Newts are ideal for novice and experienced amphibian keepers. Their ability to thrive on commercial diets distinguishes them from almost all other amphibians, and is a relief for those who do not wish to deal with live insects. Most newts are brightly colored, active during the day, and may even become tame enough to be hand-fed. Some newts can live for over 20 years in captivity.
The term "newt" is not a scientific classification but is usually applied to small, semi-aquatic salamanders of the family Salmandridae. This family contains over 80 species that range throughout North America, Asia, and Europe. Male newts often develop bright colors and elaborate crests during the breeding season.
The following newts can be kept as described in this care sheet: Japanese Fire-Bellied Newts, Eastern (Red-Spotted) Newts, California Newts, Crested Newts, Marbled Newts, Ribbed Newts, Paddle-Tailed Newts, and Iranian Newts.
Newts start their lives in water, and after passing through a land-dwelling "eft" phase, return to the water for much of their adult lives. Newts offered in the pet trade are usually in their adult semi-aquatic stage.
Amphibians are not generally known for being active, but newts are an exception. They constantly search for food, explore their environment, and interact with tank mates. Newts see well and are very aware of their surroundings.
Setting up the Habitat
Although newts are well-adapted to life in the water, they do need a place to emerge and rest. The water in their aquarium can be deep as long as this requirement is met. Cork bark, floating platforms, gravel banks, and live or plastic plants
all work well as resting spots.
Newts are well-suited to aquariums stocked with live plants, making naturalistic displays possible. Plants also help maintain water quality and create complex environments for the inhabitants. Half-filled aquariums planted with floating and emergent plants make excellent newt habitats.
As newts easily climb glass, a secure cover is a must. A substrate of smooth, rounded gravel of a size that cannot be swallowed is ideal. Rough stones should be avoided as they can damage a newt's delicate skin. Leaving substrate out entirely is also an option, and makes tank cleaning very simple.
Newts excrete waste into the water in which they live, and their porous skin allows for the absorption of ammonia and other harmful chemicals. Careful attention to water quality is essential. Ammonia is also produced by the decomposition of organic material, such as excess food, and is colorless, odorless, and extremely lethal. An aquarium test kit should be used to monitor ammonia levels, as well as its less harmful by products. A test kit can also be used to measure the acidity or alkalinity of the water. A neutral pH (7.0) is ideal, with a range of 6.5 to 7.5 being acceptable.
Good filtration is also important, as most filters provide a surface for bacteria to break down ammonia into less harmful nitrite and nitrate. Nitrate itself will eventually accumulate in the aquarium and can only be reduced to safe levels with regular partial water changes.
Chlorine and chloramine must be removed from any water used with amphibians. Liquid water conditioners
which instantly remove these chemicals are readily available.
Copper is toxic at high levels and may be present in old pipes. A copper test kit
should be used if the presence of high copper levels is suspected.
are ideal for newt aquariums, as are under gravel filters
, sponge filters
, and small canister filters
. Most newts prefer relatively calm water, so outflow from the filter should be mild or deflected to avoid strong currents.
Light and Heat
Lighting requirements for newts are relatively simple. Standard fluorescent bulbs used for fish aquariums can be used to create a photoperiod of roughly 12 hours of light each day. Most newts thrive at room temperature, but fare best when kept cooler, at 60-68°F. Temperatures above 75°F may weaken the immune system, and prolonged exposure to high temperatures is often fatal.
While newts can be kept with some fish, they must be species that are small, non-aggressive, and adaptable to cool water. The number of fish should also be low enough to allow the newts to compete easily for food, as they are much slower to feed than most fish.
Newts are easily stressed by handling. Do so only when absolutely necessary, with wet hands to avoid damaging the protective mucus covering the newt's skin. Newts also produce toxins and handling should also be avoided for this reason.
Commercial Newt food
and other dry foods can be used as the main diet. Dried shrimp, frozen mosquito larvae, blackworms, bloodworms, earthworms, and other invertebrates can be offered regularly as a supplement. While live foods are not essential, they will help ensure a balanced diet. Newts can be provided 5-6 small meals per week or larger meals every other day. Stocking the aquarium with blackworms will keep them active and occupied.
Daily Care and Maintenance
Check daily for abrasions and other injuries, as newt skin is delicate and infection can set in quickly. Other daily tasks include checking the water temperature and filter, feeding, removing uneaten food, and cleaning the filter or performing a water change if necessary.
Newt skin glands produce tetrodotoxin, a powerful neurotoxin that can be fatal if ingested. Do not handle newts with open cuts on your hands. Tetrodotoxin can also cause temporary blindness if transferred to the eyes. For these reasons it is essential to wash your hands after handling newts or working in newt aquariums, and they should not be kept in locations where unsupervised children or pets could gain access to the tank.
Salmonella bacteria, commonly present in reptile and amphibian digestive tracts, can cause severe illnesses in people. Handling an animal will not cause an infection, as the bacteria must be ingested. Salmonella infections are easy to avoid via the use of proper hygiene. Wash your hands with warm, soapy water before and after handling any animal. Please speak with your family doctor or veterinarian for more tips on preventing Salmonella, or please read our care guide Cleaning and Disinfecting Recommendations
for additional instructions.
When it comes to your new pet, knowledge is the best way to choose an appropriate addition to your family. Learn as much as you can about your new friend before you bring him home to ensure your pet enjoys a long, healthy life.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact our reptile room at 717-299-5691 ext. 1246 or [email protected]