Western Tiger Salamander - Ambystoma mavortium
Tiger Salamander, Barred Tiger Salamander, Tiger Salamander
(see State Rank Reason below)
State Rank Reason (see State Rank above)
Species is apparently secure and not at risk of extirpation or facing significant threats in all or most of its range.
- Details on Status Ranking and Review
ScoreG - 200,000-2,500,000 km squared (about 80,000-1,000,000 square miles)
Comment287,172 square Kilometers from Natural Heritage Program range maps
ScoreE - Relatively Stable (±25% change)
CommentSince European arrival, riparian habitat has been altered and lost but it is unlikely that populations have changed significantly
ScoreE - Stable. Population, range, area occupied, and/or number or condition of occurrences unchanged or remaining within ±10% fluctuation
CommentPopulations appear stable based on lentic surveys conducted over the last 15 years.
ScoreH - Unthreatened. Threats if any, when considered in comparison with natural fluctuation and change, are minimal or very localized, not leading to significant loss or degradation of populations or area even over a few decades’ time. (Severity, scope, and/or immediacy of threat considered Insignificant.)
CommentNo operational threats in the next 15-20 years identified
ScoreC - Not Intrinsically Vulnerable. Species matures quickly, reproduces frequently, and/or has high fecundity such that populations recover quickly (< 5 years or 2 generations) from decreases in abundance; or species has high dispersal capability such that extirpated populations soon become reestablished through natural recolonization (unaided by humans).
CommentThis species has high fecundity, a low age of maturity, but recruitment can be low.
ScoreD - Broad. Generalist. Broad-scale or diverse (general) habitat(s) or abiotic and/or biotic factors are used or required by the species, with all key requirements common in the generalized range of the species in the area of interest. If the preferred food(s) or breeding/nonbreeding microhabitat(s) become unavailable, the species switches to an alternative with no resulting decline in numbers of individuals or number of breeding attempts.
CommentAlthough restricted to lentic sites for breeding, species is found across a range of habitats
Raw Conservation Status Score
3.5 + 0 (geographic distribution) + 0.5 (environmental specificity) + 0 (short-term trend) + 1 (threats) = 5
Laid singly or in small linear clusters of 5 to 120. Each ovum is black or brown above, light gray below, and surrounded by three jelly layers (Micken 1968). Ovum diameters are 2-3 mm, but total egg diameters, including the three jelly layers, are 7-9 mm (Micken 1968, Tanner et al. 1971, Kaplan 1980).
Color is variable, but usually olive green or brown dorsally and silvery white ventrally. Three pairs of external feathery gills emanate from the sides of the head with 15-25 gill rakers on their anterior surface (Russell and Bauer 2000). They are relatively large and heavy-bodied, with a snout-vent length (SVL) of 5-98 mm (Kaplan 1980, Hill 1995). Paedomorphs are pond-type larva (but lack balancers), with three large pairs of gills, vomerine teeth in U-shaped pattern, and dorsal fin extending to region of axilla; adults usually are about 15 to 22 cm in total length (to about 34 cm) (Stebbins 1954, 1985, Behler and King 1979, Conant and Collins 1998).
JUVENILES AND ADULTS
Color is variable, but background color is usually dark, with lighter mottling of yellow, tan, or green. Some may be uniformally dark in color (Koch and Peterson 1995). Venter is gray and 12-13 costal grooves are present. Adults are large and heavy-bodied with a SVL 70-90 mm, have a broad head, small eyes, and tubercles on the soles of the feet (Russell and Bauer 2000).
Long-toed Salamander (A. macrodactylum
) eggs have 2 jelly layers and have diameters greater than 10 mm, including the jelly layers. Larval Long-toed Salamanders have smaller heads and are translucent, light tan, or black dorsally and laterally with black and gold flecks. In addition, larval Long-toed Salamanders are white to pinkish ventrally and have 9-13 gill rakers on the anterior surface of their gills.
Differs from A. macrodactylum
adults in lacking a distinct dorsal stripe or stripe like row of spots. Differs from all other North American Ambystoma
in having tubercles on the soles of the feet. Differs from Coeur d'Alene Salamander (Plethodon idahoensis
) in lacking a nasolabial groove.
The systematics of the Western Tiger Salamander species complex are under debate, but most authorities recognize seven varieties which range from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Basin and Columbia Plateau and from central Mexico to central Canada at elevations up to 3,350 (11,000 ft) (Gehlbach 1967a, Gehlbach 1967b, Shaffer and McKnight 1996, Irschick and Shaffer 1997, Petranka 1998). Although the edge of the range of the Gray Tiger Salamander, Ambystoma t. diaboli, approaches the northeastern corner of Montana, only a single subspecies, the Blotched Tiger Salamander, Ambystoma t. melanostictum, is currently known to occur in the state. In Montana they are known to range across the prairies and, in some places, into the mountains to the east of the Continental Divide. In addition, Western Tiger Salamander have recently been documented at a number of sites in the Tobacco Valley of northwestern Montana (Werner and Reichel 1996). It is not known whether this is a naturally occurring disjunct population, or whether their presence is the result of human introduction.
Maximum elevation: 2,769 m (9,085 ft) just north of Coffin Mountain in southern Gallatin County (Dave Deavours, MTNHP 2007).
Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations:
(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version)
Map Help and Descriptions
(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)
Adults may migrate several hundred meters between terrestrial burrows and breeding habitats (Koch and Peterson 1995). Migrations usually occur nocturnally around the time of precipitation events when minimum daily temperatures are greater than zero degrees Celsius (Hill 1995).
Adults are found in virtually any habitat, providing there is a terrestrial substrate suitable for burrowing and a body of water nearby suitable for breeding. Terrestrial adults usually remain underground, in self-made burrows or in those made by rodents or other animals (Koch and Peterson 1995, Madison and Farrand 1998). Western Tiger Salamanders in Montana are primarily associated with prairie or agricultural habitats. They breed in ponds, lakes, springs, intermittent streams, and stock ponds. Breeding sites almost always lack predatory fishes and can range from clear mountain ponds to temporary, manure-polluted pools in the lowlands (Micken 1971, USFWS 1964-1982, Baxter and Stone 1985, Hill 1995).
Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
- Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
How Associations Were Made
We associated the use and habitat quality (common or occasional) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for
vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
- Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2012, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
- Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species' range and habitat requirements;
- Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point observation database associated with each ecological system;
- Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of "observations versus availability of habitat".
Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.
In general, species were listed as associated with an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.
However, species were not listed as associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if
point observations were associated with that system.
Common versus occasional association with an ecological system was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species as represented in scientific literature.
The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignment of common versus occasional association.
If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact the Montana Natural Heritage Program's Senior Zoologist.
Suggested Uses and Limitations
Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.
These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: mtnhp.org/requests
) or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.
Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.
Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.
Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).
Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species' known geographic range.
- Adams, R.A. 2003. Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado. 289 p.
- Dobkin, D. S. 1992. Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34. Missoula, MT.
- Foresman, K.R. 2012. Mammals of Montana. Second edition. Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Montana. 429 pp.
- Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998. Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates. Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT. 1302 p.
- Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young. 1999. Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32. 72 p.
- Maxell, B.A. 2000. Management of Montana's amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species. Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1. Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana. 161 p.
- Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath. 2004. Amphibians and reptiles of Montana. Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.
- Commonly Associated with these Ecological Systems
Forest and Woodland Systems
Recently Disturbed or Modified
Shrubland, Steppe and Savanna Systems
Sparse and Barren Systems
Wetland and Riparian Systems
- Occasionally Associated with these Ecological Systems
Forest and Woodland Systems
Human Land Use
Sparse and Barren Systems
Wetland and Riparian Systems
In the water, larvae and adults feed on a variety of aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates. Some larvae and paedomorphic adults feed on other amphibian larvae including conspecifics (Dodson and Dodson 1971, Pfenning et al. 1991). In western Colorado, larvae feed on mostly arthropods. On land, adults may feed on a variety of invertebrates or even small mammals (Moore and Strickland 1955, Petranka 1998). In southern Manitoba, adult diets were found to be 87% Cammarus, 7% Coleoptera, and 8% Hirudinea.
Late metamorphosis probably caused by temperature rather than food abundance. In some locations larval salamanders never transform, but rather become sexually mature and breed while retaining external gills (referred to as neoteny). These salamanders are often called "axolotls" or "water dogs." They are benthic in ponds but may enter upper water column at night. Paedomorphic populations tend to occur at higher elevations. They use behavioral thermoregulation where they tend to select warmest water in ponds (rarely above 25°C). These salamanders use the shallows during day and deep water at night (Heath 1975).
Breeding takes place soon after snow melt. In Montana, breeding often occurs in May on the prairie and June to mid-August at 7780 feet in the southwest. Eggs are attached to submerged objects at shallower depths. Eggs hatch in approximately 15 days from June to August. Larvae may transform at the end of their first summer in August on the prairie but may remain larvae for a second or third summer at high elevations in cold waters (Micken 1968, Hill 1995). Metamorphosed adults may spend extensive periods of time feeding in ponds after breeding. Stays of up to 159 days have been documented in Montana (Hill 1995). In some instances, larvae may become sexually mature (paedogenesis) and reproduce without transforming (Micken 1968, Hill 1995).
The following is taken from the Status and Conservation section for the Western Tiger Salamander account in Maxell et al. 2009
Western Tiger Salamanders are widely distributed and common on the prairies east of the main Rocky Mountain chain with larvae being found in most fishless ponds with adjacent soils that have not been plowed or otherwise heavily modified. However, their status in the mountains and mountain valleys east of the Continental Divide is largely uncertain. Risk factors relevant to the viability of populations of this species are likely to include grazing, non-indigenous species and their management, road and trail development and on- and off-road vehicle use, development of water impoundments, and habitat fragmentation, all as described above. Individual studies that specifically identify risk factors or other issues relevant to the conservation of Western Tiger Salamanders include the following. (1) Several studies in the western United States over the past five decades have documented the almost complete exclusion of Western Tiger Salamanders from waters were predatory fish have been introduced (Blair 1951, Carpenter 1953c, Levi and Levi 1955, USFWS 1964-1982, Collins et al. 1988, Geraghty 1992, Corn et al. 1997). Furthermore, at least two studies have documented multiple extinction and recolonization events by Western Tiger Salamanders as a result of the introduction, subsequent natural and human caused extinction, and subsequent reintroduction of trout in lakes in Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain National Parks (USFWS 1964-1982, Corn et al. 1997). Even larger larvae, or reproductively mature adults that fish are unable to prey on because of gape limitations are likely to be negatively impacted as a result of fish stocking because the diets of fish and salamanders largely overlap one another (Olenick and Gee 1981). (2) Hamilton (1941) reports that the piscicide rotenone has an LC50 value (i.e., causes 50% mortality) for metamorphosing Western Tiger Salamander larvae when 5% rotenone is applied at 0.1 mg/L for 24 hours. (3) The use of larval Western Tiger Salamanders as bait for sport fishing may have major impacts on Western Tiger Salamander populations and the entire aquatic community at both the site of collection and introduction because of their status as a top-level predator in many aquatic communities (Holomuzki and Collins 1987, Holomuzki et al. 1994). Furthermore, introduction can result in hybridization and genetic introgression with native populations, possibly leading to the elimination of distinct life histories and genetic makeups (Collins 1981, Collins et al. 1988). The bait industry’s use of salamander larvae may be quite extensive. For example, the average number and wholesale value of Western Tiger Salamander larvae in South Dakota wetlands was estimated at 35,625 and $1,614 per hectare, respectively, in 1989 (Carlson and Berry 1990) and Collins (1981) notes that in 1968 2.5 million salamander larvae were sold as bait on the lower Colorado River area alone. (4) Mass mortalities of Western Tiger Salamanders have been observed in agricultural landscapes in eastern Montana (Bryce Maxell, personal observation). Worthylake and Hovingh (1989) documented the recurring mass mortality of Western Tiger Salamanders in lakes contaminated with nitrogen from atmospheric pollution and the feces of sheep. The lakes were previously nitrogen limited and increased nitrogen levels allowed bacterial counts to increase in the summer leading to the mass mortality events. Pfenning et al. (1991) propose that contamination of waters through livestock defecation may alter life histories of Western Tiger Salamanders by limiting the number of cannibal morphs. Cannibal morphs may be more likely to spread pathogens as a result of eating infected conspecifics. Eutrophication of waters through fecal contamination may also cause planorbid snail numbers to rise, thereby increasing the number of nematode parasites and the rate of parasite infection that can subsequently lead to limb deformities (Bishop and Hamilton 1947). Finally, although they have not been linked to water quality, a number of recent mass mortality events have been caused by an iridovirus in the genus, Ranavirus (e.g., Bollinger et al. 1999). (5) Disturbance of terrestrial habitats by plowing and deep raking has been identified as a serious threat to a closely related species, the California Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma californiense
) which has recently been emergency listed as a federally endangered species (USDOI 2000). (6) Lefcort et al. (1997) found that waters contaminated with motor oil and silt resulted in decreased growth and survival rates of Western Tiger Salamander larvae as well as decreasing their ability to detect predators. (7) Kiesecker (1996) and Whiteman et al. (1995) documented reduced growth rates, survival rates, predatory success rates, in waters with lower pH (< pH 5.0). Harte and Hoffman (1989) hypothesized that acid precipitation, in the form of an acidic pulse during snow melt, had killed salamander embryos and caused a decline of a population of Western Tiger Salamanders in central Colorado from 1982 to 1987. However, this population has now apparently recovered (Wissinger and Whiteman 1992), and there is little evidence that either chronic or episodic acidification occurs in this area at levels sufficient to directly kill embryos (Corn and Vertucci 1992, Vertucci and Corn 1994, Vertucci and Corn 1996). However, lower pH levels resulting from acidification could act synergistically with pathogens or other contaminants to cause population declines as a result of reduced function of their immune systems (Carey et al. 1999).
- Literature Cited AboveLegend: View Online Publication
- [USFWS] US Fish and Wildlife Service. 1964-1982. Fishery and aquatic management program in Yellowstone National Park annual project technical reports for calendar years 1964-1982. USDI Fish and Wildlife Service. Mammoth, WY.
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- Blair, A.P. 1951. Note on the herpetology of the Elk Mountains, Colorado. Copeia 1951: 239-240.
- Bollinger, T.K., J. Mao, D. Schock, R.M. Brigham, and V.G. Chinchar. 1999. Pathology, isolation, and preliminary molecular characterization of a novel iridovirus from tiger salamanders in Saskatchewan. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 35(3): 413-429.
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- Carlson, B.N. and C.R. Berry, Jr. 1990. Population size and economic value of aquatic bait species in palustrine wetlands of eastern South Dakota (USA). Prairie Naturalist 22(2): 119-128.
- Carpenter, C.C. 1953c. An ecological survey of the herpetofauna of the Grand Teton-Jackson Hole area of Wyoming. Copeia 1953: 170-174.
- Collins, J.P. 1981. Distribution, habitats and life history variation in the tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) in east-central and southeast Arizona. Copeia 1981(3): 666-675.
- Collins, J.P., T.R. Jones, and H.J. Berna. 1988. Conserving genetically distinctive populations: the case of the Huachuca tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum stebbinsi Lowe). In: Management of amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals in North America,
- Conant, R. and J.T. Collins 1998. A field guide to reptiles and amphibians of eastern and central North America. Third edition, expanded. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston, MA. 616 p.
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- Gehlbach, F.R. 1967a. Ambystoma tigrinum. Catalogue of American Amphibians and Reptiles. 52.1-52.4.
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- Geraghty, C.B. 1992. Current habitat status and anthropogenic impacts on the tiger salamander. University of Illinois-Masters Thesis. 67pp.
- Hamilton, H.L. 1941. The biological action of rotenone on freshwater animals. Proceedings of the Iowa Academy of Science 48:467-479.
- Harte, J. and E. Hoffman. 1989. Possible effects of acidic deposition on a Rocky Mountain population of the tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum). Conservation Biology 3(2): 149-158.
- Heath, A.G. 1975. Behavioral thermoregulation in high altitude tiger salamanders, Ambystoma tigrinum. Herpetologica 31(1): 84-93.
- Hill, S.R. 1995. Migratory chronology of adult tiger salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum) and survey of larvae of the tiger salamander in the northern range of Yellowstone National Park. Masters thesis, Montana State University. Bozeman, MT. 72 pp.
- Holomuzki, J.R. and J.P. Collins. 1987. Trophic dynamics of a top predator, Ambystoma tigrinum nebulosum (Caudata: Ambystomatidae), in a lentic community. Copeia 1987(4): 949-957.
- Holomuzki, J.R., J.P. Collins and P.E. Brunkow. 1994. Trophic control of fishless ponds by tiger salamander larvae. Oikos 71(1): 55-64.
- Irschick, D.J. and H.B. Shaffer. 1997. The polytypic species revisited: morphological differentiation among tiger salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum) (Amphibia: Caudata). Herpetologica 53(1): 30-49.
- Kaplan, R.H. 1980. The implications of ovum size variability for offspring fitness and clutch size within several populations of salamanders (Ambystoma). Evolution 34(1): 51-64.
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- Levi, H.W. and L.R. Levi. 1955. Neotenic salamanders, Ambystoma tigrinum, in the Elk Mountains of Colorado. Copeia 1955(4): 309.
- Madison, D.M., and L. Farrand, III. 1998. Habitat use during breeding and emigration in radio-implanted tiger salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum). Copeia 1998: 402-410.
- Maxell, B.A., P. Hendricks, M.T. Gates, and S. Lenard. 2009. Montana amphibian and reptile status assessment, literature review, and conservation plan, June 2009. Montana Natural Heritage Program. Helena, MT. 643 p.
- Micken, L. 1968. Some summer observations on the tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) in Blue Lake, Madison County, Montana. Proceedings of the Montana Academy of Sciences, Billings, Montana volume 28: 77-80.
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- Shaffer, H.B. and M.L. McKnight. 1996. The polytypic species revisited: genetic differentiation and molecular phylogenetics of the tiger salamander, Ambystoma tigrinum (Amphibia: Caudata) complex. Evolution 50(1): 417-433.
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- Werner, J.K. and J.D. Reichel. 1996. Amphibian and reptile monitoring/survey of the Kootenai National Forest: 1995. Montana Natural Heritage Program. Helena, MT. 115 pp.
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- Wissinger, S.A. and H.H. Whiteman. 1992. Fluctuation in a Rocky Mountain population of salamanders: anthropogenic acidification or natural variation? Journal of Herpetology 26(4):377-391
- Worthylake, K. M., and P. Hovingh. 1989. Mass mortality of salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum) by bacteria (Acinetobacter) in an oligotrophic seepage mountain lake. Great Basin Naturalist 49(3): 364-372.
- Additional ReferencesLegend: View Online Publication
Do you know of a citation we're missing?
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