Look at Some Newts
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California newt slightly bigger than most newts
In General. Amphibians start their lives as totally aquatic tadpole-like critters. They eventually develop into aquatic or semi-aquatic critters that live in the water or on the edges of ponds. Toads venture the furthest from their aquatic origins. Newts (and salamanders) never lose their tails as the toads and frogs do. Technically you won’t find much difference twixt many newts and salamanders. Most newts like the water better than salamanders.
Not Salamanders. Most salamanders wander freely in humid weather. Our Iowa tiger salamanders frequently wander into basement window wells. They can stay nice and moist in a pile of wet leaves. Most newts won’t last long out of the water.
Not Lizards. Lizards live on dry land -- even deserts. As long as they have water to drink, lizards won’t dry out. Newts have no protective scales to keep them from drying out. Newts are shaped like lizards but are really nothing like lizards.
Mostly Aquatic. Most newts (unlike most toads and salamanders) are dependent upon water, but not as dependent as fish. Fish breathe water. Newts come to the surface for air. They hold their breath for an amazingly long time. Of course, they are not overly active, so they probably need little oxygen. Like frogs, they probably absorb some oxygen thru their moist skins.
Like to Explore. Newts depend upon water to support their weight. On dry land they are very clumsy and easily captured by predators. Uneaten newts on dry land will eventually dry out and die. However, neither threat (predators or death by desiccation) keeps them from crawling up the walls of their aquarium and going “exploring.” (They are not very high on the “smart’s ladder.”)
Escapers. For some unexplained reason (maybe population density), newts cannot resist the urge to crawl out of their tank and wander off. Their wet little bellies enable them to clamber up the glass and hit the road to freedom. They don’t get very far on a dry carpet. Make sure you keep yours covered.
Tank Size. Newts are small and breathe air. As a result, they put little demand on your tank’s ecosystem. And since they need no heater, you could even keep one alive in a fish-killing executive desktop aquarium. Plastic critter carriers with snap on lids work much better.
Islands. Some newt keepers recognize their climbing traits and provide a pile of rocks for them to climb on. They like to climb out of the water onto these rocks. Fire-bellies also like to climb under rocks. It probably lets them get their need to crawl out of their systems. You can decorate these islands with plastic plants and/or driftwood. One company even makes a floating, plastic water lily they will clamber upon. If you toss in several floating watersprite plants, they make nice flotation devices also.
Good Eaters. Frogs that live on land are on the picky side when it comes to eating. They want live insects on the hoof. Fire-belly newts adapt well to prepared foods. If you get a picky newt, give him frozen brine shrimp. Still not eating? Give him live black worms or small earthworms. If you can capture live mosquito larvae, you are providing their favorite snack.
Newt Foods. Most newts will eat a variety of foods including:
Frozen brine shrimp,
The only difficulty is getting these foods past your fishes. Fish are much more efficient food gatherers than newts.
Slow Eaters. If you keep fish with your newts (or vice versa), you’ll notice that newts react rather slowly to food as a stimulus. They are last in line at the chow table. They have some trouble figuring out where to look for food. But once they find it, most eat well (if the fish haven’t already licked the platter clean).
Paddle-Tail Comments. Paddle-tails will eat regular red-bellies, or at the very least torture them. Also, if you handle paddle-tails they leave a sticky residue on your hands -- one more reason not to crowd them. If you have little nicks in your hands (like you just handled a large iguana or big bird), you will really notice the slime from paddle-tails. It's stingy as well as sticky.
Most not Mean. Of course newts eat little fish. Everything eats little fish (including just slightly bigger little fish). But most fish move way too fast for a newt to capture. Newts like slower than average foods. And since they have no teeth, they would just bounce off larger fish.
Good Mixers. Most newts don’t really pick on your fish. For the most part, they are harmless (and curious) little bottom dwellers. The fish swim above their heads. The newts stay in the basement.
Mixing Sizes. Watch out when you mix species. Big newts eat little newts. Newts move slowly enough for other newts to capture them. When you add food, you may notice some of your newts chomping on the others’ feet. They smell the food and just start chomping at whatever gets close. If one newt is more than 50% larger than another newt, the small newt is in trouble.
Nasty Taste. Most amphibians give off a nasty tasting body slime. This discourages many predators from eating them. It can be an eye irritant. Always wash your hands after handling any amphibians. Another tip: Keep newts out of your mouth.
Temperature. Normal room or aquarium temperatures keep them happy and healthy. If you want to breed them, you’ll probably want to cool them a bit then add extra warmth.
Sexing. You can only tell the sexes at certain times of the year. During breeding season, the male’s testicles swell up by his back legs. Plenty of worms in their diet usually accelerate the breeding process.
Eggs. Newts lay their eggs in a protective, gelatinous mass. The snot-like blob protects the babies until they hatch.
Enemy Number 1. Keep crayfish out of your newt tank. Crayfish would probably rather eat foods other than your newts, but they will eat them for lack of anything better to do. The newts have zero defense against the crayfishes strong pincers. Don’t mix them.
Not Destructive. “Harmless” best describes most newt species. You’ll never see a newt tear up your aquarium decor. They have neither the will nor the muscle to do any damage whatsoever.
Caves. Lots of shy critters like to hide in caves. Newts like to climb in them and on top of them. They either have no fear or no smarts. You can decide.
Fire-Belly Newts. Red-bellied newts come from the orient. At least two species show up frequently -- a smooth-skinned one and a bumpy-skinned one. The rough-skinned newts are larger and more aggressive. The similar paddle-tails are even more aggressive.
Fire-belly newts readily eat the canned reptile sticks. This makes them a superior pet to the other species because they eat better. On the average they grow to about four inches long.
Golden Newts. Golden or (incorrectly) Oregon newts originally came from northern California. Though larger than the other newts, they are some of the hardest guys to feed. They rarely eat the canned reptile sticks. They usually hold out for live worms.
Eastern Newts. These little cuties come from our southeastern states. They like frozen brine shrimp. They are also “the most likely to be eaten” because of their small size. Make sure you keep your other newts in the tank well fed, so they’re not tempted to dine on each other. Sometimes called green-spotted newts, these guys love mosquito larvae. When bug-haters spray for mosquitoes in their home states, these newts disappear from the market for months at a time.
Mandarin Newts. These classy guys look like ceramic figurines. The bumps down their spines are a contrasting color to their darker bodies. They are not a neutral colored critter. They also prefer to spend a great deal of their time out of the water. They eat living foods. Keep them cool.
Bottom Dwellers. If you need an intriguing critter to prowl around the floor of your aquarium in search of tasty snacks, Mr. Newt could be the ticket.
Curiosities. Why keep newts? Because they’re weird little critters that will provide hours of amusement. They mix well with most community fishes. (Keep them away from large fishes.) They’re easy to feed, long-lived (if you keep them in water), non-destructive, cute, fun to watch, entertaining and certainly quite different from your usual run of the mill fish.
Words. Newts look like little underwater
people. Be sure to read Karel Kapek’s “War with the
A.J. Ferrino, August 5, 2010
A: Sounds like a good tip. I'm adding it to my newt page. LA
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