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

Western Hognose Snake: Care, Color Morphs and Natural History

North America’s Hognose Snakes are well-known for their impressive defensive displays. I’ve found the Eastern Hognose in its natural habitat and have bred it for a release program during my tenure at the Bronx Zoo. But as this snake limits its diet to toads, it is rarely seen in zoos or private collections. The Western Hognose Snake (Heterodon nasicus), on the other hand, has gained a following among snake-keepers that is usually reserved for rat snakes, boas, and pythons. It seems to be the most popular of the “non-typical” snakes kept, at least here in the USA. Reasons for this abound, including a “viper-like” appearance, dramatic defensive display, calm demeanor, non-demanding diet, and willingness to reproduce. Selective breeders have been thrilled with this species as well – as evidenced by the astonishing 52 “designer color morphs” that have been produced!


Weastern Hognose snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Dawson

I’ve also had the good fortune to work with the very impressive Madagascan Giant Hognose Snake (Leioheterodon madagascariensis); please see the article linked below for further information.



Two snakes formerly considered to be subspecies of the Western Hognose Snake have now been described as full species – the Dusky Hognose (H. gloydi) and the Mexican Hognose (H. kennerlyi). Also included in the genus are the Eastern Hognose Snake and the Southern Hognose (H. platyrhinos, and H. simus, see photos).



The Western Hognose Snake is heavily-built, yellowish-tan, gray, or dark brown in color, and marked with black blotches. Upturned rostral scales on the snout assist it in burrowing and unearthing prey. Adults average 2 feet in length, but appear larger due to the thickness of their bodies; the published record size is 35 ¼ inches.


I was surprised to find that the number of color morphs available now rivals those established for those two pet trade heavyweights, the Ball Python and Corn Snake. At least 52 color and pattern variations, with fanciful names such as Albino Super Anaconda, Coral, and Pistachio, are now being offered. You can see photos of many at the site linked below.


Type habitat

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Dustin M. Ramsey.

Range and Habitat

The Western Hognose Snake’s range extends from southeastern Alberta to northwestern Manitoba, Canada, and south to southeastern Arizona, Texas and northern Mexico; isolated populations may be found in Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Missouri.


Largely terrestrial and often sheltering below ground, the Western Hognose favors open habitats such as sandy or sand/gravel prairies, thorn scrub, and lightly wooded grasslands, and has been found to elevations of 8,000 feet above sea level.


Temperament in Captivity

Western Hognose Snakes are rear-fanged, and produce mild venom that is used to overcome their prey. They are not considered to be dangerous to people, but the consequences of allergic reactions or of a bite to a child, senior citizen or immune-compromised individual should be considered. Consult your doctor before acquiring any rear-fanged snake.


Puff Adder

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Johannes van Rooyen

When cornered, the Western Hognose Snake flattens the body and hisses loudly, after which it strikes, usually with a closed mouth. When pressed further, it may roll over and feign death. Captives soon give up this charade, which in any case is rarely as dramatic as that put on the Eastern Hognose.


Many people see a close resemblance between this snake and the several rattlesnake species that share its range. As you can see from the photo, a similar appearance and display is seen in other Viperids as well, such as Africa’s Puff Adder.


The Terrarium

Youngsters may be accommodated in 10 gallon aquariums. Average-sized adults can be kept in a 20 gallon long-style aquarium, with a 30 gallon being preferable for extra-large individuals or pairs. The tank’s screen lid must be secured by cage clips, as they are very powerful, even by snake standards.


Natural burrowers, Western Hognose Snakes are most comfortable below-ground. A deep layer of cypress mulch or aspen is preferable to newspapers as a substrate. I’ve kept Eastern Hognose Snakes on a sand/gravel mix, but the possibility of impactions has been raised by some keepers; please post below for further information.


Native to arid environments, Western Hognose Snakes do not fare well in damp enclosures.


Eastern Hognose Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Bladerunner8u

Heat and Light

Western Hognose Snakes do well at a temperature gradient of 75-82 F. An incandescent bulb or sub-tank heat pad should be used to create a basking spot of 90 F.


A ceramic heater, heat pad, or red/black reptile night bulb can be employed to provide heat after dark.



Not nearly as picky as its east coast cousin, the Western Hognose takes toads, lizards, other snakes, rodents and the eggs of turtles, lizards, and birds with equal gusto.; locusts and other large invertebrates have also been reported as food items.  I recall one study in which this species was identified as the major nest predator of an endangered turtle (the details escape me right now).


Captive adults readily accept mice, but hatchlings prefer lizard or toad-scented pink mice at first (some keepers report that water from canned tuna also works well). In time, they can be weaned onto unscented mice.



In their natural habitat, Western Hognose Snakes breed from March-May, and females deposit 4-25 eggs approximately 3 months later. The 6-7.5 inch long youngsters hatch in 7-9 weeks, and are sexually mature at 2-3 years of age. The published longevity for this species is just short of 20 years.


Pets are not so closely tied to the seasons as are wild individuals. Please post below for detailed information on captive breeding.


 Further Reading

Madagascar Giant Hognose Snake Care

Western Hognose Color Morphs

The USA’s Only Native Rear-Fanged Vine Snake: Care and Natural History

Mexican Vine Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by berichard

Although I’ve cared for Latin American and Asian vine snakes in zoos, and have searched their natural habitats, I had somehow missed the fact that one occurs in my own country, the USA. In extreme south-central Arizona may be found a “tropical-looking” snake seems somewhat out-of-place (to me, at least!) – the Mexican or Brown Vine Snake (Oxybelis aeneus). Being rear-fanged, high strung and quite demanding as to its diet, the Mexican Vine Snake is not recommended for other than well-experienced keepers. However, in both behavior and appearance it is most fascinating, and well-worth more interest and study.



Range and Habitat

Habitat type

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Sergio Sertão

 As mentioned, the Mexican Vine Snake is unique among similar species in that its range extends into the USA…but just barely. The US population is limited to the Atascosa, Patagonia and Pajarito Mountains in the south-central tip of Arizona. The remainder of its range is huge, extending from Mexico to Brazil, Peru, and Bolivia, and including the islands of Margarita, Trinidad and Tobago.

The Mexican Vine Snake inhabits relatively arid environments, including dry forest edges, overgrown thickets, wooded grasslands, brushy hillsides and densely-vegetated canyons. In common with the other 3 species in the genus, it is entirely arboreal.

Size and Coloration

Mexican Vine Snakes are very thin and “vine-like” in profile (no surprises there!). Although somberly-colored, their various shades of gray, silver and copper blend together in an attractive manner. A dark line extends from the snout through the eye and down the neck. The chin and area below the eyes are usually bright yellow in color. Typical adults measure 4 1/2 – 5 feet in length.

The Mexican Vine Snake is a rear-fanged species that uses venom to kill its prey (please see below).

Green Vine Snake, Oxybelisfulgidus

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Dimitri Eggenberger.

Also included in the genus Oxybelis are three other Latin American species, the Green Vine Snake (please see photo), Cope’s Vine Snake, and Roatan Vine Snake.

The Terrarium

Mexican Vine Snakes are best housed in large, vertically-oriented terrariums or custom-built cages. Zoo Med’s Repti-Breeze cage would be a good choice for a moderately-sized individual, but a large adult would require more room.

Climbing space is essential. The enclosure should be provided with numerous branches and tangles of real or artificial vines. Ideally, their living quarters should also be stocked with live plants, which will provide a sense of security and hiding spots. Hanging potted pothos has worked well for me. Most individuals prefer sheltering among plants and vines to hollow cork bark or other arboreal caves. If live plants are not used, hanging artificial plants and dry Spanish moss may be substituted. Mexican Vine Snakes will not thrive in small enclosures, or if denied above-ground cover.

t255908Like many arboreal snakes, Mexican Vine Snakes will drink water sprayed onto the body; some will also accept water from a bowl. As they do not take well to disturbances, cypress mulch or similar materials that allow for spot-cleaning are preferable to newspapers as a substrate. The cage should be located in a quiet area of the home. An ambient temperature range of 75- 80 F is ideal, with a basking site set at 88 F.

Some keepers believe that low levels of UVB light and UVA exposure are beneficial to this and related species.

Asian Green Vine Snake consuming frog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by L. Shyamal


The natural diet is comprised of lizards, treefrogs and small birds; small arboreal rodents and insects may also be taken, but detailed field studies are lacking. Brown Anoles, Mediterranean Geckos and several other small lizards that have been introduced to Florida are the most reliably-available captive foods (in my experience, anoles were favored over others). Chicks and pink or fuzzy mice are taken by some individuals. The use of large food items has been linked to intestinal blockages, and I’m not certain that a rodent-only diet would be ideal long-term.

Youngsters feed primarily upon frogs and lizards, and usually refuse all else. Scenting a pink mouse leg with a frog or anole may induce feeding.

Care Notes

Waste must be removed in a manner that does not disturb the snake or expose one to a bite. The cage should be misted lightly each day, but dry conditions should prevail. As individuals offered for sale will likely be wild-caught, a veterinary exam is recommended for all new additions to your collection.


Captive breeding has rarely been accomplished, and is not well-documented in the literature. Research into this area by private keepers would be most valuable to this snake and its relatives. Field observations indicate that 4-8 eggs are typically produced.

Green Vine Snake Threat Display

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Jayendra Chiplunkar


Mexican Vine Snakes are notoriously high-strung, and should be viewed as creatures to observe rather than handle. When approached, they open the mouth to expose its black interior and strike repeatedly (please see photo of Asian Green Vine Snake threat display).

Although the venom produced is not considered dangerous to people, the possibility of an allergic reaction, and the consequences of a bite to a child, elderly person, or immune-compromised individual, must be considered. Your doctor should be consulted before a rear-fanged snake of any species is acquired.

Blunt Headed Treesnake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Geoff Gallice

Other Vine Snakes

Asian snakes of the genus Ahaetulla also go by the common name of “vine snake”. Although they closely resemble the New World species in form and habits, they do not appear to be closely related. Several are available in the trade from time to time. I’ve kept the strikingly-beautiful Green or Long-Nose Asian Vine Snake (Ahaetulla nasuta; please see photos) at the Bronx Zoo – the experience was well-worth the time and energy invested in its care! Please post below for further information.

The Cloudy Snail-Eating Snake, Blunt-Headed Treesnake (please see photo) and 1-2 others of the genus Imantodes sometimes appear in the pet trade under various “vine snake” names as well.


Further Reading

Rough and Smooth Green Snake Care

Keeping Snakes in Planted Terrariums

Choosing the Best Turtle Filters: 10 Vital Points

Red Eared Sliders

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Flicka

Red Eared Sliders and other semi-aquatic and aquatic turtles have just about everything one could ask for in a reptile pet – fascinating behaviors, responsiveness, breeding potential, beautiful coloration and shell patterns and with proper care, the ability to outlive scores of dogs and other “lesser beasts”.   But however how much we may enjoy them (and I know folks with collections numbering 100 to 2,000+!), keeping their water clean, both for clarity and health reasons, can be a frustrating and time consuming task. Today I’ll review some useful points to consider when deciding upon a filter. Please post your own experiences, thoughts, and questions below.


mediaA Note on the Various Models

We turtle enthusiasts are fortunate to have available a huge array of different filters designed for use with turtles. But when you consider also the traditional fish filters that also suit turtles, the choices can be overwhelming. I favor the Zoo Med Turtle Clean (please see photo) for most species, but submersible models, basking site/filter combinations, hanging types and others are all useful in certain situations. Please post below for detailed information on your particular turtle and aquarium.


Ease of Maintenance

However well-intentioned we may be, filter media changes tend to be put-off if they take too much time and effort. This becomes ever more important as one’s turtle collection grows. If you think this may be a concern, consider filters that require mere seconds to maintain, such as the Tetra Whisper In-Tank Filter.



Spotted, Bog and other turtles adapted to slow-moving water bodies cannot abide strong currents in their aquarium; the same is true for hatchlings of nearly all species. An overly-powerful filter outflow can even be a source of stress to large Cooters and Map Turtles, many of which are good swimmers that inhabit large rivers.


Some filters, such as Zoo Med’s Turtle Clean and the Ovation Submersible, have spray bars that allow us to control the force and direction of the filter’s output. Rocks and other objects may be used to modify the outflow of other models.



Soft-shelled Turtles, young Common Snappers, Reeves Turtles and many others fare best when kept at a water depth that allows the head to break the surface without the need for swimming. Filters designed primarily for use with fish generally do not function in partially-filled aquariums. Fortunately, most hanging, canister, and submersible turtle filters will work in shallow water…as low as 2 inches in some cases.


Water Changes

Bear in mind that regular partial water changes will be necessary, even with powerful filters. In easily-serviced tanks, this fact has allowed me to use small, inexpensive filters which would not be sufficient if frequent water changes were difficult to carry-out.


Feed Outside of the Aquarium!

Removing your turtles from the aquarium for feeding is perhaps the most important step you can take towards easing both your own and the filter’s workload. Please see the article linked below for further information.


Indian Flap-shell Turtle

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Adityamadhav83

Eliminate Substrate Where Possible

Gravel and river rocks will add to the difficulties involved in keeping your water clear; impactions from swallowed substrate are also a concern. Chinese and other Softshells do best when a sandy substrate is provided, but most others can be kept in bare-bottomed aquariums. Regularly sweeping a brine shrimp net across the tank’s bottom will aid in maintaining water quality.


Consider Your Pet’s Size and Vigor

Turtles are very hard on filters, heaters and decorations, sometimes seeming to take a perverse pleasure in destroying our efforts on their behalf! Look into the size and power of suction cups, and how intake tubes attach to hanging filters, before making your decision. Please post below if you need information on specific models.


Use the Largest Enclosure Possible

Fish keepers learned long ago that larger aquariums are “more forgiving” of water quality mistakes than are small tanks. While there are many variables, the same holds true for turtles. Even if you keep small species, always provide them with as much space as is feasible. You’ll be able to use a more powerful filter, and water changes may be less critical…plus, you’ll improve your turtle’s quality of life and be treated to a variety of interesting observations.


Backyard pond

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Tomwsulcer

Consider Outdoor Ponds

If weather and space (and finances!) permit, koi and goldfish ponds and filters are wonderful options. Nothing tops natural sunlight and an influx of insects in maintaining turtle health, and egg-deposition sites, almost impossible to include in aquariums, are easily arranged.



Further Reading

The Best Turtle Filters

Turtle Water Quality

Slider, Map and Painted Turtle Care

Frog Diets: Supplement Raises Poison Frog Egg Output & Tadpole Survival

Srawberry Poison Frog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Sarefo

Tulane University researchers have published an important study concerning captive frog nutrition that should be of interest to all amphibian and reptile keepers. A colony of Strawberry Poison Frogs (Oophaga pumilio) was maintained on a diet comprised of fruit flies. When carotenoids were added to the fruit fly diet, the frogs produced significantly more eggs, and a greater number of tadpoles survived through metamorphosis. The Vitamin A deficiency found among some of the animals was also reversed.


Nutritional deficiencies are common in both private and public amphibian collections, partly because of the limited dietary variety we are able to provide. Adding carotenoids (which are pigments produced by plants) to the diet of feeder insects may be a simple means of improving health and reproductive output – especially important in these times of unprecedented amphibian declines. Please see also the links under “Further Reading” for other articles I’ve written on supplementing cricket diets with carotenoids and Vitamin A deficiency in frogs.


Fruit Flies

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by TheAlphaWolf

Carotenoid Function and Sources

Various plant pigments known as carotenoids are responsible for the yellow-orange color of egg yolks and skin among a huge array of animals. They also play a role in neonatal health, benefit the immune system by acting as antioxidants and function in the reproductive system. Animals cannot manufacture carotenoids but rather must obtain them from their diet.


In the Tulane University study (Zoo Biology, V32, N6), the fruit fly medium’s carotenoid content was increased by the addition of Spirulina, red phaffia yeast and powdered marine algae. Studies have also shown that the provision of fruits and vegetables increases the carotenoid content of crickets; please see links below.


O. pumilio (Panama color phase)

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Dendrotoine85

Effects on Reproduction and Survival

Sixty-two pairs of Strawberry Poison Frogs were included in the study. The increased tadpole survival was attributed to higher quality eggs being produced by female frogs. Infertile eggs, which are deposited by females as food for their tadpoles, were also believed to be of higher nutritional value following carotenoid supplementation.


A number of the animals were found to suffer from a Vitamin A deficiency. This condition was reversed over the course of the study. Many animals convert carotenoids to Vitamin A, so it is theorized that the addition of carotenoids to the fruit fly medium was responsible. As many frog enthusiasts know, the all-too-common condition known as “Short Tongue Syndrome” has been linked diets low in Vitamin A. If your frogs or toads are having difficulty catching insects, please see the link below, or post here for further information on this disorder.


Further Reading

Adding Carotenoids to Cricket Diets


Carotenoid Supplementation may Brighten Frog Colors


Do Your Frogs have Trouble Catching Insects?

Scroll To Top