Newt FAQ

Note: I've used the word "newt" here to refer to both newts and salamanders. When I wrote this, I had in mind the kinds of newts that my page deals with -- namely, firebellies, redspotteds, and cresteds, though everything here applies to most newts and salamanders except where noted.

What should I feed my newts?
Help! my newt won't eat!
My newt has a weird transparent thing hanging off it
Can I keep my newts with my other pets?
What is the difference between newts and salamanders?
I don't have to learn these scientific names, do I?
I just found a newt. What kind is it?
I think my newt is pregnant
How do you tell males from females?
I just got a "waterdog"...what is it?
What's the difference between an axolotl and a larval tiger?

What should I feed my newts?
Newts will take small bites out of a food stick if it's very big, but it can be a lot harder to eat livefood (eg, worms) that is too big to fit in the newt's mouth. Acceptable foods for aquatic newts are floating food sticks (ReptoMin is a good brand; check the fish food section of the pet store); tubifex worms, bloodworms, glassworms, other tiny aquatic worms -- live, frozen, or freeze- dried; daphnia (water fleas); artemia (brine shrimp, sea-monkeys); very very tiny fish (like baby guppies). Don't feed newts 'people food.' As for suitable food for terrestrial newts, like red efts and red-backed salamanders, I'm not really sure and would appreciate input (bethnewt@hotmail.com). But some suggestions: the same food sticks; aquatic livefoods (worms and things, as above), in a dish or small area of water; food normally given to small lizards (ask your lizard-keeping friends!) like pinhead (first instar) crickets, waxworms, maybe even 'white' or newly molted mealworms for the larger animals, like Taricha or Triturus. Very large tiger salamanders (which are semi-aquatic) will sometimes take small mice ('pinkies' and 'fuzzies'). Tadpoles and neotenics of some species will eat each other. Animals that are big enough may eat larger fish like guppies or goldfish. Fish food is also nutritious.
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Help! My newt won't eat!
There are many causes for this. First, make sure you're feeding it the right food (see the previous question). Very often a newt refusing to eat does so because of a disease or parasite; if this is the case, the newt has only a very small chance for survival. Viridescens (eastern redspotteds) are "especially prone to a little nematode in the eastern regions of the US." I'm not sure where else he thinks eastern newts live, but it's a point well taken. Don't buy viridescens (or any newt) from a pet store if you don't think they know exactly how to take care of them and can help you if your newts get sick; and then there's the Great Herp Warning: don't buy a sick and/or emaciated newt!or any herp. Ever!! You'll risk spreading the disease to any other pets you have, and 99 percent of these cases will die no matter what you do. Also keep in mind that there is no good way to force-feed a newt. If you go against my instructions and decide to buy such a newt, or if a newt you have stops eating for more than a few days, keep it separated from your other newts (if any) to prevent the spread of disease, and offer the newt as many different kinds of food as you can (but don't allow anything to spoil in the water; try only a few pieces of food at a time). If the newt was one you caught yourself, and it still hasn't eaten anything after about 5 days, you should probably release it exactly where you found it. If this is impossible, for example if you got it on vacation and aren't going back anytime soon, try to find an area nearby where the same kind of newt lives.
If it's only been a few days or if the newt looks other wise healthy:
Sometimes a newt will dislike foods that other newts like, or it may be used to another food, in which case you should contact the pet store where you bought it to find out what it's been fed. If it's only been two or three days since the newt has last eaten, there probably isn't anything to worry about. My newts will sometimes refuse to eat during, or immediately after, shedding their skin. Or maybe the newt just doesn't feel like eating. Watch that the newt doesn't stop eating completely for a long time, in which case it is probably sick.
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My newt has a weird transparent thing hanging off its head/body. What is it?
I saw one of my newts bite another and hold on, jerking it around. It looked like it ripped something off the second newt; what is going on?

Newts shed their skin! The newt that got bitten was probably shedding. When a newt sheds, either it will eat its own disarded skin, or another will eat it. Sometimes a newt will try to eat the skin while it is still on another newt's body. This action is helpful because it aids in removing the skin. Some newts seem to hate shedding; some don't mind; and occasionally I have seen the skin get twisted or roll up uncomfortably so that it squeezes the newt's belly. If this happens, usually the shedding newt will manage to get out, or another newt will come to its rescue, but if the newt is in pain, you might help by removing the partially discarded skin with your fingers; it is very thin and tears easily.
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Can I keep newts with my other pets?
Depends on the other pet, of course. OTHER NEWTS: Newts can be kept with other newts of approximately the same size with little trouble; right now I have Cynops pyrrhogaster (3 in), Triturus cristatus (5 in), and Taricha torosa (6 in) together in the same tank (in cm, that's 7.5, 13.5, and 15, respectively). However, I would never consider putting my larval Ambystoma tigrinum (4.5 and 7 in, or 13 and 18 cm) in with them. Though their sizes would seem to indicate that they're compatible with the other newts, larval tigers can eat items that are much larger than normal food size; and if they can't acually digest something, that doesn't mean they won't try. I've heard that larval tigers will eat anything they can fit into their mouths; this is bullshit. Larval tigers will eat anything. The same goes for axolotls and other neotenics (neotenic=salamander that is sexually mature but looks like a tadpole) and most tadpoles. Neotenics and tadpoles may also eat each other. FISH: Usually OK. Newts rarely disturb fish (except for those ravenous types mentioned above). Large newts can eat small fish, like young guppies, but will leave most fish alone. Some fish will eat newts and some won't. My bettas, cory cats, and medium-sized goldfish have lived happily with newts. If you're not sure about a particular fish, try feeding it a fish the approximate size of your smallest newt. If the fish eats it, it will probably also eat the newt. Some newts (Tarichids come to mind) are poisonous if eaten. So a large fish might eat your beautiful new Taricha torosa, and then die itself, leaving you no fish and no newt. OTHER HERPS: Snakes and frogs will readily eat newts of an appropriate size, but small-enough snakes and frogs, as well as most lizards, pose no threat. Before housing newts with other herps, make sure that they can share the same habitat; the dry heated vivariums required by most lizards are inappropriate for newts.
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What is the difference between newts and salamanders?
Taxonomically, there is none. The family Salamandridae, for instance, contains animals known as 'golden-striped salamander,' 'fire salamander,' 'fire-belly newt,' 'california newt,' 'redspotted newt,' and 'corsican brook salamander,' among others; there isn't a distinct split. Some herpetologists maintain that the term 'salamander' refers to both salamanders and newts, and that newts are more terrestrial while salamanders tend to be aquatic. Neotenics are usually called salamanders (eg, the mudpuppy is considered a salamander). I've also been told that an animal with ridges or grooves along its sides (between the front and back legs; these are called costal grooves) is a salamander, and that one with rough or granular skin is a newt.
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I don't have to bother with these scientific names, do I?
Sorry, but yes you do. The scientific names are not very difficult to learn, but if you try to deal exclusively with common names you will do nothing but confuse yourself. Must I convince you with examples? The Japanese fire-belly newt is Cynops pyrrhogaster. This is also called the Japanese newt, Chinese newt, fire newt, fire-belly newt, or sometimes red-belly newt or orange-belly newt. But the Salamandra salamandra is the fire salamander, and there are one or two newts (whose scientific names I don't know) that are called Chinese newts or Chinese fire newts. The Oregon newt is often called the red-belly newt, The California newt is sometimes called the orange-belly newt, and the crested newt, also known as the warty newt (or any of a number of other aliases) may be referred to as the red-belly, orange-belly, or yellow-belly newt. Furthermore, it does not have a monopoly on the term 'warty newt.' This is also shared with Pleurodeles waltl, the sharp-ribbed newt, referred to by many pet stores as the emperor newt (not to be confused with the emperor penguin). One of my favorite pet stores doesn't even bother with accepted common names, but invents their own. The fire-belly is indeed the Fire Belly Newt (Sale! $2.99), but the crested newt is called Fire Belly Newt ($5.99). The Calfornia newt is the Orange Belly Newt (which could also apply to the other two), and Notophthalmus viridescens has two price tags (same price) calling it the Red Spotted Newt and the Green Newt. One salesman sold me a Triturus cristatus and said it was the Green Newt.
Are you convinced yet?
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I just found a newt. What kind is it?
This is a question I can't quite answer here. Your best be for identification is probably to look in a reptile and amphibian field guide (such as Peterson's or Audubon), and check out lizards as well as newts, just in case. (as a sidenote, I was dealing with newts a long time before I felt the need to actually buy a field guide -- I usually would go to Borders and do my research while browsing in the nature section.)
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I think my newt is pregnant
Newts don't technically get "pregnant" -- this term is reserved for animals that bear live young. A female newt will not have baby newts inside of her; she may, however, have eggs, in which case she is said to be gravid. A newt may become gravid if 1)it's a female and 2)it's almost mating time, and she knows that. (2) is usually the result of hibernation (in most temperate species). For more information, look at the information page for the appropriate species.

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how do I tell if it's male or female?
If you have a Taricha newt (an Oregon newt, for instance), there's no good way to tell. If you have a larval tiger or a larval anything, it's too young to tell. For anything else, look at the cloaca, which is between and behind the hind legs. Males have a bulge in this area due to their enlarged cloacal gland. Females don't.
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I just got a "waterdog"...what is it?
What's the difference between an axolotl and a larval tiger?

In the latter case, very little. Axolotls and tigers were once thought to be the same species, and they are very similar. They are both sometimes referred to as "waterdogs"...check out the glossary entry for more information. It is very difficult to tell the two apart. If your waterdog is a greenish-brown color, that might help. It seems axolotls are more speckled in the wild type than tigers are, but this won't help you if your pet is an albino. I can tell you, though, that if it has an unusual color pattern, like cow spots ("pied") it's probably an axolotl, and if you live in Australia it's probably an axolotl. That's about as far as my help will go.
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© 2002 Beth Skwarecki. You may contact me.
Photo Credit (top left corner): US Fish and Wildlife Service