Tigers are one of the planet’s most ferocious predators. The largest of all the big cats, these animals are at the top of the food chain in their domain, which once spread across Asia and India.
Unfortunately, human population growth caused a loss of habitat and now these felines are on the verge of extinction. But another tiger lurks here on Long Island: a predator that rules its domain making a meal of anything that can fit into its powerful jaws lined with sharp teeth that snap down on its unsuspecting prey with incredible speed and ferocity.
That predator is the tiger salamander. It’s an amphibian, related to newts, not big furry cats. It is a monster though, growing to lengths of eight inches. It got its name from both its striped coloration and its attitude.
Big cats are known for the ability to hunt using stealth, camouflage, strength and quickness to overpower unsuspecting prey. Tiger salamanders do the same but from a different angle in the stealth and camouflage categories.
They are seldom seen, rarely venturing above the ground. These tigers spend 50 weeks a year underground. They are in a family of amphibians known as mole salamanders, which live like the moles in your yard. Although they are seen occasionally on warm rainy nights in the summer, they usually emerge in early February.
Often there is snow on the ground, but that does not deter these cold-blooded animals. Driven by the urge to pass on their genetics, they amass on the edges of ponds looking for suitable mates, romantically just in time for Valentine’s Day. Once mating is accomplished, they make a hasty retreat underground where they hunt all kinds of prey from earthworms and insects to small rodents, reptiles and other amphibians.
Sadly, tiger salamanders on LI are suffering the same fate as the big Asian cats. Many building projects that were undertaken here never gave a second thought to what lives under the soil. This suburban sprawl not only ruined their habitat, it entombed the mole salamander under parking lots, amusement parks and malls.
Tiger salamanders are still found in small pockets, mostly on the East End, the last stand for this amazing creature in our area. Environmentalists have given the tiger salamander a voice and many builders now have to understand that just because a deer is bounding across a field, doesn’t mean there isn’t wildlife present.
There are tigers in fact! Another amazing animal living a peaceful coexistence on this wild Long Island.
Jungle Bob’s Reptile World is located at 984 Middle Country Rd. in Selden. It can be reached at junglebobsreptileworld.com 631-737-6474.