Salamanders and Newts As Pets

 

Adventure Pets stocks a wide variety of top quality reptiles and amphibians. We always source as many animals as possible from local breeders. New animals are received weekly and we are always glad to special order.
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Both salamanders and newts belong to the Caudata order on the tree of life. One of the first questions about this group of animals is the difference between a newt and a salamander. This is sort of like the difference between frogs and toads. All newts are salamanders, just a special group, but not all salamanders are newts.

Salamanders versus Newts

Appearance wise newts tend to have a rougher texture to their skin and a flatter tail. Most newts return to a fully aquatic lifestyle once they mature and the flatter shaped tail helps them to swim. On the other hand the salamanders usually spend their adult lives on land, tend to have smoother skin and rounder tails.

Now there are exceptions like the popular Mexican Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum) that under natural conditions very very rarely metamorphoses, retaining its gills and a fully aquatic life style its whole life or the pacific newts which spend most of their time as adults on dry land.

None or all of these characteristics listed above guarantees a correct identification but if they are used as a guideline you will definitely be right much more often than you are wrong.

Housing

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Whether they are salamanders or newts all species can be housed in one of three basic types of habitats. The species that spend most or all of their time on land require what is called a terrestrial setup. The ones that spend all or most of their time in the water require a fully aquatic setup and those that split their time between the two require what is called a semi-aquatic setup.

Newt tank 09/07 by moarplease, on Flickr
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We won't go into details here but a terrestrial setup normally has the entire bottom covered with a soil and peat moss mix covered with a layer of sphagnum moss and a very shallow water bowl to help maintain the humidity. The fully aquatic setup is very similar to a regular fish aquarium filter and all. The semi-aquatic setup usually has about a third of its area in dry land and the rest filled with 6-8 inches of water, this tends to be the most difficult of the three to set up and maintain.

Temperature

Almost all salamanders and newts are found in the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere far fewer can be found in the sub-tropical regions and just a very few arboreal species found in the tropics. This is because as a group they don't handle warmer temperatures well. One of the most popular species the oriental fire-bellied newt is often sold in the tropical fish departments of pet stores even though the normal temperature range in the mid to upper 70's of the tropical aquarium makes it about 10 F warmer than they are comfortable at. Temperatures higher than they prefer will put any organism under some stress potentially making them more susceptible to disease and likely shortening their life.

While there are expensive chillers made for aquariums and plans for sometimes elaborate do-it-yourself designs locating their enclosure in a cooler area of the home and designing the habitat to maximize evaporation is usually sufficient. Even probably the most notorious thermophobe the alpine salamander (Salmandra Atra) can normally be kept this way.

Lighting

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Just about all of the salamanders do well in a 10-gallon fish tank with a secure lid as they can climb the glass walls of the aquarium. If lighting is used it should be florescent or better yet the newer very low heat LED fixtures and only turned on as necessary, incandescent bulbs should never be used because of the large amount of heat they put off.

Feeding

Salamanders and newts like frogs prefer live insects and worms but are much easier to train to take prepared and frozen food. Like frogs they gulp rather then chew their food. so any food offered needs to be a size they can easily swallow. This often means that worms and prepared feeds need to be cut up for the smaller species.

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Being slower than frogs they often find worms and grubs easier to catch than a lively cricket. Many of the grubs, waxworms in particular, have a high fat content and must be fed as a treat rather than a diet staple. They need to be fed 2-3 times a week and may sometimes skip a meal or two after a large feeding, longer fast usually indicate either a health or environmental problem.