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Tiger salamander photo by Bill Love.
I’ve always liked salamanders, due in part to my exposure to them as a little kid. Once again I’ll reminisce about the fun I had looking for reptiles and amphibians in the woods of northern New Jersey. There was a brook in the woods across the street from my house and it provided some prime salamander habitat. Overturning rocks and rotted wooden logs among the skunk cabbage, poison ivy and other vegetation sometimes would yield a salamander, and that always made a day herping in those woods a great one.
I don’t remember now precisely what kind of salamanders I found back then. Perusing the Peterson guide several choices become apparent. Reddish coloration rings a vague bell, so maybe I came across the red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus), as its range does encompass New Jersey. So does the range of a variety of other species, so who knows.
Once I began keeping reptiles and amphibians in earnest, my pet salamanders of choice were Ambystoma species, predominantly tiger salamanders (A. tigrinum) and spotted salamanders (A. maculatum). Some people may not consider salamanders as animals that would display much personality, but mine always learned to recognize me and would emerge from their hiding places when they saw me approach their enclosures. I always kept them in a woodland setup, with soil substrate, moss, bark, etc. Usually the salamanders would be secreted under a bark slab, but if you looked closely you could see them peering out. And sure enough, when I would come up to the vivarium they would emerge because that sometimes meant it was time to be fed. Their food of choice was earthworms.
The robust salamanders of the Ambystoma genus also tolerated handling better than more fragile, slender salamanders. This was one reason why I liked them so much, in addition to the fact that they just looked really cool. Don’t take this as an endorsement to handle salamanders frequently, though. Compared to reptile skin, amphibian skin is fragile and more susceptible to injury. Amphibians are best kept as display animals and not handled.
In my newt blog I mentioned a vivarium I once set up that contained a small waterfall , and a water area that turned into a death trap for a couple of emperor newts. The base enclosure I used was a 60-gallon aquarium. I remember when I first set it up, and how great it looked. There were a variety of live plants in it, rocks, branches, the waterfall – it really looked like a little slice of nature. Upon initial setup, ...