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The Natural History and Care of Newts – Japanese and Chinese Fire-bellied Newts

Please see The Natural History and Captive Care of Newts, Part I for general information.  Today we’ll take a look at newt that has long been popular with amphibian enthusiasts, the Japanese Fire-Bellied Newt (Cynops pyrrhogaster).  This species is often confused with the Chinese Fire-Bellied Newt, C. orientalis.  Chinese Fire Bellied Newts are smaller, with less-distinct paratoid glands and smoother skin (shown here in the photo of 2 submerged animals).  They can be cared for in much the same manner as their Japanese cousin.

Description and Range

Fire Belly NewtSometimes sold as the “Fire-Bellied Salamander”, this largely aquatic, 3-5 inch-long member of the family Salamandridae inhabits quiet, plant-choked waters in Japan.  Six fairly distinct races (“Kanto Race”, etc.) have been identified.

The upper surface of this newt is dark brown to jet black and sometimes slightly spotted with red, while the abdomen is strikingly patterned in orange or deep red. The bright coloration serves to warn potential predators of the powerful skin toxins.  Toxin-containing paratoid glands, similar to those possessed by toads, are located along the sides of the head.

Temperature Cautions

The Japanese Fire-Bellied Newt makes a hardy terrarium inhabitant but, like many of its relatives, becomes susceptible to fungal infections and skin diseases at temperatures over 76°F.  Cooler is almost always better when it comes to keeping newts…the Fire Belly will do fine at average room temperatures, and is most content at 65-68F.

Housing

An aquarium for adults can contain fairly deep water with floating cork bark or a plastic basking platform as a land area. They do not wander extensively on land or require land-based shelters, being content to float around on cork bark while they rest.  They show to their best advantage in tanks laden with live plants.

As Fire-Bellied Newts inhabit still waters, filtration should be mild…the smaller sizes of various Herp Filters are ideal.  Despite their aquatic nature, these newts can climb up the sides of glass, so the aquarium needs to be well-covered.

Diet

Fire Belly Newt in handJapanese Fire-Bellied Newts rely heavily upon scent to find their food and thus will accept Reptomin Select-A-Food, Gammarus Supplement and similar dried foods. Other favorites include live earthworms, blackworms, snails, tiny fishes, and insects. Like most newts, they become rather tame in captivity, readily accepting food from one’s fingers.

Breeding

Japanese Fire-Bellied Newts should be overwintered on wet moss at 40 to 50°F if breeding is to be successful. Courtship begins in the water with the male butting the female’s body with his head and blocking her progress should she try to move away. The paratoid glands are rubbed along her body and the tail is used to fan pheromones meant to stimulate her into courtship behavior.

The spermatophore is picked up by the female’s cloacal lips in typical salamander fashion. Eggs are individually attached to aquatic plants, with the tip of a leaf folded over each egg by the female. The incubation period is short, generally less than 2 weeks.

The larvae sport external gills and are best reared on blackworms, brine shrimp, mosquito larvae, bloodworms and similar live foods.  They develop into the semi-aquatic adult form within 2-4 months and attain sexual maturity at approximately 2 years of age.

Further Reading

You can read more about the genus Cynops at the American Museum of Natural History’s Amphibian Database.

A video of a C. orientalis shedding its skin is posted here.

 

 

Fire Belly Newt in hand image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Kenta Hayashi

11 comments

  1. avatar

    our newts are black with orange on thier bellys what kind are they?

    • avatar

      Hello,

      The 2 species described in the article can be difficult to distinguish, even when both are in hand; Japanese fire bellied newts are the most commonly seen species in the US pet trade,

      Please let me know if you need further information, Best, Frank

  2. avatar

    Hi sir
    I am planing a new 15gallon 2ft tank for a group of Cynops orentails.how many can i keep in a 15gallon fully aquatic setup? The tank will be bare bottom and filter by a big corner bubble filter with media. There will be some silk plants and a zoomed turtle dock.
    Thanks

    • avatar

      Hello,

      I would start with 6…you can keep 8-10, but better to start slow, let water quality settle in etc; you can add in future. Corner filters work well if provided a strong enough air pump. Also do a 25-50% water change each month, or smaller changes more often. Increasing the amount of real or artificial plants creates more usable space, and allow you to keep more…they tend to crawl up plants etc to the surface…they may become stressed if continually forced to swim to surface, enjoy and pl keep me posted, frank

  3. avatar

    hi Frank

    thanks for kind advice. do u think the turtle dock is useless or better a piece of driftwood instead?
    also my local pet shop has Cynops cryanus, do you know if Cynops cryanus is more heat tolerant than Cynops orentails? i am worried about high temps sometimes…

    thanks sir

    • avatar

      Hello,

      Turtle docks work very well for newts, as does driftwood and cork bark.

      Many newts are stressed by high temperatures. Most Cynops are somewhat hardy in this regard, adjusting to typical room temps well. Cynops cyanurus would likely be fine into the mid-high 70’s, perhaps higher, given its range and habitat. Sustained high temps may be a problem, however, please feel free to send detials, best, frank.

  4. avatar

    hi frank

    thanks for your expert advice. i started my newt tank below is my newt tank pictures link
    http://jclittlecriters.blogspot.sg/2015/03/1-newts-wow-wow-wow-these-are-very.html

    ya the Cynops orentails really like to climb on the big anubias plant and resting on the leaves. they are like playing among the plants. they are eating well and they seldom fight. i really like them being peaceful. i am keeping them at 25-26C. i think is pretty high temp for them. kinda worry about that…

    thanks sir

    • avatar

      Hi JC,

      Very nice tank and write-up, they should do well and maybe breed. Temps on high side but they often adjust,..much better re that than are the others you mention. Heat tolerance may depend on where in the range they, or their ancestors, originated. Enjoy, pl keep me posted, frank.

  5. avatar

    hi frank

    i just wanted to update on my Cynops orentails tank. i started out with 10 newts. but they do not seems to do well at high temps from ranging from 25-27C. 3 died of some white fungus on the limbs and body quickly. 1 smallest newt always stay on the floating dock and later die off…one thing i notice when temps go up high in 27C they surface to breathe more often. so i increased my aeration to very strong and keep changing 50% water every week, also i added “blue ice” blocks in the hot afternoons. this helps to stabilize them somehow. the remaining 6 newts seems ok for now. overall i think they don’t really do well in tropical temps.

    thanks sir

    • avatar

      Hello JC,

      Thanks for the feedback. Yes, cooler always preferable. They have a very wide range – origin of animals or their ancestors may explain why some fare better than others at warmer temps. The type of pathogens present in the tank will also play a role. Freezer packs can be very effective, if time consuming,. A friend used them with red salamanders for over 20 years…I have one of his animals now, age 35 or so! Best,. Frank

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.

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