Wild Files: It’s our Nature
By Chadd Cawson Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Chinese New Year was celebrated across the world on January 22, marking the transition from the 2022 water tiger to the 2023 water rabbit. The type of tiger we see around waters such as the Columbia River and many of its tributaries is the tiger salamander.
Worldwide, there are 410 species of salamanders; 21 of those are native to Canada, including the tiger salamander, one of the largest terrestrial salamanders in North America. With an average lifespan of 12 to 15 years, adult salamanders grow to an average length of 20 cm. The largest species of salamander in the world is the Chinese giant salamander – typically 183 centimetres (cm) long.
Much like tigers, tiger salamanders also have markings on their back, heads, and tails which can range in hue from a brownish to greenish yellow, while their bodies themselves vary from dark brown, grey, or black. Tiger salamanders, like other mole salamanders, have five toes on each of their hind feet, and four toes on their front. They are known for their strong legs, thick neck, short snout, and lengthy tail, although the female’s tail is shorter and does not flatten like the male’s during breeding season.
The love dance looks a little different for every creature. Courtship for the salamander begins with nudging and tail lashing. The lashing of the tails prompts the male salamander to deposit a sperm packet called a spermatophore either on the ground or on debris in a vernal pool. The female then retrieves it with her vent. Females lay their eggs every other year in water that is less than a metre deep. They can lay up to 120 eggs which usually become attached to stones or plants underwater in their nesting area. Salamanders mate in the winter, and the females lay their eggs in the spring.
Salamanders are cannibalistic
When it comes to diet, that of a tiger salamander mostly consists of small insects, worms, snails, slugs, and frogs. However, it is not that rare that a tiger salamander and will become cannibalistic and eat one of its own. Studies show that this type of cannibalism among salamanders stems from an overabundance of predators within an area and a lack of prey. If opportunity presents itself, the tiger salamander will also chow down on smaller salamanders, baby snakes (snakelets), and mice.
Threat of congress
A group of salamanders is called a congress and they can be quite a threat to most frog species. Immune to it themselves, tiger salamanders transmit the fungus batrachochytrium dendrobatidis which cause the disease, chytridiomycosis, in most amphibians. This disease not only ravages the skin of frogs and toads, but it also throws off their water and salt balance, causing heart failure. While chytridiomycosis is the biggest threat salamanders are the cause of, the biggest threat to them is the loss of wetlands, especially those with vernal pools. Tiger salamanders thrive in wetlands such as the Columbia Lake North wetlands near the headwaters of the Columbia River. This past December, The Nature Trust BC purchased 165 acres of this wetland that is crucial to the survival of much wildlife, including the tiger salamander. Without the conservation of wetlands such as this, salamanders will have to travel farther to find suitable breeding sites.
Hold that tiger salamander
Tiger salamanders are becoming more popular as pets. While their average life expectancy in the wild can range from 14 to 16 years, in captivity and cared for, they can live to the age of 25. They are known to quickly overcome their natural fear of humans, and studies show from inside their enclosures (they) will follow their keeper’s movements. Their skin is very delicate, so when attempting to hold one, they should be handled with care. Salamanders are not cold-blooded creatures but instead are sentient beings that can perceive things and fully feel pain and suffering like cats and dogs.
In some Indigenous cultures, and other cultures, the salamander’s symbolism is like that of the phoenix. It is believed that they can walk through flames without harm. They are associated with rebirth, immortality, power, and passion.