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Please see here for more background information on this animal’s natural history and life cycle in the wild.
Despite living largely underground in the wild, captive spotted salamanders adjust well to artificial caves and shelters, where they are more easily observed. Well-adjusted captives quickly lose their secretive, nocturnal ways, and will eagerly accept food offered by plastic feeding tongs. If attention is paid to their needs, especially as concerns temperature (see below), these stocky, brilliantly marked salamanders make long-lived and hardy pets.
Space and Other Physical Requirements
If provided with a deep (6-12 inches) substrate, spotted salamanders will establish burrows that will be defended and used consistently. Products such as Zoo Med Eco Earth and R-Zilla Fir/Sphagnum Moss Bedding, with a bit of top soil mixed in, work well as substrates. The surface should be covered with living or dried sheet moss, such as R-Zilla Compressed Frog Moss. You can spot clean this type of set-up or occasionally remove the top layer of substrate – living plants in the terrarium will aid in absorbing the salamander’s waste products.
Another useful tip in maintaining cleanliness is to establish a colony of isopods (sow bugs or pill bugs) in the terrarium. These small crustaceans can easily be collected below rocks and leaf litter. They are excellent salamander food and avidly consume feces, dead insects and decaying moss (a bit of fish flake food added occasionally will keep them in top shape and assure that they reproduce).
Land snails are also excellent scavengers, and both they and isopods are fascinating creatures in their own rights. Snails usually reproduce readily in captivity, and small specimens will be eagerly devoured by spotted salamanders.
A single adult spotted salamander requires an enclosure of approximately the size of a 10 gallon aquarium.
Spotted salamanders may also be kept in ventilated sweater boxes on sheet moss or paper towels. Each animal should be provided an individual artificial cave or cork bark shelter.
Light, Heat and Humidity
Spotted salamanders favor cool temperatures, retreating far below-ground during the summer months. They do best at 60-70 F, and are stressed by temperatures over 76 F. Cool basements make ideal sites for their terrariums, especially during the summer months. My own basement maintains an air temperature of 50-54 F in the winter, during which time the salamanders continue to feed. The drop in temperature is good for their health, and helps to maintain normal activity patterns and to spur breeding.
Breathing largely through their skin, spotted salamanders require moist conditions – their terrarium should be misted with de-chlorinated (not distilled) water daily. Free-living adults rarely enter water other than for breeding, but a shallow, easily-exited water bowl will be utilized by captives.
Humidity should not be raised by covering the terrarium with plastic – salamanders require circulating air and should be housed in screen-covered enclosures. In stagnant air conditions, temperatures rise and fungus often attacks the skin.
Spotted salamanders do not require a UVB light source. If you keep live plants in the terrarium, be sure to use a low output UVB bulb, such as the Reptisun 2.0, as too much UVB can damage the eyes of these and other amphibians. Check also that the bulb does not cause temperatures to spike.
If you keep your salamanders in an unlit basement, it is a good idea to provide a light cycle for them in the form of a weak room light or fluorescent tank light. They will do fine in complete darkness, but a day/night period is preferable, especially if you plan on breeding your animals.
Check back next Monday for the conclusion of this article. The image above is referenced from the Spotted Salamander entry on Wikipedia.