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Do Newts and Salamanders Make Good Pets? Five Points to Consider

Crested Newt

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Rainer Theuer.

Despite my very wide interests (my career with animals has, quite literally, spanned ants to elephants!), I’ve always been partial to newts and salamanders. I focused on them from my earliest days working for the Bronx Zoo, and had the good fortune to author two books on their care and breeding. As pets and zoo specimens, they range from nearly impossible to keep to being among the longest lived of all captive herps (to age 50+, for the Fire and Japanese Giant Salamanders). The following points, drawn from a lifetime of working with these wonderful creatures in zoos, the field, and at home, are useful to consider before embarking on your amphibian-keeping venture.


Note: The terms “newt” and “salamander” do not always correspond with taxonomic relationships. All newts may be correctly called “salamanders”, but generally we consider newts to be those species that spend most of their time in water and salamanders to be more terrestrial. However, the term “salamander” is also used for many completely aquatic animals, such as the mudpuppy and hellbender…so call them what you wish!


As the care of different species varies greatly, please post below if you have specific questions, or would like a link to an article on a certain species.


Marbled Salamander

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Spacewater7

Newts and Salamanders are “Hands-Off” Pets

Fire Salamanders, Tiger Salamanders, Ribbed Newts and some others are often responsive to their owners, and will readily feed from the hand. However, they should be picked-up only when necessary, and then with wet hands. All amphibians have extremely delicate skin, and even microscopic tears will allow harmful bacteria to enter and cause havoc.


Also, all produce toxic secretions designed to repel predators. The toxins of several North American salamanders have caused temporary blindness when rubbed into handlers’ eyes, and the ingestion of California Newts (apparently some sort of college ritual) has resulted in fatalities. Severe irritations are to be expected if these toxins find their way onto broken skin or mucus membranes. Obviously, this is a special consideration for those with young children at home.


Well-cared-for newts and salamanders will reward you by exhibiting fascinating behaviors…but not if you disturb them with unnecessary handling!


Eastern Newt

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Brian Gratwicke

Clean Terrariums and Excellent Water Quality are Essential

Newts and salamanders absorb water through the skin, and along with that water comes any associated pollutants. The most common of these is ammonia, which is excreted with the waste products. Most newts and salamanders are as or even more sensitive to water quality than are tropical fishes, since they absorb water over a greater surface area.


Ammonia test kits, partial water changes and strong filtration are critical to success in keeping amphibians. Substrate needs the same attention as does water, as terrestrial species can be poisoned by ammonia-soaked moss or soil.


Newts and Salamanders Need a Varied Diet

No species will thrive long-term on a diet comprised solely of crickets. Earthworms can be used as a dietary staple for most newts and salamanders; it would be wise to locate a source and perhaps set up a colony before purchasing your pet (please see the article linked below). I’ve done well by relying upon wild-caught invertebrates during the warmer months. Moths, beetles, tree crickets, harvestmen, “smooth” caterpillars and a variety of others are accepted – usually far more enthusiastically than are crickets! Please see these articles for tips on collecting insects.


Useful invertebrates that you can buy include roaches, butterworms, calciworms, silkworms, and sow bugs.


t246151Newts are simpler to feed than are terrestrial species, as nearly all (i.e. Red-Spotted, Crested, Paddle-tailed, Ribbed) will accept Zoo Med Aquatic Newt Food and Reptomin. These foods can anchor the diet, with live blackworms (sold in many pet stores as tropical fish food), guppies, chopped earthworms and small crickets being offered on occasion.


Spotted Salamanders, Red Efts and other terrestrial species will accept live food only.


Many Newts and Salamanders are Heat Sensitive

Average household temperatures are too warm for the vast majority of newts and salamanders. Even those native to seasonally hot regions, such as the Spotted and Marbled Salamanders of the American Southeast or North Africa’s Fire Salamanders, live in cool micro-habitats (often below-ground). Sustained temperatures above 75 F (and, for many, above 70 F) weaken the immune system and increase susceptibility to bacterial and fungal skin infections. A cool basement is the ideal location for most species.


If you must keep your pets in a warm room, several of the more tolerant newts should be considered. Please post below for further information.


Northern Slimey Salamander

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Patrick Coin

The “It Doesn’t Do Anything” Factor

Ideally, the new amphibian owner will be interested in her or his pet for its own sake. But most of us also wish to see how it lives, what it does, and so on. Many amphibians are about as active as the infamous “pet rock”…and are nocturnal to boot!


If you favor an active pet, consider a diurnal newt that forages for rather than ambushes its food, and keep it in a large, naturalistic aquarium. Six Fire-Bellied Newts in a well-planted 20 gallon tank will provide you with infinitely more to observe than will an equal number of Marbled Salamanders housed in a terrarium of the same size.


Some nocturnal species may adjust to daytime schedules once they settle into their new homes. Tiger and Fire Salamanders are especially accommodating in this regard. Red night-viewing bulbs will greatly increase your ability to observe Slimy Salamanders and other strictly nocturnal species.




Further Reading

Earthworm Care and Breeding

Newt Care

Fire Salamander Care

Pet Newts: Spanish Ribbed Newt Care and Breeding

Spanish Ribbed Newts

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Peter Halasz

Newts of all kinds are very popular with amphibian keepers. Although most in the trade are quite small, one of the hardiest and most personable is a true newt giant. The attractive Spanish Ribbed Newt (Pleurodeles waltl) can reach 12 inches in length, and is stoutly-built. They are easy to breed – an important consideration as wild populations are threatened – and quickly learn to feed from the hand. And, as you’ll see below, they employ on of the animal world’s most unique defensive strategies (pets, however, become so tame that they never feel the need to defend themselves!).


Newts and salamanders have always held a special fascination for me. Beginning in childhood, I sought to breed as many species as possible, and I focused on their husbandry and conservation when I entered the zoo field. In time, I wrote a book summarizing my experiences. The passage of so many years has not dulled my enthusiasm for any of these fascinating amphibians, but the Ribbed Newt has always been a personal favorite.


A Note on the term “Newt”

The term “newt” is usually applied to small, semi-aquatic salamanders in the family Salamandridae. The group’s 80+ species range throughout North America, Asia, Europe and parts of North Africa. The Ribbed Newt may reach 12 inches in length, but most newts top out at 4-6 inches.


Ribbed Newt

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Peter Halasz


Spanish Ribbed Newts are generally grayish-brown in color, but some exhibit yellow or green hues, while others are nearly black. Rows of yellow to orange “warts” (poison glands) line the upper edge of the body. Amazingly, distressed individuals will contract their bodies and force the ribs right through the back’s skin, directly over these glands. The toxins contained therein are thus in a position to thwart most predators.


Neotenic adults (bearing gills and totally aquatic, but able to reproduce) have been found in the wild and reported by hobbyists and lab caretakers. A strain of leucistic (white in color) Ribbed Newts has been developed by private breeders.


The largest Ribbed Newt I’ve encountered was built like a well-fed Tiger Salamander, and measured just over 12 inches in length. Most adults top out at 8-9 inches.


Two related species, rarely if ever seen in the pet trade, are classified in the genus Pleurodeles.


Habitat type

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Óðinn

Range and Habitat

The Spanish Ribbed Newt is limited in range to Spain, Portugal and Morocco, and is generally found in arid habitats. Highly aquatic, it favors temporary and permanent ponds, swamps, canals, and other stagnant or slow-moving bodies of water. In Morocco, Ribbed Newts have been found living in cave waterways 100 feet below-ground.



Ribbed Newts are always nosing about for food, exploring, and interacting with tank-mates. They see well and may swim to the aquarium’s side when you enter the room, in anticipation of a meal.


Handle newts only when necessary, and with wet hands, so that the skin’s protective mucus covering is not removed.



Ribbed Newts are almost entirely aquatic, but do need a place to haul out and rest. The water in their aquarium can be deep, provided that egress is simple…cork bark, turtle platforms, and floating live or plastic plants all serve well as resting spots.


Newts are perfectly suited to aquariums stocked with live plants, and spectacular displays can be easily arranged. Plants help maintain water quality, and the complex environments they create make life more interesting for both newt and newt-owner alike.



Smooth, rounded gravel of a size that cannot be swallowed is ideal; rough stones will injure the delicate skin.  Bare-bottomed tanks, which are easily kept clean, may also be used.


Water Quality

In common with other amphibians, Ribbed Newts have porous skin that allows for the absorption of harmful chemicals. Careful attention to water quality is essential.


An aquarium pH test kit  should always be on hand. Ribbed Newts fare well at a pH of 6.5 to 7.5, with 7.0 being ideal.


Ammonia, excreted as a waste product and produced via organic decomposition, is colorless, odorless and extremely lethal to all amphibians; a test kit should be used to monitor its levels.


Chlorine and chloramine must be removed from water used for any amphibian. Liquid preparations  are highly effective and work instantly.


Copper may be leached by old water pipes; a test kit should be used if you suspect its presence.



Undergravelsponge,  and most other filters designed for use with fish, reptiles and amphibians can all be used in Ribbed Newt aquariums. Even with filtration, regular partial water changes are essential in keeping ammonia levels in check.


As Ribbed Newts are not strong swimmers, water outflow from the filter should be mild; plants, rocks and movable outflow attachments can be used to reduce current strength.


Light and Heat

Newts do not require UVB exposure. UVA light is not essential, but may encourage natural behaviors.


Ribbed Newts fare best when kept fairly cool, i.e. 60-68 F., although temperatures to 72 F are usually well-tolerated. Temperatures consistently above 75 F may weaken the immune system or cause other health problems. Temperature tolerance seems to vary among populations, and may be linked to the portion of the range from which the animals originated.



Zoo Med Aquatic Newt Food and Reptomin Food Sticks can be used as the basis of the diet. Freeze-dried shrimp, “gelled insects”, and frozen fish foods (i.e. mosquito larvae) should be offered regularly.


A variety of live foods will help ensure a balanced diet. Blackworms, bloodworms, earthworms, guppies, small crickets and similar foods will be eagerly accepted. Stocking the aquarium with live blackworms and guppies will keep your pets active and occupied.



Ribbed Newts reproduce quite regularly in captivity, and provide an excellent introduction to amphibian breeding. Breeding sometimes occurs spontaneously but results will be improved if you manipulate water temperatures and day length somewhat. Unlike many amphibians, Ribbed Newts may even breed following a 1-day change in water temperature. Please post below for detailed information on inducing reproduction and rearing the young.




Further Reading

Please check out Newts and Salamanders, a book I’ve written on their care and conservation.


Newt Toxins: personal observations


Amphibians as Pets – Common Frogs, Toads and Salamanders of the USA

Spottted Salamander

Downloaded to Wikipedia by Camazine

This article covers the care of several native amphibians that live in close proximity to people.  As a result, they sometimes wind up in yards, basements, window wells and other such places.  Most are also seen in pet stores.  While they can make interesting, long-lived pets, all have specific needs that must be met if they are to thrive.  The following information will give you an idea of what is involved caring for amphibians as pets; please see the articles linked below for more detailed information, and post any questions you may have.  If you find an injured animal, or wish to learn how to become a wildlife rehabilitator, please see this article.

It is important to bear in mind that captive-born specimens make far better pets than wild individuals, and that many species are protected by law. Read More »

Best Tadpole Foods (Based on my Experiences) – Seeking Additional Suggestions

tadpoleBreeding frogs and rearing tadpoles is one of the most enjoyable aspects of our hobby, and becoming ever more important to the survival of many species.  In the course of working with numerous species at home and in zoos, I’ve compiled a list of commercial foods that have proven especially useful as tadpole foods.  The variety of new food items that have appeared and the many frog species that have been recently bred by hobbyists have convinced me that it’s time to reach out see what new “wonder products” or ideas folks have tried. I have, therefore, highlighted some of the foods I’ve come to rely on, and would greatly appreciate hearing of your experiences with them and others. Thank you.

The Amazing Specialists

While the tadpoles of many commonly bred frogs (i.e. White’s Treefrog, Litoria caerulea) are omnivorous and take a variety of foods, others are specialists and will not survive unless their exacting requirements are met.  The tadpoles of African Clawed Frogs, Xenopus laevis and Malayan Leaf Frogs, Megophrys nasuta, for example, are filter feeders, while those of the African Bullfrog, Pyxicephalus adspersus, are as carnivorous as their pugnacious parents.  Poison Frog tadpoles of several species feed upon unfertilized eggs deposited by their mother, Goliath Frog, Conraua goliath, tadpoles consume a single species of algae, Fringe-Limbed Treefrog (Ecnomiohyla rabborum) tadpoles eat their father’s skin,  Brown Leaping Frog (Indirana semipalmata) tadpoles gnaw on wood (high up in trees!) …the list is fascinating.  Please post below if you would like information on these or other species. Read More »

The Best Filters for Axolotls, Clawed Frogs, Newts and Other Amphibians

BullfrogWith their highly-permeable skins, amphibians absorb ammonia and other pollutants over a greater surface area than do fishes.  Surinam Toads, Axolotls, tadpoles and other aquatic amphibians are most at risk from poor water quality, but even terrestrial species such as toads and Fire Salamanders can quickly succumb to water-borne toxins while soaking in terrarium pools. Keeping their water clean, both visibly and chemically, can be quite a challenge.

General Considerations

Natural History

Your pet’s natural history will determine the type of filter that should be used.  For example, newts and Dwarf Clawed Frogs will be stressed by fast currents, Hellbenders are extra-sensitive to water quality, many species are prone to bacterial attack in highly-oxygenated waters, and so on.  Please post below if you need help in selecting a filter.

Types of Filtration

Biological filtration, wherein aerobic bacteria convert ammonia to less harmful compounds (nitrites and nitrates), is the most important of the three basic filtration processes. Ammonia enters the water via dead animals and plants, uneaten food and the occupants’ waste products. The organisms involved in the process, Nitrosomas and Nitrobacter bacteria, live on substrates that are bathed with oxygenated water (i.e. gravel, filter pads). Read More »

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