eye on the weight of your salamander to ensure it is not becoming overweight.
How Long Can a Tiger Salamander Go Without Eating?
Generally, tiger salamanders can go for as long as two weeks 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 cases, it is a good idea to offer your tiger salamander food at least two times per week.
What Baby Tiger Salamanders Eat In Captivity
Like the adults, baby tiger salamanders (tiger salamander larvae) are aggressive predators that prefer live foods. For this reason, captive larval tiger salamanders should be fed tiny live foods.
The most appropriate foods will depend on the size and age of the larvae. When they first hatch they can be fed newly hatched brine shrimp and baby daphnia. They may also accept chopped white worms, bloodworms, and tubifex worms.
When the larvae are about three weeks old, they will be large enough to eat larger things, such as adult brine shrimp, adult daphnia, glass worms, chopped earthworms, bloodworms, and tubifex worms.
When the larvae go through metamorphosis and transform into small adults, their diet will shift towards land prey. Since they are not fully grown yet, they have to be fed a smaller version of their adult diet.
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.
What Human Foods Can a Tiger Salamander Eat?
Since tiger salamanders like to eat live foods, they will not accept most human foods. However, 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.
How to Feed a Tiger Salamander in Captivity
The easiest way to feed a tiger 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.
Common Feeding Mistakes
There are several mistakes salamander owners make when feeding their pets:
Feeding Dead Insects
Tiger salamanders are ambush hunters that hunt for live/moving prey, so most tigers won’t even attempt to eat dead insects. For this reason, you should only offer tiger salamanders live prey items.
Forgetting to Gut-Load Feeder Insects
As mentioned earlier, commercially bred feeder insects are often low in nutrition. Remember to gut load all your feeder insects before feeding them to your tiger salamander. This will ensure that your salamander remains strong and healthy.
Using the Wrong-Sized Feeder Insects
Tiger salamanders do not chew their food, but rather swallow it whole. Feeding a tiny salamander a disproportionately large insect could lead it to choke.
Never give your salamander anything larger than the width of its mouth. The bigger the salamander, the larger the prey it will be able to eat.
Feeding Food With a High-Fat Content Too Often
Tiger salamanders are not very active animals, so they do not burn off calories. This means giving a tiger salamander high-fat food (such as wax worms or pinkie mice) too often may lead to obesity.
Obesity can then lead to many health problems. For this reason, it is important to limit food with a high-fat content to only an occasional treat.
Feeding a Starved Salamander Too Much, Too Quickly
Some people purchase salamanders that have been starved for long periods, and decide to feed them too generously, often out of sympathy for the animal.
While this may sound like a good-hearted act, it can lead to a condition called refeeding syndrome, which could be fatal to the animal.
Refeeding syndrome is a serious condition that is caused by abrupt shifts in the electrolytes that help the body metabolize food.
For this reason, you should feed starved tiger salamanders slowly in small quantities every day. Gradually increase the quantity and reduce the frequency of feeding as the salamander puts on some healthy weight.
Tiger salamanders have insatiable appetites so overfeeding them is a real possibility. Overfeeding can lead to obesity which could, in turn, lead to the salamander developing health problems.
Alternatively, underfeeding your salamander means it will go hungry and have poor health.
Why Isn’t My Tiger Salamander Eating?
1. It Is Still Getting Used to a New Place or Is Shy
The most common reason a 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 newly acquired salamanders.
To remedy this, try hand-feeding the frog 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.
If this does not work try moving the salamander to a dark room, and leave it alone to relax and settle down for a while. In the wild, tiger salamanders are nocturnal creatures, so they will be more active in the dark.
2. The Prey Item Being Offered Is Too Big
Another reason a salamander may reject food is that the prey item you are offering is just too big. Remember, frogs do not chew their food, so they will not eat anything they can now swallow whole.
As a general rule, never offer a salamander any prey larger than the distance between its eyes.
3. It Is Not Accustomed to the Food Item Being Offered
Another possible reason 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 or live crickets.
4. The Environmental Temperatures Are Low
Remember, salamanders are ectothermic (cold-blooded animals). When the temperatures are low, they will have a lower rate of metabolism, and be less active, so they won’t have the biggest appetite.
This is perfectly normal, and the salamander will have a much better appetite when the temperatures are warmer.
5. Disease or Parasitic Infection
A more serious reason a salamander would reject food would be due to disease or parasitic infection. Carefully inspect the salamander for any possible signs of infection and contact a veterinarian for further instructions.
Tiger salamanders have ferocious appetites and will eat just about any prey they can fit in their mouths, but they have their preferences. Since they are attracted by the movement of their prey, they will generally ignore and won’t attempt to eat dead prey.
If you are reading this because you’ve recently acquired a tiger salamander, you do not need to worry because tigers are relatively easy to feed and care for.
Just make sure you provide your salamander with a varied diet, and don’t forget to gut-load insects at least 48 hours before feeding time so your salamander gets all the nutrients it needs!