from the wild side
IDENTIFICATION — If you have salamanders around, you’ll probably never know it because they spend a lot of time in leaf litter and their underground burrows. But they’re great to have in the garden because every night they come out to devour a gardener’s worst enemy — slugs! They also eat snails, worms and a variety of small insects. Adults are black to gray with yellow spots. Spot size and placement vary among individuals. At up to 13 in. long, the tiger salamander is one of the largest of its kind.
Tiger salamanders live in just about any habitat where there’s a small body of water nearby for breeding. They’re found throughout the central and eastern United States, southern Canada and central Mexico.
LIFE CYCLE — Most adult tiger salamanders overwinter in their burrows. In early spring, often before the ice has even melted, females lay 30 to 50 eggs in underwater vegetation. The young are born with gills and live in the water until summer when they metamorphose, or change, so they can live on land. Tiger salamanders can live up to 20 years.
When frightened, adults secrete a milky toxin from glands on their backs and tails. Always wash your hands after handling a salamander because this toxin is slightly poisonous.
HOW TO ATTRACT IT — Provide undisturbed areas where they can dig burrows and some leaf litter for them to hide in. Mulch part of your garden with dead leaves or leave a pile in the corner of your yard. It’ll provide shelter for salamanders and add nutrients to the soil as it breaks down.