How to Create a Salamander Habitat
A salamander habitat must replicate the damp, dark living conditions that salamanders in nature thrive in. Large salamanders such as the tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) and the spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) live healthily in captivity, but they need a damp substrate to burrow in to prevent their skin from drying out. Taking salamanders from the wild is illegal in many areas, so buy your salamander from a reputable supplier.
An aquarium tank or large plastic container and lid provides a safe habitat for a salamander. Salamander skin is sensitive to chemicals, so don't use soaps or detergents to clean your salamander's home -- or, if you do, rinse thoroughly with plenty of clean water. A 10-gallon aquarium or container is sufficient space for a single adult tiger or spotted salamander, and two salamanders live comfortably in a 20-gallon home. You can mix or match genders; just make sure they're all about the same size, or the larger salamander might prey on the smaller one. Male and female salamanders housed together rarely breed. To prevent escape, cover an aquarium tank with a wire mesh, or use a tight-fitting lid on a container and drill small holes every 2 inches for ventilation.
A deep layer of earth helps recreate a salamander's natural habitat. Your salamander's home should have a layer of earth at least 4 inches deep. You can use moist garden soil, provided you're sure it's free of chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides, and contains no amendments such as manure or vermiculite. Moistened coco fiber, or a 50/50 mixture of sterile potting soil and sand, also works well. Chlorine and other chemicals added to tap water irritate salamander skin. Use bottled spring water or tap water that's been treated to remove chemicals when moistening the earth layer. Don't use peat moss, which is acidic, or gravel, bark chips or other substances with sharp edges in your salamander's home. Cedar and pine wood products are poisonous to salamanders.
Hiding places and a shallow dish of water are important in a salamander habitat. Large flat stones, pieces of driftwood or bark, and commercial salamander caves give your salamander somewhere to hide. Tiger and spotted salamanders don't need water to drink because they absorb it through their skins, but a shallow dish of water gives your salamander somewhere to soak. Plants aren't necessary, but they give your salamander's home a natural look. Add plants in pots to make cleaning easier and prevent your salamander from digging them up, or push plastic or silk plants into the soil.
A salamander needs even temperatures and protection from heat in his habitat. Place your salamander's home away from direct heat sources, such as heaters or radiators, and in an area that never receives direct sunlight -- so away from windows. Tiger salamanders are most comfortable at about 72 degrees Fahrenheit, and spotted salamanders prefer temperatures between 50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures higher than 75 degrees Fahrenheit are harmful to spotted salamanders, and tiger salamanders can't tolerate temperatures higher than 78 degrees Fahrenheit. Ordinary room lighting during the day and darkness at night are all the light a salamander needs, but don't place your salamander's habitat near a bright light, because he'll stay hidden to avoid it.