Newts and Salamanders

These lizard like amphibians can be found throughout the world, are easy to care for, and long lived, making them ideal additions to a mixed species vivarium or simply kept on their own.

Alpine Newt underwater

Aquarium / Vivarium conditions

Newts and some species of salamander are happy to stay in water whilst other ‘land’ salamanders prefer damp land areas. The ideal captive environment if space allows is a shallow water area (but deep enough to allow the use of a filter) with an easily accessible raised area filled with soil and plants, and plenty of pieces of wood, rocks, and leaves to hide amongst.

For smaller vivariums, a base of a few inches of damp sphagnum moss, regularly misted or sprayed along with plenty of hiding spots will suffice.

Most salamanders prefer cooler temperatures than many tropical species and are quite happy at 18-23C (64-73F) As with other amphibians, a balance needs to be created between temperature, humidity, and ventilation. Open or mesh topped vivariums are best whilst a heat-mat under the glass base should be sufficient if heating is required. An ultrasonic mister is ideal for creating the right humidity along with occasional misting/spraying of the vivarium plants and decor.

Size and compatibility

Virtually all salamanders for sale in the pet trade grow to around 10-15cm (4-6 inches) which is a manageable size, unlike the Chinese Giant Salamander which can reach 180cm (6ft) and is the worlds biggest amphibian. These are very rare though so thankfully you are unlikely to come across on for sale! In contrast, the smallest known salamander reaches a maximum size of less than 3cm (just over an inch)

Salamanders are fairly well behaved and similar size species can be kept together, but it is always best to avoid overcrowding which can lead to squabbles and accidental bites during feeding. If you do mix species make sure there are plenty of hiding spots for each individual and feed at different locations at the same time to reduce conflicts. Occasionally, limbs can become damaged or even bitten off during accidental squabbles but quite amazingly, salamanders can grow back any lost limbs.

Fire Salamander about to eat a cricket
Salamanders will enjoy crickets, but only as part of a mixed diet

Feeding

Aquatic salamanders can be fed on dried fish foods, which they will find by scent, or on live fish foods like bloodworm or daphnia. Land salamanders are best fed on worms or small insects like crickets which they will be attracted to by movement. Some of a larger salamanders can even be fed on 'pinkie' mice.

If your land salamanders will take non-live foods it is good to add some fish pellet in addition to a live food diet. Salamanders are nocturnal so the best time to fed them is in the evening when they can be encouraged out. Always make sure to remove any uneaten food to prevent rotting.

Sensitive skin

All newts and salamanders have very permeable skin, so anything they come into contact with can be absorbed into the body. This makes them very sensitive to chemicals and can be easily harmed if handled or kept in less than perfect water conditions. Whilst you may think that your hands are clean, unless you have just thoroughly washed them in fresh clean water there is a high chance there are residues of chemicals from moisturising creams, shampoos, deodorants, perfumes or aftershaves, cleaning chemicals (even from just touching door handles) and any number of other sources. It is therefore always best to give your hands a good clean in nothing but water before doing any maintenance and avoiding direct handling as much as possible.

Salamanders produce a mucus coating which prevents drying out, aids in movement and salt retention when in water, and also produces toxins in some species to prevent being eaten. It is normal for a salamander to occasionally shed its outer skin layer and then eat it

Tiger Salamander

Waterdog / Tiger Salamander Ambystoma tigrinum

Sometimes seen for sale, the ‘waterdog’ is actually the larval stage of the tiger salamander and does not take long before it starts to change into its adult form. As its aquatic form it will need to be kept in at least 15cm (6 inches) of water with plenty of hiding places. As it starts to lose its gills and change into its adult form, the water area should be reduced and once it is fully land based can be removed entirely. Waterdog’s can be distinguished from the axolotl by a more flattened snout and a grey-green color. Tiger salamanders are a large and bulky species, reaching up to 20-25 cm (8-10 inches) and potentially living for 15-20 years.

Fire Salamander on moss

Fire Salamander Salamandra salamandra

It is said that the name comes from specimens which would run out of burning logs, causing the belief that they were born from or lived in fire. There are several species of this salamander and most have a black body with yellow-orange spots or stripes. Whilst they are a land based salamander, they may also appreciate a water area. Several can be kept together and they are hardy and long-lived, normally growing to 15cm (6 inches) but specimens up to 25cm (10 inches) have been known.

Spotted Salamander on a leaf

Spotted Salamander Ambystoma maculatum

From above, these salamanders look jet black with two rows of yellow spots and are similar in appearance to the Eastern Tiger Salamander. They grow to 13-15 cm (5-6 inches) and live for several years.

Close up of albino axolotl

The Axolotl Ambystoma mexicanum

Axolotl’s are unusual creatures and unique in the animal world. An Axolotl is a close relative of the Mexican Tiger Salamander, but instead of metamorphosing into its adult form, it continues to grow, reproduce, and live out its life in the fully aquatic larval stage. Only with the artificial addition of certain chemical triggers will it transform into a land-capable salamander. The large, feathery gills are quite a prominent feature along with well developed legs and a large tadpole-like tail fin.

Fire Bellied Newt front and belly view

Fire-bellied Newt Cynops pyrrhogaster

The bright red markings on the belly and underside of this otherwise blotchy-brown newt reflect its name, and there are a number of different species with varying degrees of color intensity. Fire bellied newts are robust and easy to care for in a well filtered aquarium with plants and other hiding spots, they can be kept in groups, will grow to 12cm (5 inches) and live for 15 years or more.