Rescue / shelter organization
Pennsylvania, United States
Posted Jun 17, 2013
My first true pet of my own, I was given two California newts by a friend for my 9th birthday. I continued keeping them for the next 10 years (one lasted 9 of those years).
California newts, when they can be obtained, are quite hardy if simple procedures are followed. As with any amphibian, always wash and wet hands before and after handling them; though their relatively drier skin protects them from human hands somewhat. Housing can be a simple small aquarium with 6-12 inches of water (change with new dechlorinated water every 1-3 days) and some hauling-out areas (rocks, driftwood); more preferable is an elaborate terrarium planted with moss and ferns with fully-filtered water area (water changes weekly) and ample hiding places. Cool temperatures are a must, as these are montane animals and they cannot tolerate excessive heat (keep under 85F); no water heater is necessary even in colder climates. They are intolerant of copper in their environment, so do not use copper-based fish meds or water treatments, and keep pennies (and children with pennies!) away from the housing. They will usually eat a diet of shrimp pellets or other reptile pellets (Tetra ReptoMin or similar), but diet variation is key to health -- live food and lots of it. Weekly feedings of small to medium gut-loaded crickets are good, and they will hunt them or they can even be hand- or forcep-fed. Rinsed bloodworms, tubifex worms, and small earthworms are a great food source for them. They will occasionally eat small fish such as feeder guppies.
If they go into tarpor during cold weather, they may breed (if terrarium conditions suffice) when active again. Mating can be encouraged by providing a large, calm water area with lots of live plant growth (Elodea or Anacharis) and frequent chilling by the addition of ice or the installation of a chiller. Amplexus is complex; the male will mount the female and rub her nose very hard with his chin until she is ready to lay eggs.
California newts are active and visible in their enclosures and are hardy and easily handled. However, they have become increasingly rare in their very small native range due to road construction, habitat loss, fungal disease, and collection for the pet trade. Whenever possible, seek out captive-bred animals as pets. They are more suited to captivity and can be reliably aged. California newts have been known to live over 20 years of age.