Spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum) are large salamanders found naturally throughout most of eastern North America. They generally grow 6 to 7 inches long and make great, low-maintenance pets. These terrestrial amphibians are colorful and fun to watch, although they tend to be shy and timid and may spend a good part of the day hiding when you first bring them home. Some spotted salamanders will grow accustomed to their human companions and may even willingly take food from tongs or fingers. Proper care ensures a long, happy life for your pet.
House your spotted salamander in an appropriately sized glass aquarium with a wire mesh top. A 10-gallon tank is suitable for two adult salamanders or several young. Increase the habitat size if you're keeping a greater number of salamanders.
Place a thick layer of substrate in the bottom of the aquarium to keep your salamander moist and to provide material for burrowing. Ground pine bark works well because it retains water while posing little risk of bacterial or fungal growth. Ground peat moss and coconut mulch are good alternatives. Avoid cedar and other substrates with harsh oils or odors, as these are not safe for your pet. Whatever substrate you use must remain damp, but not wet, and be replaced every month.
Add large pieces of bark or small logs for climbing on and hiding under. Watch out for accessories with sharp edges and rough textures. Salamanders have delicate skin that is easily irritated and injured.
Provide your salamander with water by misting the tank daily and by spraying the substrate with unchlorinated water to form brief, shallow pools. Salamanders do not drink like other animals; they take in water through their skin and cloaca, which is an all-purpose opening in the pelvic region.
Skip lights and heaters, as these are not necessary. General room lighting is sufficient for your salamander. If you decide to use tank lighting, make sure it does not negatively alter the tank's temperature. Salamanders like it cool, or about 50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid temperatures above 75 degrees to prevent illness.
Feed your pet a few times each week, or more often if your veterinarian recommends it. Salamanders are not picky eaters, but they are carnivorous and won't accept vegetable snacks. Buy earthworms or crickets at your local pet store for convenience.
Handle your amphibian friend as little as possible, and only after cleaning and wetting your hands. Keep contact short to avoid raising your pet's body temperature to a dangerous level. Also, keep your hands low to the ground when holding your salamander in case he decides to jump.
Remove uneaten insects and check the tank regularly for signs of mold or other problems. Change the substrate monthly and clean the rest of the tank as needed.
Sandra Ketcham has nearly two decades of experience writing and editing for major websites and magazines. Her work appears in numerous web and print publications, including "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution," "The Tampa Bay Times," Visit Florida, "USA Today," AOL's Gadling and "Kraze Magazine."