Caring for Newts
Newts are a familiar animal to most of us, especially if we have a garden pond. There are three species to be found in the UK – the Smooth Newt (Triturus vulgaris), the larger Palmate Newt (Triturus helveticus) and, at around 6 inches (15cm) long, the largest of the lot, the endangered Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus). However, none of these are particularly suitable as pets and certainly shouldn’t be taken from the wild – and in any case, the Great Crested Newt is heavily protected by law.
There are other kinds of newts, however, that will do well in captivity, so a visit to a good supplier of exotic pets should enable aspiring newt-keepers to find something to suit.
Housing NewtsMost of the best kinds of newts to keep are either totally or largely aquatic throughout the year, so housing is usually a very simple job – requiring little more than a good, secure aquarium, with a small island for the kinds that like to make occasional forays onto the land.
The species suited to these sorts of conditions include Japanese Fire-Bellied Newts (Cynops pyrrhogaster), Italian Alpine Newts (Triturus alpestris apuanus) and, growing up to 1ft (30cm) in length the Sharp Ribbed Newt (Pleurodeles waltl) – the biggest of all European newts.
Almost all like relatively cool, clean, well oxygenated water – around 18-20 degrees C (65- 68F). Unusually for exotic pets, keeping them cool enough in Britain – at least during a good summer – may be the biggest challenge. While there are innumerable options for warming up tanks available, there are very few for cooling things down; if you’re planning on keeping newts, you’ll need to make sure you can ensure that the temperature doesn’t rise too high. Newt-keepers need to choose the site for their tanks carefully, and anywhere in direct sunlight is an obvious non-starter.
If your choice of pet means that the tank needs to contain a land area, then a beach of gravel with a top covering of sphagnum moss or bark chippings will probably work best – and it’s a good idea to provide some good hiding places too. Despite their apparently slow and ponderous nature, many kinds of newts are remarkable escape artists, so it’s important to make sure that the tank’s lid fits tightly.
Food And FeedingNewts are carnivores and will happily consume a wide range of suitably sized prey. Depending on the size of your pets, anything from live fish-foods such as tubifex or blood-worms – obtainable from most aquarist shops – to a whole range of wild-caught animals such as earthworms or insect larvae will keep your newts well-fed.
It’s worth remembering that newts can be a little shy, and since most are largely nocturnal, it’s probably best to try to feed them at night and then leaving them alone to dine in peace.
Although newts are not animals to be handled – their skins are sensitive to the heat of human hands – they still make fascinating and unusual pets. Many of the species commonly sold have striking patterns and crests – especially in the breeding season – making them particularly interesting and attractive. A secretive group of animals, they dislike interference, but left to their own devices they can often thrive very successfully in captivity, making these delicate and undemanding creatures ideal exotic pets.