Fire bellied newts are one of the very best “starter” amphibians to keep as pets.
Just a few of their strengths is that they look fantastic with their bright red/orange bellies, they’re super-easy to care for and don’t require any heating of any form. Indeed, in many ways Japanese fire bellied newts can be kept rather like goldfish, making use of a cold water fish tank.
Interestingly, unlike many other newts and salamanders, fire bellied newts are also surprisingly active animals, meaning that there’s always something going on to watch.
Whether you’re new to the world of keeping exotic pets, or an experienced keeper, fire bellied newts can make a welcome addition to your collection. If you’re currently considering purchasing some fire bellied newts but don’t know where to start this article is you…
As their name suggests, fire bellied newts hail from Japan; more specifically from a number of outlying islands. Here they are typically to be found in slow-moving streams or within ponds. Fire bellied newts may leave the water from time to time, but in general are primarily an aquatic species.
This information can be useful when designing an enclosure for fire bellied newts. By replicating this environment as much as possible you stand the very best chance of keeping your newts happy and healthy in captivity.
A number of authorities claim that fire bellied newts to live to over a decade and sometimes much longer. Therefore its critical to set up their housing in such a way that they can live out their days in comfortable surroundings.
Broadly speaking this wild habitat should be reflected in captivity in the form of a large body of water in which to swim, with a smaller dry area so your newts can leave the water if they see fit. Generally speaking Japan is not know for a tropical climate, so fire bellied newts are typically happy at room temperature in all but the coolest months.
Being a mainly aquatic species Japanese fire bellied newts are best housed in fish tanks of a suitable size. As active creatures it is important that they have suitable space to move around, so an aquarium measuring no less than 18″ long should be used; and as with all animals the more space you can provide the better.
Standard glass fish tanks may be used, or alternatively one of the growing range of clear perspective containers can be utilized.
The newts should be provided with a suitable depth of water in which to swim. I try to provide at least 6″ of water in my newt tanks, but you can provide considerably more if you have the inclination.
Note that while fire bellied newts will spend most of their time in water, many newts can be surprisingly adept climbers, and may succeed in clambering up the walls of their aquarium. As a result it is critical that the tank used as a tight-fitting lid to prevent escapees.
One of the real benefits for keepers of keeping fire bellied newts is that they are happy at room temperature for most of the year. This means no artificial lighting or water heaters will be necessary; indeed fire bellied newts seem to positively avoid hotter areas.
This means that care should be taken to keep your newt tank out of direct sunlight, where the water temperature can rapidly rise to an uncomfortable level.
Only in the coldest months might you want to consider investing in some gentle background heat. In winter, especially if you are out all day with the central heating turned off, the water may drop just a little too much.
As a result it can be wise to place a low-wattage heat pad under the tank in winter just to take the edge off the cold.
Being mainly aquatic you will want to provide a large body of water for your newts to swim in. Like fish, newts can be very sensitive to chlorine in tap water, so you will want to neutralize this threat.
Here there are a couple of solutions. Firstly you can fill the tank with water, then let this sit for 24-48 hours for the chlorine to dissipate. While this method is free, it is far from practical for many people, especially if you cleaning out an existing tank.
A better alternative is to use one of the many effective dechlorinating fluids available in the aquarium trade. This will allow you to instantly eliminate the chlorine in tap water and so render it perfectly safe to use.
Note that as your newts will spend much of their time in the water, they will also drop food particles and defecate in it. As a result regular water changes will be necessary to keep the tank fresh and hygienic. Changing 20-50% of the water every couple of weeks tends to work well as a general guideline.
An aquarium filter may be used to help keep the water as fresh as possible. For this I typically use an internal canister filter, with the flow rate turned down low. As fire bellied newts hail from stationary or very slow-moving bodies of water that last thing you want to do is to create a strong current, which can make swimming harder.
So you’ve bought your fish tank, filter and your dechlorinating fluid. But what else do you need to make your fire bellied newts feel at home?
The first matter is what you’re going to use to line the base of the cage. Here I have found than standard aquarium gravel works very well, and looks great.
Secondly you’re going to want to consider a dry area, where your newts can leave the water if they see fit. Newt-keepers use a number of different strategies here.
Possibly the easiest solution of all is to build up some rocks at one end of the aquarium, carefully sticking them together with aquarium sealant to keep them secure. Keep on building your “rock pile” until they create an “island” onto which your newts can climb.
An alternative solution, which can work even better but requires more effort, is to divide the aquarium into two different sections. On the one hand you’ll have the aquatic area, taking up some 70-80% of the overall cage volume.
Then on the other side you’ll have a dry land area, filled with compost and moss. Between the two you silicone a piece of perspex or glass in place, which prevents the water leaching into the land area.
Whichever option you select, it is important to consider how your newts will move from one area to the other. If necessary consider using flat rocks or slate as a “ramp” between the two areas.
Remember that newts are not known for their acrobatic prowess so you’ll need to consider how a generally slow and sluggish amphibian will move between the different zones without too much effort.
The final critical aspect of cage furnishing for fire bellied newts is somewhere to hide. Like any other animal, newts sometimes like to hide away and conceal themselves. As a result consideration should be given as to how best this can be achieved in your aquarium.
Two popular examples are plant pots carefully laid on their side on the land area, or artificial plants which can be added to the land or aquatic section of the cage.
While some authorities claim that fire bellied newts will eat a varied diet of plant and animal matter, in reality I have found that my newts tend to ignore most vegetation in favour of meat. I therefore recommend focusing their diet on meat-based products. Fortunately, we live in a golden age for exotic pet keepers, with a huge range of different foodstuffs available.
The first constituent to consider are live aquatic foods; the types normally sold for fish keepers. Here we’re talking bloodworms, tubifex and suchlike. These can be bought in small bags from decent aquarium stores and fed at will.
Secondly, you can make use of some of the more “terrestrial” livefoods more commonly fed to lizards and tree frogs. Japanese fire bellied newts get to a decent size (larger than their cousin the Chinese fire bellied newt) and so can take reasonably-sized prey items as adults. Decent foods to try are soft-bodied items such as small crickets and waxworms.
Lastly I have found that my newts will happily take dried food when it it added to their water. Items such as flaked fish food, for example, can be a useful “standby” if you happen to run out of livefood at any point.
The most important point here is to offer as varied a diet as possible, in order to ensure your newts receive all the vitamins and minerals they require. So while feeding fish food daily sounds tempting due to the ease and cost of such a venture, I believe that this should only be a small part of their overall diet.
Take the time to visit your local aquarium or reptile store each week and pick out something new for your pets to try. In doing so you’ll not only discover certain foods that are particularly popular with your newts, but you can also feel confident that they’re getting the balanced diet required.
In terms of feeding frequency, it is difficult to over-feed fire bellied newts, though uneaten food can of course dirty the water so should be avoided. A feeding pattern of every other day tends to work well, providing only what your newts will eat in a short period of time (15 minutes or so).
Over time you’ll get to know your newts and can then modify this plan if required to keep their appetites at bay.
Generally speaking amphibians have very sensitive skins, through which they can absorb water. This is why an amphibian’s skin tends to remain moist at all times, as it assists with this process. Our human hands tend to be too dry, too warm and have chemical remnants such as handwash or moisturiser on them.
As a result handling your fire bellied newts is best avoided, for the sake of their health. If you absolutely must handle your newts then wash your hands thoroughly in dechlorinated water beforehand, and ensure that you hands are damp at all times.
A better option is to gently coax your newts into a plastic container, where you can carefully afix the lid and transport them safely.
While Japanese fire bellied newts might look rather boring from above, their underside is typically bright orange/red. The benefit of fire bellied newts in the home is that they are so aquatic. As they swim around their tank you’ll have a perfect view of their brightly-colored underside.
Below I have gathered some images of both Chinese and Japanese fire bellied newts for you to enjoy. Feel free to click on any image to see a larger version, and please consider following me on Pinterest for plenty more exotic pet pictures!
Photo by pelican