The following article was written by Michael Shrom, who keeps and breeds dozens of rare species of salamanders and newts. His company is Above Average Amphibians, and he often has newts and salamanders for sale through the amphibian classified ads online at www.kingsnake.com You may also contact him through email@example.com and request to be on his email list of available newts and salamanders.
Newts and salamanders have been kept and bred by hobbyists for over 100 years (Bateman, 1890). Salamanders are available at local pet stores, through collection from the wild, from internet forums, classifieds adds, reptile shows, amphibian shows, and exchanges done by hobbyists. There is a large amount of new information on natural history and animal husbandry available through the internet and publications. This information coupled with the amazing beauty and interesting behavior of newts and salamanders has created a dedicated following of professionals and hobbyists who desire to keep and breed these animals. Most salamanders in captivity are of wild origin, however there is a shift towards keeping captive-bred salamanders. Among the vanguard of the captive breeding movement are caudate forums and caudate registries, which allow for better communication between hobbyists and scientists online (such as www.Caudata.org).
This care sheet provides information on keeping and breeding European crested newts (Triturus = Lissotriton, Mesotriton and Ommatriton species) and fire salamanders (Salamandra species), both of which belong to the family Salamandridae. Much of this information can be applied to many of the North American and Asian newts and salamanders.
The crested newts were reclassified into several new species based on morphological and behavioral differences: Lissotriton boscai, Lissotrion helveticus, Lissotriton italicus, Lissotriton montandoni, Lissotriton vulgaris, Mesotriton sp., and Ommatriton sp. The fire salamanders are undergoing reclassification, and new species and genera may be named. (See Amphibiaweb for more information.)
It is important to understand a little about taxonomy to know what animal you have. Common names are imprecise, as several different newts are called “alpine newts”. There is also some confusion over the scientific names. For example, Triturus alpestris is the old name for one kind of alpine newt, but the current correct scientific name is Mesotriton alpestris; you may see both names used in online ads. To understand precisely what animal you have, it may be necessary to know its subspecies or “type locality”. Two types of alpine newts kept in the U.S. are apuanas alpine newt (Mesotriton alpestris apuanas) and alpestris alpine newt (Mesotriton alpestris alpestris). There are significant differences between the two types of alpine newts; apuanas alpine newts generally spend more time in the water than alpestris alpine newts. When kept in totally aquatic or highly aquatic enclosures, newly metamorphosed alpestris alpine newts often drown, while newly metamorphosed apuanas alpine newts.
When advertising animals for sale hobbyists often use abbreviations to signify what sex the animals are. If two numbers are listed the first number stands for males and the second number stands for females. If there are 3 numbers present, the third number signifies sexually immature or juvenile aged animals. 1.2 Salamandra salamandra stands for one male and two female fire salamanders. 0.0.3 Triturus karelinii stands for three unsexed southern crested newts.
Triturus are all considered crested newts or pond newts (Arnold and Overden, 2002). Newts spend part of their adult life on land and the other part of their adult life in the water. This is the general rule but not all newts follow the rules. Newt is often used as a popular term with regional variations not necessarily as a scientific term. Generally true crested newts will come to land when not in their breeding season or in breeding condition. Some populations of crested newts are more aquatic than other populations. There are reports of populations of Triturus marmoratus that spend most of their life in water. In other populations of T. marmoratus part of the population will stay in water while part of the population comes to land. Some populations of T. marmoratus spend only the breeding season in water. The habits of the animals in the wild can change with climatic changes, which are also true for captive newts and salamanders. Local weather and climate patterns can play a significant part in the behavior of captive specimens; a salamander might not act the same for a keeper in southern Florida as the same salamander would act for a keeper in northwest Washington.
Basic setups for keeping and breeding newts and salamanders fall into 3 types: aquatic, semi-aquatic, or fully terrestrial. Aquariums, terrariums, plastic bins, plastic shoeboxes, and storage containers can be used to maintain salamanders. Some commercially available glass terrariums are not made to be filled with water and care should be given to using these only for species that fall within the recommended uses. Totally aquatic setups are best used for juveniles or neotenic species (where the adults maintain juvenile traits). For adult crested newts, it works best to have a semi-aquatic cage where there are both land and water portions. Another option is to switch back and forth between a semi-aquatic cage and a terrestrial cage based on the time of the year, with a semi-aquatic cage used during breeding season. A semi-aquatic cage should be about half land half water. The land area can be made by dividing the tank with a pre-cut pane of glass or plastic cemented in at a slant or to partition off part of the tank. The land area generally consists of a substrate of pea gravel on the bottom with a combination of coconut fiber, peat moss, soil, and sphagnum moss, and dried leaves on top. Live plants, pieces of cork bark, and pieces of dried wood can be landscaped to make the tank more attractive and supply hiding spots. A food dish is also helpful in this type of setup to concentrate the food items. An alternative half-and-half tank can be made by putting a glass or plastic container in the aquarium on some sort of risers as the land area. The risers can be deli cups, flowerpots, bricks, or any non-toxic objects. This style affords space under the land area for the salamanders to swim while maintaining the land portion. The box can have the same substrate, and be landscaped the same as any other land area, though close attention should be paid to ensure that there are no leaks or nothing wicks from the water area to saturate the land area. Cork bark, rocks, or ornaments can be built up on the side of the box to make easy access for the salamanders. A more simplistic semi aquatic setup can be made by having mostly water in the tank with slabs of cork bark floating and stacked for hiding places for the salamanders.
All enclosures should have a screened or glass lid to keep the salamanders from escaping. Screened lids are often preferred so the humidity of the land area of the tank is not too high. For filtration and water movement, in-tank filters work as it is easier to adjust water levels and seal the tank to avoid escapes. Crested and other pond newts do best in tanks with light current or no current at all. A natural balanced small habitat with live plants and few animals can be maintained without a mechanical filter. Air-driven sponge filters and motor-driven in-tank filters help to maintain good water quality in a heavily populated tank or tank with large salamanders. One disadvantage of an in tank motor driven filter is the motor does create some heat. The importance of filters for the newts is not only to circulate the water and lightly oxygenate it, but also to perform important biological, mechanical, and possibly chemical filtration. The filters recommended for use are contingent upon the needs of the animal, in some Salamandridae, such as Neurergus species, a strong current is desired. Water and land temperature should be kept under 75F in summer and cooler in winter to help trigger natural breeding response. Many crested newts can be stimulated to breed by dropping the temperatures to 60-65°F. Some newts will not breed without having much lower fall and winter temperatures. This is where it is helpful to have locality and natural habitat information. It is not realistic to expect a salamander from an extremely cold climate to breed in a moderately warm tank. When temperature drops are problematic, one can resort to hibernating salamanders in refrigerators, keeping them in special cold rooms, or keeping them outside for periods of time in the winter. Some salamanders are bred frequently in captivity and some are rarely bred in captivity. A little research goes a long way when tackling a breeding project.
For practical purposes many of the salamandrids can be treated the same as described for Triturus species. Mesotriton, Ommatotriton, and Lissotriton all previously belonged to the genus Triturus, so much the same husbandry techniques can be used for these species. The same type of habitat can also be used for species of the genera Cynops, Pleurodeles, Taricha, Notophthalmus,and some Tylototriton. Close observation of the animals you are working with is necessary to keep them in optimal conditions. If you set up an animal in a tank with mostly water and floating cork bark and it spends all of its time on the cork it is time to rethink the substrate and proportions of land to water area. Not all populations of the same species behave the same in their natural settings. With that said, not all salamanders behave the same in captivity as they do in the wild. It is important to start with basics and modify the habitats you provide them according to observations of the salamander’s behavior and preferences.
Danube crested newts (Triturus dobrogicus) and apuanas alpine newts (Mesotriton alpestris apuanas) can be kept in similar habitats. They are easily kept mostly aquatic with features in the water for the newts to crawl up on or floating cork bark. The adults and juveniles can be kept aquatic most if not all of their life. Danube crested newts reach a length of about 13 to 16 cm. Alpestris alpine newts reach about 10 to 12 cm. The adults do well fed on a staple diet of earthworms and blackworms. They can also be fed frozen bloodworms and similar foods. They can sometimes be enticed to feed on salmon pellets, shrimp pellets, and newt pellets. Sexes of mature adults can be determined year round but sex is most apparent during the peak of their breeding season. The males will have a cloacal bulge, develop a crest on their back, and have a white stripe on the side of the tail. Male danube crested newts have a big jagged crest that children often describe as a little dinosaur. Male Danube crested newts have a black stripe going down their back and female Danube crested newts have a
brown stripe going down their back. They can be easily sexed as juveniles or sub adults. Alpestris alpine newts have less of a crest, though it is still present. Females develop more color and adornment during breeding season though not as extreme as the colors of males. Females have a slight cloacal bulge and can be misidentified as males. Males will show larger crests and more adornment if there is another male present in the setup.
Within reason, there is no such thing as to cold for a crested newt. Habitats with a summer high of 75°F and winter low down to as low 50°F are good. Some animals will crest more than once a year and can have either extended breeding seasons in captivity or two breeding seasons. Crested newts do fine in breeding colonies or breeding groups of several males and females. Aggressive feeding behavior is a good sign and normally not a cause for alarm. When the newts fight over food, grab each other, and chase each other it is normal activity. As long as there are no injuries or animals that don’t get enough food it is not a problem. In the late summer to fall danube crested newts and alpestris alpine newts will start to develop their breeding colors. In captivity this can happen with animals at about 1 year of age. The males will develop a crest along the top of their back and a white stripe on the side of the tail. They will start being more aggressive and chase the females. The males undulate their tail and arch their back. They whip the female with the tail as part of a courtship “dance”. This often happens as practice in young animals or early in the breeding season with no results. When the female responds she will chase the male. The male drops a sperm packet known as a spertamophore. He stops in front of the female maneuvering her so her cloaca is over the spermatophore. The female will pick up the spermatophore and later lay fertilized eggs (Duellman & Treub, 1986). This dance is repeated several times in the breeding season. The female will deposit a few eggs at a time scattering them over the tank. The eggs are laid individually on plants and ornaments in the water. When live plants are available, the females will sometimes wrap the eggs in the leaves. Spawning mops, plastic plants, and plastic strips all make good deposition sites for the eggs.
Eggs can be kept in the tank with the adults but are best removed for optimal hatch and larval survival. Eggs removed from the parental tank can be kept in a planted tank, small tubs with an air stone, or a flow through larval rearing system. The eggs will develop and hatch in one to two weeks. Younger newts will lay smaller and fewer eggs relative to older newts. Once breeding commences, the newts will continue to deposit eggs for several weeks.
Raising the larvae in a tank with live plants and a filter or air stone is optional. If you choose to use a filter, use only a sponge filter running slowly so larvae and food is not drawn in. A natural habitat like this works well to raise a small amount of offspring. After 2 to 3 days the freshly hatched larvae need to be fed. In a natural setup there will be infusoria, or microscopic organisms that the animals will feed on at first. Staple foods for very young larvae are newly hatched baby brine shrimp (Artemia), daphnia, and chopped blackworms. For the most natural setup daphnia work well. A culture of daphnia can be sorted by size using a screen, allowing for only small daphnia to be fed to the larva. An alternative is simply to put large and small daphnia in the tank and let the larvae feed on the appropriate sized food. Daphnia are fresh water animals and will subsist in the tank till eaten. A disadvantage of daphnia is hydra can accidentally be introduced with them. Hydra can eat small larvae and injure larger larvae. Live blackworms can be finely chopped with a razor and uses as a staple food. Many hobbyists prefer feeding baby brine shrimp to the larvae. The advantage of using baby brine shrimp are it is easy to culture and a consistent quality food. Baby brine shrimp must be hatched every 1 to 2 days and will live only about 1 day in fresh water. When feeding baby brine shrimp to larvae one must be certain not to overfeed. Overfeeding can cause a layer of rotting shrimp on the bottom of the tank that will grow fungus, which will injure or kill the larvae. Small ramshorn snails can be introduced to the larvae tank to act as a clean up crew for unwanted waste. The snails need to be checked to be sure they don’t die and themselves become a pollutant. An established tank such as this, with live plants, needs minimal clean up but can be spot-cleaned by sucking waste up with a turkey baster or pipette. If a sponge filter is used the filter should be occasionally rinsed and squeezed out to eliminate waste. The larvae can live in this set up till they are ready to metamorphose. Crested newt larvae will take 2 to 4 months to reach a size where they will absorb their gills and begin metamorphosis. As they grow, their diet can be switched to more blackworms and chopped earthworms. When they are ready to switch over (metamorphose) they should be offered some floating land area in case they want to come out of the water. The top section of the enclosure should be covered or they should be moved to another set up so the young salamanders don’t crawl out and desiccate.
Larvae are often hatched and raised in shallow trays or tubs such as plastic shoeboxes, trays and storage boxes. This can work well with an air stone on a low setting to help to oxygenate the water. The larvae can be fed the same as in the first type of setup. Closer attention will have to be paid to water quality and a regular clean-up routine must be established to maintain a healthy ecosystem. This setup is not as naturally balanced as the previous one and will require more maintenance. If attention is not paid to the cleanliness a film can develop that will harm the larvae. This film needs to be occasionally removed by gently scrubbing the tub with a sponge or cloth. To combat this issue snails, turkey baster, and pipette can again be used for clean up duty. Occasional water changes need to be made in this type of set up as well to maintain water quality. It is best to do small water changes with aged, dechlorinated water at the same temperature as the water in the tub. A large water change can kill all of the larvae because of the larvae reacting to changes in water chemistry.
The first two systems work well for raising dozens or hundreds of larvae. There is a third type of larvae raising system that works well for raising hundreds or thousands of larvae at once. This is the system preferred by and utilized by the author. It is a flow through vertical tray system affectionately called ‘the super system’. More than 1 species of larvae can be raised in the vertical tray system at the same time. The vertical tray system uses a wooden stand holding several slide-out trays. Each tray has a drain with a screened bulkhead fitting covered by a sponge filter. The trays can run into each other or through a common drain to the filter.
The author has two different versions of the vertical tray system. They are both built on 2 by 4 frames. One system has a single tower of trays and the other system has two towers of trays. The single tower system has a minireef aquarium filter at the bottom. The pump on the filter has two water outlets to control flow to the tubs and back to the filter. The tower has 5 slide-out wooden shelves that have 28 qt. plastic tubs on them. A feed pipe runs up the frame and independently feeds water to each tray. There is a common drain pipe that each tray drains into. The part of the drain inside the tray is a strainer with a sponge filter on it. The drain pipe and sponge filter are half way up the rear wall of the tray. The sponge filter can be removed if animals are large enough that they cannot go through the strainer. The back of the drain has a pipe that goes through a rubber toilet flapper with a hole cut in the center of the flapper. Each flapper mates with a fitting on a common down pipe for all of the trays. When the trays are slid out they drain into the next tray down. When the trays are pushed back against the drain pipe the water flows into the pipe. There is a bottom tub with a small outside aquarium filter on it. When the next to last tray is pulled out it flows into the bottom tub. The bottom tub drains into the minireef filter. If the next to bottom tray is not pulled out the bottom tub is isolated from the system. The common drain pipe drains into the sump of the minireef filter. The pressure relief part of the pump runs into the trickle part of the minireef filter. The filter has polyester fiberfill, sponge, bioballs, and activated carbon. This type of filter has excellent mechanical, chemical, and biological filtration. The water flowing through the trays is on low flow so the larvae and food are not disturbed. There does not seem to be any inhibition of growth when raising a large number of larvae in this kind of system. Different species can be raised in different trays. When salamanders are ready to undergo metamorphoses and go to land they are removed from the system and put in a container with a lid so they can’t escape. The container with a lid is slanted so there is a land and water area. A little cork bark is also floated in the container.
The vertical tray system with two towers is also built on a 2 by 4 frame. It is similar to the independent feed system but has only one feed to each tower. Each tower has six 28 quart slide-out trays. Each tray has a stand pipe through the bottom near the back with a strainer and sponge filter on each stand pipe. Each tray feeds into the next tray down. When the shelf is slid out the tray feeds into the middle of the next tray down. When the shelf is pushed back the tray feeds into the back of the next tray down. The bottom tray feeds into a waste tub when pulled out. A tray can be isolated from the system by sliding it out. The towers are next to each other with a minireef filter on the floor in the middle. The bottom trays have side drains that drain into the minireef filter. By eliminating the independent feed for each tray and the big drain pipe the system is simplified. The minireef filter is adequate to handle two towers.
The big advantage of a tower system is easy maintenance of high water quality. The big filters can handle large bioloads. This means the larvae and aquatic salamanders can be fed heavily without fouling the water. Trays are easily maintained with turkey basters, or pipettes, a little light scrubbing, and rinsing waste out of sponge filters. This type of system can handle about a hundred hatchling larvae in each tray. As the larvae grow they do best if not crowded and separated by size. Not all larvae from a spawning will grow at the same rate. Despite the many advantages, there are still inherent risks in the tower larvae raising system. If not properly maintained drains can clog and the system can overflow. The system has to have the proper sized sump. If the sump is to small the system will overflow when there is a power outage or the pump stops. Larvae that prefer fast current do not do well in the system without modifications. Air stones or small pumps can be added to individual trays to increase water circulation to accommodate salamanders that do better with more circulation. Transmission of disease or pests through the entire system is also a concern with this type of system. If properly managed diseased is rare and usually easily treated in captive bred salamanders. The advantages of this system far outweigh the disadvantages for most large scale larval rearing.
Many of the crested newts need a definite time on land every year. Green marbled newts (Triturus marmoratus) and southern crested newts (Triturus karelinii) fit into this group. Green marbled newts are popular because of their velvety green color on a black or brown background. The juveniles all have an orange vertebral stripe that is maintained by adult females though lost in the ontogeny of males. Like other crested newts, males can be sexed by the presence of a cloacal bulge. Males develop a fairly smooth barred crest and white tail stripe in breeding condition. Green marbled newts are attractive even when not in breeding condition, which adds to their appeal. Some other species of crested newts look fairly ordinary without their crests and bright breeding colors. Southern crested newts are olive green and not especially ornate or as spectacular when not in breeding color. Males develop a nice jagged crest, a white tail stripe, and more white flecks and blotches in the face when in breeding dress. The yellow to orange belly with black dots is also brighter colored to attract a mate. Both green marbled newts and southern crested newts need to go to land when they are finished breeding. If not given ample land area they can experience eating problems and skin problems. Other than the land requirement they can be kept similar to other crested newts. While land is often needed for these animals some keepers have success keeping them totally aquatic for several years. When in doubt it is best to offer land.
Fire salamanders (Salamandra salamandra) are beautiful terrestrial salamanders native to Europe, the Near East, and northern Africa (Rivera, 1998) Large females can reach 7 to 9 inches snout to tail tip. Males are a little smaller but differences in sexual characteristics are not always apparent when not mature or in breeding condition. Fire salamanders are often bright yellow and black. Some fire salamanders have red accents and white markings and others are mostly black.
This female fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra gallaica (Serra De Arribida)) shows a lot of red coloration. There are several subspecies of fire salamanders and the group is undergoing taxonomic changes. Hobbyists tend to list many types or morphs of fire salamanders. There is a lot of interspecific variety in the Portugese fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra gallaica), fastuosa fire salamander (Salamandra salamanders fastuosa), and bernardezi fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra bernardezi). For clarity, hobbyists will often list the location the animal comes from. Some examples are Salamandra salamandra gallaica (Sintra) and Salamandra salamandra gallaica (Serra De Arribida). Hobbyists often are as specific as possible when describing an animal, including giving locality information if possible, so that they can later obtain mates of the same type. Animals that come with locality information or that are well identified (as specific as possible) will ensure that pairs or colonies will not produce hybrids. Hybrids are generally strongly discouraged and should be avoided by any means necessary. The next best thing to knowing the type local of fire salamanders is to purchase animals that were all imported together or are from the same parents or colonies. There is less chance of mismatching this way than there is in purchasing mates from separate sources.
Another beautiful form of the fire salamander, the giglioli morph. Like all other salamandridae fire salamanders have toxins in their skin glands. Care must be taken when handling amphibians to avoid ingesting toxin or getting it in your eyes. Fire salamanders have a unique defense mechanism in that they are able to squirt poison or toxin from their glands. The glands are surrounded by muscle and the salamander can accurately squirt a skin secretion 17.5 to 80 inches. ( Stebbins & Cohen, 1995). This doesn’t happen often in captivity. Normal precautions such as hand washing after handling fire salamanders should be sufficient protection. Salamanders are best kept in their habitats or enclosures and only handled when necessary.
Fire salamanders are quite adaptable and live in a number of different types of habitats in the wild. Adult fire salamanders do well in pairs or colonial situations. A good set up for Salamandra salamandra is a medium to large forest floor type set up of 200 square inches or more. The tank or container does not have to be high as they have very little arboreal tendencies. Bottom dimensions or “foot print” are the most important, so breeder style or low tanks do well. A base drainage substrate like pea gravel should be used, topped with a mixture of coconut fiber, soil, bark mix or commercial forest terrarium mix. Dried leaves and leaf litter are placed on top of the mixture. Coconut huts (halved coconuts with a door drilled in them), drift wood, stacked cork bark and similar items make good hiding places for the animals. The salamanders hide most of the day and come out in the evening and at night to feed. They will often have territories in the terrarium and if there are not enough hiding spots or the habitat is not large enough the animals will suffer. Fire salamanders can learn to recognize their feeder and might come out to beg when they hear or see you. A standard feeding procedure will trigger good eating behavior from the salamanders. A secure lid is always a good idea but not as important in a large tank with these salamanders as adult fire salamanders are not good at climbing the side of tanks. To provide water, put a nice sized water dish in the tank. It is important that it is refreshed with room temperature dechlorinated aged water when dirty. The water dish should not be much deeper than the salamander is high as salamanders can drown in deep water. The adult fire salamander will use the water to help keep its skin moist and to give birth to larvae. Most fire salamanders give birth to gilled larvae but some drop juveniles without gills. It is important to have moist and dry spots in the tank. Glass lids and a humid environment are not good combinations as the tank should be set up so there are microhabitats within the tank. This is easily done by having the water dish, a low spot with some wet moss, and some stacked cork bark or drift wood for dry spots. The salamander will find the spot in the tank that best suit its needs. If the salamander is too dry it will go to the water whereas if t is too wet it will hang out in the stacked cork bark or on drift wood. If an adult female spends a lot of time in the water it can be a sign that she is getting ready to give birth. She can be left to have her larvae or babies in the water dish or removed to a separate tank with shallow water in most of it for her to give birth. If the female births gilled larvae on land they will die.
Fire salamanders should not be kept warmer than 70F for any length of time. They will develop larvae easier if cooled in the winter to at least the low 60s F.. Salamandra salamandra have an interesting breeding ritual. They mate on land often in spring or early summer. The male chases the female until they mate. They have axillary amplexus with the male’s forearms under the females. He deposits his spermatophore and the female immediately picks it up with her cloaca. The female can retain sperm or fertilization can happen right away. The eggs develop and larvae are birthed several months later. (Mattison, 1993). In captivity larvae can be dropped any time and are often born in winter and spring. It is advisable to start looking for birthing behavior around December. Different subspecies and types of fire salamanders behave differently and have different sized clutches of babies. Fire salamanders can have as few as 1 to 2 larvae or as many as over 70 larvae which can be dropped over a couple weeks or all at once. Due to the fact that females can retain sperm, females can produce offspring without having been with a male recently. It would seem that babies born without gills should be easier to raise than gilled larvae, however this is not necessary the case. It is usually easier to feed larvae and juveniles in water because they can smell their food through the water and often have a good feeding response.
Gilled larvae can be moved to a suitable rearing container with water. They can be raised in shallow containers or in a vertical tray system. They do fine with first foods of baby brine shrimp, daphnia, or chopped blackworms. It works well to start the larvae out on the dependable baby brine shrimp and switch them over to blackworms and chopped earthworms as they grow. Fire salamander larvae can absorb their gills in as few as a couple weeks or can take up to a couple months. This is probably from inherited traits due to adults habitat in the wild and from size of larvae when born and diet. You will know when the larvae is ready to go to land by observing its’ gills. When the gills shrink or are absorbed the larvae should be put in switch over tank, a small container with a lid is ideal. Elevate one side of the tank, slanting it, so only part of it has water. The land part should have a hiding spot like cork bark or artificial plants. Once the gills are gone the salamander will crawl out on land at which time it should be ready to feed immediately on blackworms and chopped earthworms, which it learned to eat while it was in the water. Blackworms can be put into a shallow dish with a small amount of water to keep them from drying out. An alternative is to put blackworms on moist paper towels or damp wood. Small and chopped earthworms can be put in a small feeding dish or under hiding spots. At this time the juvenile fire salamander can also be trained to take other food. They will eat small crickets, dwarf isopods, aphids, fruit flies, termites, springtails, or a number of other appropriately sized live foods.
Feeding baby fire salamanders born without gills can be more of a problem than feeding gilled larvae. They start out on land right away and don’t have a chance to build up their body size and energy reserves in the water. They will most likely be as small as the gilled larvae were when they were born but unfortunately won’t be able to take the same food. Juveniles born on land are started on the same foods as the gilled larvae are fed when they come to land. There might be more problems getting these animals to feed, and keeping them from desiccating. The main thing is to have plenty of appropriately sized live food to offer. The juveniles need to be set up in a miniature version of the adult tank. They should have microhabitats so they can find the best spot for them, but the tank should not be too large. Juveniles do hunt food but often will sit and wait for food. If the tank is too large there might be adequate food but it never gets to the salamander. Tanks can be seeded with dwarf isopods and springtails to help alleviate this problem. If a water dish is kept with juveniles, it should be very shallow. First foods for juvenile fire salamanders on land are blackworms. chopped earthworms, fruit flies, and small crickets. Salamanders will do well with only one or two staple foods. Availability, nutrition, and size are factors in deciding what foods to use. Salamanders normally don’t eat plant matter as they are insectivorous as larvae, juveniles, and adults. As the salamander grows small foods like springtails and fruit flies will not be as appropriate.
Fire salamanders and crested newts are not specialized feeders. They will all eat similar appropriately sized foods. Many salamander foods can be purchased online, at local pet stores, and or raised by the hobbyist. Food must be the appropriate size. Adults eat similar food to juveniles, only larger food items. Aquatic salamanders can sometimes be trained to eat salmon pellets, shrimp pellets, or newt pellets. Aquatic larvae can be fed infusoria, rotifers, newly hatched Artemia (brine shrimp), blackworms, daphnia, scuds, chopped earthworms, microworms, grindal worms, whiteworms, mosquito larvae, and a number of other small foods. Frozen foods like bloodworms, brine shrimp, baby brine shrimp, and mosquito larvae can be considered the same as live food for most practical purposes. Small larvae on land do well on blackworms, earthworms, aphids, termites, springtails, dwarf isopods, fruit flies, fruit fly larvae, waxworms, crickets, and other small food items. Larger salamanders on land do well on crickets, earthworms, blackworms, isopods, waxworms, silkworms, mealworms, slugs, termites, and medium to large insects. Some large fire salamanders can even eat newborn mice. These examples of food show the variety that can be used, if one food is not available or not eaten it is easy to try another. It is not necessary to feed your animals all of these foods. A diet of baby brine shrimp, chopped earthworms, and whole earthworms or crickets can act as staples for all of the fire salamanders and crested newts during different stages of their lives. Not a lot of research has been done on vitamin and mineral requirements of salamanders. An occasional dusting of food with calcium and vitamin powder is a good idea. The key to keeping and breeding salamanders is keep them cool, feed appropriately sized foods, maintain water quality, and to provide a variety of microhabitats in their aquarium or vivarium.
The author wishes to thank the members of caudate.org for their input on caudate husbandry and Justin Yeager for his help in editing and input on amphibian husbandry
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Kevin Wright DVM, Diplomate ABVP (Reptile and Amphibian Practice)