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

Description

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.

 

Behavior

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.

 

Housing

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.

 

Substrate

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.

 

Filtration

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.

 

t246151Feeding

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.

 

Breeding

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.

 

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.  Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.

 

Further Reading

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

 

Newt Toxins: personal observations

 

Frog Facts: New Species Has Fangs and Gives Birth to Live Tadpoles!

Limnonectes with tadpoles

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Djoko T. Iskandar, Ben J. Evans, Jimmy A. McGuire

While working at the Bronx Zoo, I had the good fortune to breed Kihansi Spray Toads – an endangered species that gives birth to fully-formed toadlets – and the amazing skin-brooding Surinam Toad. Yet these are but two examples of the amazing diversity of odd frog breeding strategies, none of which resemble what might be called “normal” frog behavior! Among the world’s 6,400+ frog species, we find tadpoles that eat bark, their mother’s eggs and even their father’s skin, along with parents that carry eggs or young in skin pouches, vocal sacs and even stomachs. None, however, were known to give birth to live tadpoles. As you’ll see below, a herpetologist’s extremely lucky catch, at just the right moment, changed that recently – one can only guess at what will come next!

 

Crested Macaque

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Yi Chen

Strange Frog in a Strange Land

The Indonesian island of Sulawesi, located between Borneo and the Philippines, is home to some of the world’s most unique and (to most of us) unexpected animals. From invertebrates to mammals, the island’s fauna is “rule-breaking” and astonishing (take a look at the Sulawesi Black “Ape”, pictured here). So the UC Berkeley biologists working there recently were well-used to surprises. But when a herpetologist grabbed at a frog and came up with a handful of tadpoles as well, he knew that new ground had been broken.

 

Fanged Frogs

The frog in question, Limnonectes larvaepartus, had been collected before, but has only now been recognized as a new species. Endemic to Sulawesi, it belongs to a little-studied group known as the Fanged Frogs. Armed with sharp bones that project from the lower jaw (similar to the odontoids borne by Horned Frogs and African Bullfrogs), male Fanged Frogs battle one another, presumably for mates and territory.

 

Tailed Frog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Mokele

Internal Fertilization and Live Birth

But where Limnonectes larvaepartus is concerned, peculiar dentition is only the beginning of the story. Following the timely capture of a female in the process of giving birth, it was determined that this new species also employs a new (to us, anyway!) form of reproduction. It is the only frog known to produce live tadpoles rather than eggs or small frogs. What’s more, fertilization is internal – a strategy used by only 8-10 of the world’s 6,455 frog species (including the USA’s Pacific and the Rocky Mountain Tailed Frogs; please see photo). The new species is described in the journal PLOS One (12-31-14, Iskander et al; see link below).

 

This discovery may help herpetologists to understand the evolution of the amazing diversity of Fanged Frogs on Sulawesi and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Many more than the currently described 62 species are expected to be found, and as with all creatures on Sulawesi, they likely hold wonderful surprises for us.

 

Habitat type

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Killerscene

Natural History of the New Species

We know very little about Limnonectes larvaepartus. There is some speculation that males may guard the tadpoles, but this remains to be confirmed. Females seem to rely upon small forest pools in which to deposit their tadpoles. This may be an attempt to reduce the threat of predation by larger relatives that inhabit nearby streams, but further research is needed.

 

Learning More About Amphibian Breeding Strategies

I can’t seem to stop writing about the amazing breeding strategies of frogs, caecilians and salamanders. Please see the articles below for more on wood-eating tadpoles and others. The article first describing Limnonectes larvaepartus is also linked.

Tree-Dwelling Tadpoles that Feed Upon Bark

Skin-Eating Tadpoles

Novel Reproductive Mode in a New Species of Fanged Frog

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

New Species of 2014: Fantastic Reptiles, Amphibians and Pterosaurs

Whether you prefer modern day or ancient reptiles and amphibians, 2014 was a banner year for new species discoveries. From dancing and thorn-bearing frogs to giant flying reptiles, there was something to evoke wonder in just about everyone. The following represent just the tip of the “new species iceberg”…please be sure to post your own favorites below.

 

Thorny Tree Frog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Animalparty

Thorny Tree Frog, Gracixalus lumarius

Dr. Jodi J. L. Rowley has been bringing undiscovered frogs and new information to light with amazing regularity, but this time she’s outdone herself. Sporting a pink belly and gold-flecked eyes, males of this aptly-named species are covered with thorn-like skin protuberances. Believed to advertise mating fitness, the ‘thorns” grow larger during the breeding season – yet another example of the amazing diversity of amphibian breeding strategies (see Dancing Frogs, below, for others).

 

The Thorny Tree Frog was found in a dense cloud forest in central Vietnam. Females deposit their eggs in water-filled tree cavities, but much remains unknown about other aspects of their life history. You can read the article describing this new species in the article linked below.

 

Brazilian Pterosaur, Caiujara dobruskii

I’ve always been fascinated by the extinct flying reptiles known as Pterosaurs, even more so visiting the American Museum of Natural History’s fantastic exhibit on their evolution (please see photo of related species).

 

Pteranodon sternbergi

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by FunkMonk

New species seekers must often be satisfied with a single specimen or, in the case of ancient creatures, a bone fragment. But the first individual of this species was found in the company of approximately 50 others of all ages and sizes – quite a treasure trove! Brazil’s new Pterosaur, which lived during the Cretaceous Period, appears to have been quite social.

 

Indian Dancing Frogs, Mixrixalus spp.

The tropical forests coating the Western Ghats Mountains of southern India are home to a huge array of previously-unknown amphibians and other creatures. In 2014 alone, 14 new Dancing Frogs have been described – more than have been described since the genus was created.

 

Indian Dancing Frog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by SathyabhamaDasBiju

Like other amphibians that live near swift-flowing streams, male Dancing Frogs have had to evolve novel ways of attracting females (their voices would not be heard over the rushing water). True to their name, the males’ solution is to twist, turn, and extend their feet outward in a variety of unusual “dancing” routines (please see photo)!

 

Sai Yok Bent-Toed Gecko, Cyritodactylus saiyok

Although measuring a mere 2.4 inches, this new-found lizard is quite striking. Colored in pearl gray and marked with jet-black stripes of varying shapes – some of which resemble handlebar moustaches – it resembles none of its many relatives.

 

The Sai Yok Bent-Toed Gecko is known only from several limestone cliffs in western Thailand, where it dwells in dry evergreen and bamboo forests. It is the 6th endemic reptile to be found in the region in recent years.

 

Sandantar Poison Frog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by ShareAlike 2.5

Geminis’ Poison Frog, Andinobates geminisae

This brilliantly-colored frog was at first thought to be a color variation of the well-known Strawberry Dart Poison Frog (Oophaga punilio). It dwells in a region that has been intensely-surveyed, so the revelation that it is quite distinct from its more common relative was something of a surprise.

 

Geminis’ Poison Frog is clad in “screaming” orange-red, similar to the related species pictured here, but without the areas of black coloration. It is known only from Panama’s Rio Belan Basin, where it seems limited to elevated sand ridges within rainforests. This unique habitat is under pressure from human immigration, mining exploration, and agricultural expansion.

 

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

 

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

Missing Frogs Found; Others Feared Extinct

Discovery and First Description of the Thorny Tree Frog

The 5 Best Holiday Gifts for Reptiles, Amphibians and Their Owners

Today I’d like to offer some gift suggestions for the herps and herp owners on your holiday shopping list. Several are items that we just never seem to think of, despite the fact that they can lighten our workload and improve our pets’ quality of life. Others can be classified as critical life support equipment for certain creatures. Included are some that I have tended to do without – until I saw how much easier life became with them! Please see the linked articles and post questions below if you’d like further information on any of the products covered here.

 

t255193ReptiTemp Digital Infrared Thermometer

I’ve highlighted the Zoo Med ReptiTemp Digital Infrared Thermometer in other gift-oriented articles, but it deserves a re-mention here. This wonderful product allows us to remotely sense temperatures and can also be set to continuously record. Most importantly, the critical task of establishing a temperature gradient is greatly simplified. Amazing technology for a very reasonable price…I was hooked on the idea from the moment I first used the original, bulky prototypes in zoos years ago.

 

Red Foot Tortoise

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by H. Zell

Forest Tortoise/Box Turtle and Grassland Tortoise Kits

American Box Turtles and many tortoises can make wonderful, long-lived pets, but their specific needs are not always fully understood by new owners. Our Forest Tortoise/Box Turtle and Grassland Tortoise Set-Ups contain much of what you’ll need when getting started with a variety of species, including Russian, Greek, Sulcata and Red-Foot Tortoises and American and Asian Box Turtles. I especially like the fact that Zoo Med products are included among the heating, UVB, diet and other supplies found in each kit.

 

mediaCork Bark

This suggestion may sound odd at first, but throughout my zoo-keeping and pet-keeping careers, cork bark has proven indispensable in so many ways – yet an ideal-sized piece is rarely at hand when needed! We ordered it by the skid-load at the Bronx Zoo, but always needed more.

 

Large rolled sections look great in terrariums and can serve as “hollow logs” for both arboreal and terrestrial snakes, lizards, frogs, tarantulas and others, while flat pieces make great sheltering spots for most anything that needs a place to hide. I wedge pieces between aquarium glass to create convenient, smooth resting sites for turtles, newts and frogs. By positioning the bark just below the water’s surface you can also provide the submerged sites favored by musk and other aquatic turtles and many amphibians. I could go on, and I’m sure most readers have found other uses as well. Trust me, the herpers on your gift list will appreciate all the cork bark you might send their way!

 

t243860Humidifiers and Rain Systems

Zoo Med’s Repti Fogger, with a 1-liter reservoir, will be very useful to those keeping Emerald Tree Boas, Red-Eyed treefrogs and other rainforest-adapted species. It may also help to stimulate breeding, and is nearly indispensable to rainforest herp fans living in dry climates.

 

The Exo-Terra Monsoon Rainfall System parallels models I’ve relied upon for years in zoos. Frogs and other herps that come into breeding condition in response to rain often respond to artificial showers as well. Able to deliver multiple “storms” ranging from 1 second to 2 hours in duration over a 24 hour period, the Monsoon System can be programmed to meet the needs of the species you keep.

 

Panther Chameleon

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Marc Staub

Portable Screen Cages

No bulb, no matter how well-designed, comes close to mimicking the UVA and UVB levels provided by the sun – even when it is shielded by clouds! Zoo Med Repti Breeze Screen Cages, available in 3 sizes, offer herp keepers a means of providing chameleons and other lizards with natural sunlight while assuring ample ventilation. An aluminum frame renders the cages very light in weight, so that carrying them outdoors is a snap (be sure take predators and possibility over-heating into account). Repti Breeze cages also make fine permanent homes for mantids and other insects, anoles and many other arboreal lizards.

 

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

More Herp-Oriented Gift Ideas

Constructing a Rain Chamber

 

CITES Listing Sought for Snapping Turtles, 3 Softshells: Do You Agree?

Common Snapping Turtle

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by D. Gordon E. Robertson

The US Fish & Wildlife Service is currently (December, 2014) seeking Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) protection for the Common Snapping Turtle and the Florida, Spiny, and Smooth Softshell Turtles. Each is being collected from the wild in ever increasing numbers and exported to Asian food and medicinal markets. With so many Asian species having been decimated by over-collection (please see article below), pressure on US species will surely increase. While several of the turtles involved are perceived to be common, recent export figures are grim. For example, approximately 2,178,000 live, wild-caught Snapping Turtles were exported from the USA between 2009 and 2011 (this excludes processed meat and eggs).

 

Unfortunately, government regulation sometimes raises hackles among pet keepers. Throughout my career as a herpetologist, I’ve worked on numerous cooperative ventures between government agencies and private keepers – all showed promise, but were also fraught with red tape and other problems. In my experience, many pet owners are pro-conservation, but remain frustrated by laws that prevent the ownership and breeding of at-risk species. Today I’ll outline the proposed CITES listing; your thoughts on the subject would be most appreciated – please post below.

 

Florida Softshell

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Johnskate17

The Scope of the Problem

When I began looking into the mercury content of food trade turtles some years ago (very high, by the way!), Florida Softshell Turtles (Apalone ferox) dominated the NYC markets. Today, one more commonly sees the Chinese Softshell (Pelodiscus sinensis). Although rare within its natural range, this hardy turtle is being bred in huge numbers on farms in China. This development may have eased some of the pressure on US natives, but certainly has not yet eliminated over-harvesting.

 

Florida Softshells have benefitted from canal construction in Florida, and have expanded their range as a result. However, they are quite easy to trap or catch via line. From 2009 to 2011 (the most recent years for which figures are available), approximately 792,000 live Florida Softshells and 260,000 eggs were exported from the USA.

 

Chinese softshell in food market

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Vmenkov

Spiny and Smooth Softshell Turtles (Apalone spinifera & A. mutica) are not as common as their larger cousin, and harder to collect. Several subspecies are rare, and almost all populations are in decline due to factors unrelated to hunting – habitat loss, stream channelization, etc. Still, approximately 158,000 live Spiny Softshells were captured and shipped to Asia from 2009 to 2011. As mentioned above, the Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) leads the pack, with over 2,000,000 wild-caught individuals exported during the same period. Huge quantities of processed turtle meat are also sold to overseas (and some local) markets.

 

What is the Effect of a CITES Listing?

If the US F&W Service’s proposal is approved, the 4 species would be listed on Appendix III of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This primarily affects international trade, and opens up a monitoring, rather than a regulatory, process.

 

Food market,  s. China

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Vmenkov

Pet-keeping per se is not affected. However, if monitoring reveals that a species is in need of further protection, federal and state laws that prohibit private ownership may be implemented. This is what worries some pet owners.

 

In addition to enhanced monitoring, an Appendix III listing has the following effects:

 

  1. Exporters must prove that the turtles were collected and shipped in accordance with all relevant state laws.

 

  1. Live turtles must be packed and shipped humanely, in accordance with the regulations established by the International Air Transport Agency.

 

  1. Foreign governments will theoretically give greater priority to the inspection of imported CITES-listed species. As a practical matter, most tend to cooperate more readily with the USA when protected species are involved.

 

If past experience is any guide, there will be many conflicting opinions concerning this topic. This is very useful, so please be sure to post your thoughts below. You can also register opinions with the US F&WS until 12-31-14; please let me know if you need more info.

 

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

The Asian Turtle Crisis

 

Text of the CITES Proposal

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