Skip to Content

The Salamander’s Diet: This is What They Really Eat!

The Salamander’s Diet: This is What They Really Eat!

Amphibians are often thought of as being slimy and wet to the touch. The salamander gets the same bad reputation, though not all of them share this characteristic. In fact, in some cultures, this amphibian is placed on the same totem pole as a Phoenix, representing such symbolism as fire, immortality and passion. But what exactly does this small conquer eat in order to survive? And is that diet the same across the world?

What Do Salamanders Prey Upon?


What Do Salamanders Eat? 

Salamanders are considered opportunistic predators with a carnivorous feeding habit. The word “opportunistic” simply implies that they will eat an abundance of different options. They make the best of the environment and what resources are available. Salamanders tend to find their food during the evening hours, making them nocturnal. As for their diet, they typically consume maggots, worms, flies and crickets. 

Comparing the anatomy of a salamander to that of a frog, bird or even mammal allows us to see how successful they can be at hunting.


Salamander Taxonomy 

These amphibians are grouped together by their likeness of reptiles, taking on an aquatic lizard-like appearance. Regardless of how stocky the species is, all salamanders share a long tail, short legs and a blunt snout. These creatures are found under the order Urodela that holds the members of newts and salamanders. This can be broken up further to distinguish separate species from one another.

There are three separate suborders in Urodela that help to identify different types of salamanders.

With over 500 species, scientists have thought this a must. The first suborder, Cryptobranchoidea makes up the giant salamanders who are often more primitive in their morphology.

The second, Salamandroidea comprises the advanced salamanders. These members have a wider distribution and fused jaws for hunting.

Lastly is the suborder, Sirenoidea. They all are aquatic, using their external gills to survive.

Understanding the diversity within Urodela gives us a glimpse into what a salamander might choose to eat.

Their diet changes depending on the size of the individual, which suborder it belongs to and the surrounding environment.

Salamanders found in the wild generally have the same meal preferences though this can change depending on the species.


What Do Salamanders Eat in the Wild? 

Amphibians are quite the abundant order, having over 7,000 species alone. Take 500 species and you have the total number of the different salamanders. Although this might sound like a lot, it is quite the chunk. This is why looking at some of the more commonly studied species will help us truly understand the diet of these animals.


Spotted Salamander 

The spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) is a larger member of the suborder Salamandroidea or advanced salamanders. Older individuals can measure about 6 to 10 inches or 15 to 25 centimeters in body length. They are identified for their yellowish spots that always follow the length of the body in two rows.

Due to their tendency to burrow under the leaf litter, they will find nearby invertebrates. These include earthworms, slugs, centipedes and snails. The most common choice of diet are insects that can be easily hunted under logs.

They can be found dwelling in the deciduous forests of eastern North America. The spotted salamander will find places to hide such as leaf litter, fallen pieces of wood and underground tunnels.

As with most species, this salamander prefers to hunt in the later hours of the day, making them nocturnal.


Marbled Salamander 

The marbled salamander (Ambystoma opacum) is one of the smaller species, averaging at about 3 to 5 inches or 7 to 12 centimeters in length. As one would assume, it can be identified by its iconic marble-like patterns along the body. These can either be a mixture of grey or white patterns along a black undertone.

This animal is found in the United States, inhabiting such states as Florida, Oklahoma, eastern Texas and Missouri. They prefer moist forests or woodlands but can thrive in wet sandy environments or hillsides that may be drier.

Due to their tendency to burrow under the leaf litter, they will find nearby invertebrates. These include earthworms, slugs, centipedes and snails. The most common choice of diet are insects that can be easily hunted under logs.


Tiger Salamander 

When held next to a marbled salamander, the tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) is a behemoth. They’re known for their stocky bodies and iconic stripes from head to tail. These larger individuals are typically 6 to 8 inches or 15 to 20 centimeters. Interestingly, the younger individuals spend their lives in the water, becoming entirely terrestrial.

This species is distributed all across the United States, Mexico, and Canada, making them the most expansive salamander in North America. They can live in a variety of habitats such as deciduous forests, woodlands, open fields, grasslands, deserts, and meadows. On occasion, tiger salamanders can even be found in streams, though this is not common.

With such a widely distributed species, this salamander has to adapt to a number of different options in terms of a meal. Those in the wild of course prey upon the typical salamander diet including insects and earthworms. You may not expect, however, for them to consume larger items such as small mice, minnows and other amphibians. With a larger body and mouth comes a more diverse diet.



Remember the different suborders of salamanders? Well, the more archaic giant salamanders can be found in the group Cryptobranchoidea. The hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) is definitely more primitive when compared to the tiger salamander. These animals are described as being more primitive with a flattened head and body with smaller eyes. The biggest difference is that they lack the fusion of the bones in their lower jaw. They also are entirely aquatic.

Hellbenders are found in parts of the United States with large streams and quick currents where they tend to hide under large boulders.

Living in the water has its own separate challenges when it comes to finding a meal. This does not mean, however, that they are unsuccessful as many individuals live to 20 or 30 years of age in the wild.

A hellbender’s diet usually consists of crayfish, small fish, worms and mollusks that can be swallowed whole. They simply wait until the invertebrate approaches, acting as if they’re a rock before striking and engulfing these prey items.


How Do Salamanders Hunt Their Prey? 

The salamander is considered to be a strict carnivore, preying on other animals in order to survive. The majority of salamander species actually have small teeth located in their upper and lower jaws. Depending on the suborder and habitat, they may hunt in different manners.

More primitive species such as the hellbender do not have the ability to chew up their prey. This is due to the fact that their jaw bones are not fused. With the inability to move their mouth about in various motions, they have to resort to sucking in their prey and swallowing it whole. These less advanced salamanders are often aquatic, making it less impactful as the water helps catch their prey.

For those living on the land, they must adapt to a variety of options. Take the tiger salamander for instance. A larger and stronger jaw that can easily move around helps to capture prey like insects, arthropods, and fish. Without the adaptation of a fused jaw, they would not be able to expand their meal preferences.


Salamander Digestion 

Once the food is taken in, it must be properly absorbed into the body. Digestion is what allows an animal to gain nutrients.

Even if the food is not chewed, the salamander can digest it using the digestive tract. After being swallowed, the prey item moves down to the esophagus and to the stomach.

This is where digestion truly begins, where enzymes start to break down the food. It is then passed along through the small intestine. This body part is responsible for the absorption of nutrients into the body itself through the bloodstream. After moving along to the large intestine, the salamander can then remove the rest as waste.

Sound familiar? That’s because this process is near identical to that of our own.


How Do They Get Water? 

Have you ever seen a salamander reach down into the water to take a sip? Chances are that you haven’t since they get their daily intake of water through a different method. Mammals mainly obtain this requirement through the liquid they absorb in their food and through drinking. Amphibians, such as salamanders do something entirely different.

You may have heard that amphibians cannot thrive without the existence of a moist environment. This is because they actually absorb water through their skin. Salamanders have very thin skin, meaning that they can pass along the moisture directly to their circulatory system. This is how they are able to survive without the act of drinking. They also use their skin to breathe, taking in oxygen.


What Do Salamanders Eat in Captivity? 

It is fairly common for people to own salamanders of their own. The species of salamander that usually are chosen for personal herbariums include marbled, spotted and tiger salamanders, all of which are relatively easy to care for if given the proper diet and moisture.

When raising your own salamander, it is important to realize that they should be given various meat options. They are strict carnivores, after all.

The diet of an aquatic individual differs from those that are terrestrial. The axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum) is purely kept underwater, being fed brine shrimp and bloodworms.

Amphibian owners that have terrestrial salamanders such as the tiger salamander must meet these same dietary requirements, just through prey that they can hunt on land. Most choose to gut-load crickets, meaning that they are fed with the proper antibiotics and supplements.

In addition, those with land-dwelling salamanders can feed their animals’ mealworms, white worms, tubifex worms and on occasion, pinkies. Be sure to research the particular species before giving them a meal that is too big.




Do Salamanders Make Good Pets? 

Having a salamander as a pet is quite the experience. Sure, they aren’t your typical dog or cat but they do offer a variety of benefits. For one, they live for a long time. Tiger salamanders, for instance, usually last for about 25 years. They are also easy to take care of, needing the proper tank setup with added moisture. If fed properly and misted routinely, they can be a break from those time-consuming animals. They’re also less energetic and don’t require any exercise.


How Often Do Salamanders Need to Eat? 

One benefit to owning your own salamander is that they don’t need to be fed every day. The number of times per week varies based on the size and species of the individual. Usually, you can expect to give your salamander food every 2 to 3 times in a week.


Do Salamanders Swim? 

Consider the anatomy of a salamander. Even one that is terrestrial still has qualities that would aid them in the water. Their tails are designed to steer while swimming. Most species that swim also have webbed feet. Less aquatic species such as the tiger salamander aren’t all that proficient when it comes to swimming. These individuals have stockier bodies that can potentially weigh them down when placed in a body of water.


How Do Salamanders Breathe? 

This question was briefly discussed earlier on, though it wasn’t the full answer. Depending on the lifestyle, salamanders breathe in different ways. Those found on land are considered to be “lungless salamanders”, using their thin skin to take in oxygen. For more aquatic species such as sirens and hellbenders, they rely on their gills to breathe. Those with external gills, namely the axolotl, are often thought of as being permanently in the juvenile stage. This refers to the fact that all young salamanders start out living in the water, using their gills to survive until they can venture out on land.


What Predators Do Salamanders Have? 

Salamanders are in the middle of the food chain. Even the larger species have to watch out for crayfish, snakes, birds, frogs, fish, skunks and raccoons. Some individuals can fall prey to larger salamander species.


Do Salamanders Bite? 

It’s true that a salamander can bite as they often have small teeth, but that is the least of your worries. Amphibians such as the salamander commonly use mucous membranes to deter their predators. Those with bright markings use this visual aid as a reminder that they are poisonous. If you were to touch your eyes after handling an agitated salamander, you may experience some discomfort. In general, these amphibians make themselves scarce and will not intentionally seek you out. They prefer to remain hidden and left alone.


How Big is the Largest Salamander in the World? 

Some salamanders can reach lengths that would leave you speechless. Did you know that the largest salamander actually holds the record for being the heaviest amphibian in the world? The Chinese giant salamander (Andrias davidianus) grows to a staggering 55 pounds, sometimes even weighing as much as 66 pounds. As for the length, it reaches approximately 6 feet or 1.8 meters. This species is only found among the rocky mountain streams and lakes of China.


What’s the Difference Between a Salamander and a Newt? 

You may have heard a biologist mention both of these names before. In fact, a lot of people use these names to mean the same thing. When looking at the taxonomy behind a newt, it’s easy to see that they are closely related to salamanders, if not a direct relative.

Newts belong to the subfamily Pleurodelinae, which can be found under the family Salamandridae, or the true salamanders and newts. The main difference between this group and other salamanders is that they lack the grooves typically located on the body. Their skin is essentially rougher than that of a different species such as the tiger salamander. Another characteristic to differentiate the newt is in the tail. Newts have a tail resembling a paddle while the tail of a salamander is more rounded. Newts are essentially a type of salamander.

The salamander is considered by most to be either a slimy amphibian or an interesting pet. With thin skin and short legs, they prefer to stay hidden until the evening approaches. When out hunting for food, the terrestrial species find various insects, slugs, snails and worms. Those who stay in the water primarily feed off of fish. Overall, the salamander is an avid carnivore with the ability to survive both on land and in the water.