Home | Amphibians | The Eastern Newt – the Many Subspecies and Hybrids of a Poplar Pet – Part 1

The Eastern Newt – the Many Subspecies and Hybrids of a Poplar Pet – Part 1

Eastern NewtThe Eastern Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens) is, in most parts of the USA, the salamander most likely to be encountered in either the wild or in pet stores.  It is a wonderful species for beginning hobbyists, yet has such a complicated life style that even long-experienced herpetologists remain interested in keeping them.

Many unusual hybrids, varying color phases and related species have found their way into captivity.  Today I’ll touch on their care and feeding; I’ll discuss some of the many types available in Part 2.

The Newt Aquarium

Newts in the adult, aquatic phase are simple to maintain at home.  Typical room temperatures suit them well – they are more tolerant of warmer temperatures than are most salamanders, and also remain active at 50-55 F.

An aquarium equipped with a small filter, resting platform and screen cover will meet their needs.  Eastern Newts are not destructive to complicated setups, so elaborate habitats containing live plants can be arranged.

Captive breeding is possible, with normal fluctuations in home temperatures often being enough to stimulate reproduction…please write in for further information.


Unlike most amphibians, Eastern Newts thrive on relatively simple diets comprised of dry foods – Reptomin with Shrimp http://www.thatpetplace.com/pet/group/2548/product.web is an excellent choice as a staple; blackworms, guppy fry, chopped earthworms, brine shrimp and small insects are appreciated.

Eastern Newt in leavesMost Eastern Newt populations pass through a 1 to 3 year-long terrestrial stage, during which time they are known as Efts.  The orange or red Efts (please see photo) consume tiny crickets, blackworms, sow bugs, chopped earthworms, and whatever tiny invertebrates might be collected, but will not usually accept dry foods.

Related Species, Subspecies and Hybrids

The Eastern Newt is part of an interesting complex of several species and subspecies within the family Salamandridae.  Most average 4-5 inches in length and inhabit quiet waters supporting heavy plant growth.

Their color ranges from tan through dark brown to nearly black, and most sport black-rimmed red dots and broken or continuous red stripes along the dorsal surface. The abdomen is yellow to orange. Adult males develop hind legs that are noticeably thicker than those of the females.

Most Eastern Newt subspecies and even related species interbreed with one another in the wild and captivity, giving rise to animals with a variety of unique color patterns. 

Further Reading

Please see this article for a detailed account of this newt’s unique 3-part life cycle and natural history.

Very interesting video showing a pair of courting Eastern Newts.

Eastern Newt image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Patrick Coin
Eastern Newtin leaves image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by J Carmichael


  1. avatar

    I have a red eft currently. He seems to be doing pretty well but I’m a little bit concerned of maybe a loss in color. I feed him earth worms, and my dad will be going to the store shortly for crickets, vitamin supplements, calcium supplements, and commercial food to add on to his current diet. I have a pool for him in the corner… It’s an area of water probably a good 5″ by 5″ anyway divided with a partition. The rest is damp soil with a hollow log, a tall flat rock, 3 plants, moss, leaves, and sticks. His humidity is kept around 90-95% as I read red efts are more active during higher humidity. He likes hiding under moss and climbing vines and I’m pretty sure his behavior is normal. But what can I do about the loss in color?

    • avatar

      Hello Karah,

      Thanks for your interest.

      Color change can occur before the eft sheds (they eat the skin but appear brighter just after), and may also vary with humidity, age, temperature and diet. Usually it’s not a concern, health-wise.

      Be sure to use an instant de-chlorinator, available at most pet stores, for the water you spray into the terrarium and put in the pool. Until you get this, leave water out in an open container for 24 hrs, after which time te chlorine will have dissipated.

      Best to use sheet moss to cover the soil, along with some dead leaves; sphagnum moss also works well. Constant contact with soil may cause abrasions, esp. if it dries. Moss will also retain water, keep the humidity up.

      Earthworms are among the best of foods and can form the bulk of the diet, and are easy to coat with supplements. Use crickets less frequently, and purchase only ¼ or ½ inch long youngsters; larger are hard on the digestive system. You can easily raise earthworms to ensure a continuous supply of small ones. Please see this article.

      Blackworms are available at some pet stores; offer in a jar lid sunk into the ground. Sowbugs/pillbugs can be collected from pesticide free areas or purchased; good calcium source. Leaf litter invertebrates – tiny beetles, springtails, slugs – are important foods in the wild and can also be collected; please see this article. Variety is important, but less so if you rely heavily upon earthworms.

      In time, the eft will begin to stay mainly in the pool, change color and transform into the adult stage. It will need a different set-up, but care is much simpler from that point on (will feed on pellets, dry food).

      Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  2. avatar

    I was also wondering, If i could house maybe a spotted salamander along with my red eft once he turns into an eastern newt? I have a vernal pool about 20 minutes from my house which is just crawling with spotted salamanders! They swim EVERYWHERE in there.

    • avatar

      Hello Karah,

      Nice to hear from you again. You’re fortunate to have a spotted salamander breeding site so close; they are becoming scarce I may places. The adults only stay in the water for a short time, to lay eggs (large, round masses attached to sticks, plants). After that they return to land, spending most of their time in underground burrows and below deep leaf litter. When the eft returns to water it will need more of an aquarium-type set-up, with a resting place. So it’s difficult to house the 2 together as their habitats are so different. Also, spotteds are somewhat sensitive to temperature; in summer, normal house temps are often to warm for them. A cool basement or air conditioned room is best. The larvae have gills, feed upon live blackworms, chopped earthworms, etc., and transform into tiny salamanders by sunmmer’s end. If you have a cool spot for them, they can make good pets, and soon lose their shyness and will not need to burrow. Some have lived into their 20’s, perhaps longer.

      Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    So if I was to catch a spotted salamander, I should have to buy a whole new terrarium for it? Or would it be better to just leave them be since they’re becoming more scarce? Also, I keep the humidity high and temp high for my red eft, but he isnt very active. He’s always burried under moss… is this a bad sign, or is it normal?

    • avatar

      Hello Karah

      Spotted Salamanders are protected in many states and should not be collected. You can check the larvae’s progress in the pool by netting some every week or so for a closer look…it’s amazing how fast they grow.

      Efts and most other salamanders spend most of their time in hiding. Efts are a bit bolder than most, due to their highly toxic skins, but unless driven by hunger they too tend to keep out of sight.

      Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  4. avatar

    I also have noticed my newt isn’t eating. But I’ve had him for 3 weeks so he’s obviously living off of something. I give him earthworms mealworms crickets and freeze dried shrimp and it doesn’t appear he is eating any of it to me and the crickets are 1/4 size and also the mealworms are freeze dried

    • avatar

      Hello Karah,

      Red efts will not take freeze-dried food; only live (in the aquatic stage, they will take dry foods). Count the crickets, so that you can tell if any are eaten. Earthworms may be hard to find if they burrow before being eaten, although they will come to the surface again at night; try sinking a shallow bowl into the substrate and putting them there…they will climb out eventually, but perhaps he will get them first. Blackworms, sold in pet stores as fish food, will remain in a shallow bowl until eaten.

      The eft may be able to fast for 2 weeks, so it’s not certain that he has eaten. They are not the easiest of salamanders to keep; if you cannot confirm that he is eating soon, it would be best to release him where he was found.

      Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

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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