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Keeping Amphibians: FAQ

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 26 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
Amphibians Handling Skins Basking Food

Although they’re often not as showy or active a group of animals as the reptiles, amphibians can make good pets and on the whole they’re a fairly undemanding bunch, so most of the frequently asked questions about their care have remarkably simple answers.

Can I Handle My Pets?

Although you can – and at times, may have to – handle pet amphibians, as a general rule, it’s something which is best avoided. Although there are one or two notable exceptions, their moist and sensitive skins don’t take too kindly to the warm touch of a human hand over extended periods and many of them – even some quite large species – are surprisingly fragile. As a result, it's best to restrict handling them to an absolute minimum to avoid injuring them.

Do Amphibians Need A Hot Spot Like Snakes And Lizards?

Amphibians don’t need to bask like reptiles to warm themselves – and most will actively hide away from excessive heat or light to avoid drying out their skins. For tropical species of amphibians, the overall ambient temperature within their tank is important, since this keeps their general body temperature at the proper level, but harsh or dry heat in the vivarium is something that the amphibian keeper generally needs to avoid.

Heating systems for amphibians need to be more gentle and general, and although they will appreciate a thermal gradient within their tanks, the sort of intense hot spots found in the lizard or snake vivarium are unnecessary.

What Sort Of Food Should I Feed My Amphibians?

Most amphibians will do well on the normal kinds of live foods – crickets, mealworms and as many earthworms, slugs and garden bugs as you can catch – while some of the larger species – the horned toads, bullfrogs, marine toads and giant salamanders will take locusts and pinkies or even small mice. Aquatic species will also often eat tubifex worms and other similar kinds of food sold for aquarists.

My Pets Always Wait Until The Lights Go Off Before They’ll Come Out. Is There Any Way I Can Watch Them Without Disturbing Them?

Most of the world’s amphibians are nocturnal, preferring to hide away from the heat and light of the day, emerging after dark to hunt. Obviously this makes them slightly disappointing pets in captivity, since their owners never get to see most of the interesting things they do. However, many amphibian keepers have found that using a low wattage blue light bulb to provide a little artificial moonlight can often allow them to watch what their pets get up to without unduly disturbing them.

However, if you do try this and find that your salamanders don’t eat as well as they used to, or start showing any signs of withdrawing into their hiding places, stop at once; not all species are as tolerant as each other of this particular trick.

Do I Need Vitamin Or Mineral Supplements To Keep My Amphibians Healthy?

In the wild, vitamin and mineral deficiencies are generally uncommon, since amphibians eat a wide range of different kinds of prey. In captivity, however, over reliance on what is commercially available – especially in the winter, when hunting for bugs in the garden isn’t so easy – can sometimes lead to problems. Most amphibian keepers use supplements from time to time, either dusted on to the food, or “gut-loaded” within it, to make sure that their pets stay in the best of health.

It’s important to make sure that you don’t exceed the recommended dose – and if you’re not sure, check with your vet; too high a dosage of vitamins can be every bit as harmful as too little!

One Of My Newts Has Escaped From Its Tank – Any Tips For Finding It?

One of the best tricks for re-capturing a recently escaped newt is to wait until it’s dark, wet a flannel or a kitchen towel, put it down on the floor in the middle of the room, turn the lights off and leave everything quiet for a few hours. Amphibians are remarkably sensitive to moisture and the lure of a damp cloth is likely to prove too powerful for most newts, no matter how adventurous!

Amphibians make fascinating pets – no matter how much you know about them, there’s always something new to learn, and for every question you do manage to answer, you’ll find a new one just waiting to be asked!

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