What Do Long-toed Salamanders Eat? [Wild & Captive Diet]

Long-toed salamanders are fairly small amphibians found in the Pacific Northwest region of North America. These salamanders get their name from the very long fourth toe on their hind feet, and can easily be identified by the bright green stripe that runs along their back. But what do long-toed salamanders eat?

Like most salamanders, long-toed salamanders are obligate carnivores, which means they only eat animal protein. Worms, tadpoles, snails, slugs, and a wide variety of insects make up most of their diet in the wild. In captivity, they eat crickets, worms, grubs, and other soft-bodied insects such as mealworms. 

Long-toed salamanders develop in 2 main life stages. They start their lives as tiny larvae that live entirely in the water. At this stage, they eat small foods available in their aquatic habitat.

After a few months, these larvae will through a process known as metamorphosis, and develop into the adult form that most people are more familiar with. At this point, their diet shifts towards mostly land-based prey, but they will also readily eat aquatic prey they can catch.

What Baby Long-toed Salamanders Eat in the Wild

What baby long toed salamanders eat in the wildFemale long-toed salamanders lay eggs near the shore of breeding ponds and attach them to submerged grass and other vegetation. After two to six weeks, tiny larvae (baby salamanders) will hatch from these eggs.

These larvae have external feathery gills attached to either side of their head, just where their necks should have been. They also have a flat paddle-like tail fin that runs down the length of their body to help them swim in their aquatic environment.

After hatching, the larvae begin their life outside the egg, and will eat:

  • Aquatic insect larvae
  • Aquatic mites
  • Daphnia and other planktonic crustaceans such as brine shrimp. 

As they grow in size, their heads get wider meaning they can eat bigger things. They will eat:

  • Tadpoles
  • Small worms
  • Aquatic insects & terrestrial insects that fall into the water
  • Small leeches, snails, slugs 
  • Aquatic eggs (insect eggs, fish eggs, amphibians eggs)
  • Immature fish

Sometimes the larvae can “shape-shift” and turn into cannibalistic morphs with wider heads and sharper teeth. Their teeth also become more pronounced, enabling them to eat larger prey, including other larval salamanders.

This cannibalistic morph usually occurs when the larvae are in a water body with high competition for food. The wider mouths and fangs help them eat other larval salamanders.

It can also happen when the salamander larvae are in a temporal body of water, making it necessary for them to eat lots of protein so they can grow faster and get out of the water before it dries up.

What Juvenile Long-toed Salamanders Eat

After about three to four and a half months, the larvae will go through a process known as metamorphosis, in which they will lose their larval features, and develop features for a life on land.

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

Once this process is fully complete, they will leave the water and live mostly on land. Since they are not fully grown yet, juvenile long-toed salamanders will look just like smaller versions of adults. Their size means they can only eat tiny prey on land.

Juvenile long-toed salamanders will eat:

  • Small worms
  • Small snails, slugs
  • Spiders, termites, mites
  • Springtails, flies, and other small insects

What Adult Long-toed Salamanders Eat in the Wild

Adult long-toed salamanders are fully grown, meaning they have bigger mouths and stronger jaws. They basically eat a larger version of the diet they did as juveniles, but they also eat a few things they did not eat as juveniles.

Adult long toed salamander diet in the wild

Adult long-toed salamanders will eat:

  • Worms, grubs (such as moth larvae)
  • Beetles, wasps, cockroaches, spiders
  • Tadpoles, snails, slugs, leeches, small fish
  • Aquatic larvae, fish eggs, amphibian eggs 
  • Centipedes, millipedes
  • Termites, ants, woodlice, mites, springtails
  • Crickets, house flies, fruit flies, crane flies, sawflies
  • Grasshoppers, moths, butterflies, and a wide variety of other insects

Like all salamanders, long-toed salamanders have teeth but do not use them to chew their food. Rather, they use them to hold a tight grip on their prey as they swallow it whole.

For this long-toed salamanders will not eat prey they can not swallow whole. They will generally avoid large bugs or worms.

What Long-toed Salamanders Eat In Captivity

Captive long-toed salamanders can eat all the food they would eat in the wild. The only reason they have a different diet is that most people cannot easily obtain the wide variety of prey these salamanders eat in the wild. So they are limited only to the food they can purchase in a pet store or culture on their own.

Long toed salamander diet in captivity Captive long-toed salamanders will eat:

  • Worms (White worms, blackworms, bloodworms, nightcrawlers, etc)
  • Crickets, dubia roaches, flightless fruitflies
  • Mealworms, waxworms 
  • Maggots, Soldier worms, superworms 
  • Springtails, snails, slugs 

Some individual salamanders may also readily accept chopped earthworms, chopped mealworms, and other freshly dead prey. However, long-toed salamanders generally like to hunt moving prey, so it’s best to offer live prey items.

These prey items can be purchased in a pet store, online, or even from another hobbyist. Most pet shops that sell fish also sell live worms.

Alternatively, you could culture feeder insects at home if you are up for the challenge.

Dubia roaches, crickets, and worms can make up a majority of their diet. However, a varied diet is recommended so other food items can be substituted every few feedings.

The food items should be small enough for the salamander to easily swallow whole. Do not give your salamander overly large insects or worms. A general rule is to never offer a salamander any prey wider than the distance between its eyes.

Captive salamanders are prone to obesity so it’s important to limit high-fat foods such as wax worms to occasional treats.

Can You Feed Your Long-toed Salamander Wild Bugs?

You could feed your long-toed salamander wild-caught bugs. Just be 100% sure they are from a clean area that’s free of pesticides or other chemicals.

Still, it is generally not a good idea to feed your salamander wild bugs or other wild prey as they could be carrying parasites that could be harmful to the salamander.

Also, wild bugs in a seemingly clean area could be carrying pesticides they picked up from another area.

Mineral & Vitamin Supplements

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 several health problems. 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

Gut loading is the process by which an animal’s prey is fed nutritious foods at least 48 hours before it is fed to the animal. The intention is to pass those nutrients on to the animal for which the prey is intended. 

In this context, you want to give your crickets, or other feeder insects, fresh fruits and vegetables (such as spinach or carrots) that are rich in vitamins and minerals.

After eating this nutritious food, the insects will pass the nutrients on to the salamander when they are eaten.

Dusting

Besides gut loading, another way to ensure your long-toed salamander gets all the vitamins and minerals it needs is by dusting its food with calcium and vitamin supplements.

Most salamander owners use a commercially manufactured supplement powder.

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 salamander

It is important to know what calcium formula is right for your pet, whether it be no D3, low D3, or high D3. If your salamander gets UVB from a light source, low D or no D is usually the best. However, if your salamander doesn’t have a UVB light source, high D is preferable.

How Much & How Often to Feed Your Long-Toed Salamander

In general, salamanders need to be fed about two to three times a week. However, as ectothermic (cold-blooded) animals, the temperature will influence the feeding frequency.

They will generally have an increased appetite at higher temperatures and a reduced appetite when the temperatures are lower.

Regarding how much to feed your long-toed salamander, the general rule is to only offer it as much as it can eat in a single feeding session.

Most salamanders will stop eating when they have had their fill, so this can be learned with a little bit of experimentation. Use personal judgment to ensure most of the food offered is being consumed.

Also, avoid leaving uneaten bugs in the salamanders’ enclosure for too long as they could bite or irritate the salamander. Remove all uneaten food within 6 hours of feeding.

How Long Can a Long-Toed Salamander Go Without Eating?

Most healthy long-toed salamanders can go for as long as 12 days without eating if the environmental temperatures are low. However, in most situations, it’s recommended to offer your salamander food at least 2 times per week.

During periods when the salamander is very active and has a high rate of metabolism, it may have to be fed even much more frequently (after every 2 days).

What Baby Long-toed Salamanders Eat In Captivity

Captive baby long-toed salamanders are aggressive predators. Like those in the wild, they prefer to eat moving prey, this means they have to be fed tiny live food. The appropriate size will depend on the size and age of the baby salamander.

Lava long-toed salamander captive diet
Long-toed salamander larva. Photo by: Mark Leppin/flickr

When they first hatch, they can be fed:

  • Newly hatched brine shrimp
  • Baby daphnia
  • Chopped white worms, chopped black worms, chopped bloodworms

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

  • Adult brine shrimp 
  • Adults daphnia
  • Glass worms
  • Chopped earthworms

Once the larvae transform into juveniles, 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. Eventually, these young salamanders will grow large enough to be able to have a diet very similar to that of adults.

Also, like the adults, long-toed salamander larvae and juveniles require a varied diet, so offer a wide variety of prey.

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.

Why Isn’t My Long-toed Salamander Eating?

1. The Prey Item Being Offered Is Too Large

The first reason a red-backed 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.

2. It Is Not Accustomed to the Food Item Being Offered

Another possible reason a long-toed 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 bugs.

3. It Is Still Getting Used to a New Place and Is Shy

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.

4. The Environmental Temperatures Are Low

A fourth possible reason for a salamander may be the temperature. Remember, salamanders are ectothermic

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 with an increase in the temperature.

Common Feeding Mistakes

There are a few common mistakes many new salamander owners make when feeding their pets.

Forgetting to Gut Load Feeder Insects

Captive salamanders have a diet that is very limited in comparison to that of wild salamanders. This means they do not get a wide variety of nutrients from different food sources.

Also, as earlier mentioned, captive-raised feeder insects are often given poor diets, so they aren’t as nutritious as wild insects.

If you do not dust or gut load feeder insects, your salamander will not get all the nutrients it needs and may develop health problems.

Using Wrong Sized Insects

Remember, salamanders do not chew their food. If you offer a juvenile long-toed salamander a full-grown dubia roach, it most likely won’t eat it.

However, if it does attempt to eat it, it may get injured or choke in the process.

Overfeeding/Underfeeding

Salamanders have huge appetites. In the wild, food is not very easy to come by. However, in captivity, they have a seemingly endless supply of food. This means obesity becomes a real possibility.

Overfeeding can lead to obesity which could, in turn, lead to the salamander developing health problems.

On the other end, underfeeding means your salamander will not get all the nutrition it needs which will most likely have poor health.

Conclusion

Long-toed salamanders are very opportunistic feeders that will eat a variety of prey in their environments. Their exact diet will depend on the type of available in their particular environment.

However, they are mainly insectivores, which means their diet consists mostly of live insect prey. Still, they will eat almost any prey they can catch and fit into their mouths.

If you recently acquired a long-toed salamander, just make sure you feed it a varied diet and don’t forget to dust/ gut load feeder insects before offering them to your salamander.

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