Acquired: Pet store,
Rescue / shelter organization,
Worked with pet (didn’t own)
Pennsylvania, United States
Posted Jul 10, 2013
Not many amphibians are venomous -- a lot are toxic, but only the emperor newts (Tylototriton) and ribbed newts (Pleurodeles) are actually venomous (venomous refers to the animal having the capacity to inject a toxin into another animal).
The delivery method of the venom is truly odd -- the tips of the rib bones are sharp, and can be forced through poison glands in the skin so that the poison is injected into an enemy. Emperor newts rarely exhibit this behaviour though, and are relatively safe to handle when done so gently and minimally. Nonetheless, they're not really pets in the human contact sense, and fare better as a display animal.
I kept both my own small group and a larger group at a pet store where I worked. Most pet stores that stock these newts put them in a similar aquatic setup to firebelly newts and this is a significant mistake. These newts live in subtropical montane forested habitats, and are land dwellers.
I kept my four in a 15-gallon long aquarium terrarium setup that worked very well, and I'll try to explain it here. I had two pieces of plate glass cut that fir across the width of the aquarium, one was 6 inches wide, the other 8. I mounted them to the bottom and walls of the aquarium with clear silicon, leaving a gap of unsealed area at the bottom. I mounted them on a sloping angle slanting toward one end of the tank, the shorter piece about 8 inches from one end of the tank, the taller piece another 8 inches along. Both slanted about 45 degrees toward one end of the tank. I coated the upper side of each with aquarium silicon as well and pressed aquarium gravel into it to make a rough climbing surface. (NB: In the "Newt Tank" diagram, the glass is purple, the silicon pink. Gravel is dark brown). Then after the glass set. I back-filled the two sections behind the glass with pea gravel, then a fibre mat, and then dark river gravel on top of that. In this I planted small potted plants and also established moss, and places a few pieced of driftwood around. A small pump in the part that was not backfilled (the "pond") took water up to the second section where it made a little "spring." I placed flat rocks in such a way that some of the water trickled over the rock's edge into the pond, and other water just trickled down into the gravel. This created a gradient of moisture in the terrarium. 50% water changes were performed weekly or more often as needed.
They always seemed to do well for me in typical room temperature and I think the plant light (which was incandescent and mounted far up over the screen lid) helped with day warmth.
I fed them twice weekly with gut-loaded crickets, redworms, and grubs. When they did decide to make an appearance, they were striking in the terrarium, but they really didn't come out much. They spent a lot of time hiding, and seemed to prefer the area just above the spring.
These newts are now considered Near-threatened (NT) by IUCN and so their legal international trade may not continue. It is up to a customer whether they want to support the trade, but I can vouch as someone who used to work in a pet store that the overwhelming majority of these newts do not survive shipping, and for every one that makes it into a good home, ten more probably die on the way.