A friendly and often colorful amphibian, the salamander can make a fun and enchanting pet that doesn’t require a lot of space. Although they look much like lizards to many people, salamanders tend to have longer, leaner bodies and lack the hard, protective scales found on reptiles. Unlike lizards that often frequent dry areas, the salamander is a water-loving creature that has soft, moist skin. He can make an excellent pet and will even learn to recognize you when you’re on your way to his habitat with dinner.
In the wild, salamanders catch and consume live foods such as crickets, spiders and beetles. These provide the essential protein and other nutrients that salamanders need to survive. They may also eat butterflies, moths, earthworms and anything else they can catch. Captive salamanders enjoy much the same foods, but you may need to get a bit creative if you are going to provide your pal with a live diet throughout the year. Most pet shops carry at least one or two types of live foods that your salamander will eat.
For much of your salamander’s diet, preparation consists of going out and catching bugs for him to eat. You can collect insects outdoors in the long grass, using a net or a jar to trap them, or you can raise crickets and mealworms in your home or garage. If no live food is available, or if you are not interested in going out and catching bugs, you can try feeding small strips of liver or beef heart, preferably enhanced with some salamander-safe vitamins to provide a more balanced diet.
Young salamanders, called larvae, need food that is small enough for them to swallow easily, such as daphnia and other tiny creatures. As the salamanders grow they can be fed increasingly larger food items including brine shrimp, tubifex worms and chopped earthworms. When you first get them, feed these tiny amphibians carefully, since pet shop salamanders may not have eaten for a while, and too much food too fast can make them ill. Feed them small amounts several times each day.
Many adult salamanders prefer to catch and eat live prey and they will refuse any dead, frozen or dried foods, even if it is the same thing they are used to eating in live form. Each type of salamander has its favorite prey, so try to match the food to the salamander. Most types will happily eat slugs and snails, millipedes, crickets, spiders and moths, but you can help your pet along by providing him with his favorite meal every day. The eastern hellbender salamander, for instance, enjoy an occasional crayfish, while the northern slimy salamander prefers ants as a part of his diet. If you must feed dead foods, try making the food wiggle a bit, to give your salamander the illusion that he’s catching live prey.
Some good salamander resources:
N.Y. Falls Wildlife: Salamanders and Newts
Axolotls: Metamorphosed Axolotls & Tiger Salamanders