Red-bellied Newt

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James Maughn

Other common names: Redbelly Newt

Scientific name: Taricha rivularis

The basics:
Were the Red-bellied Newt not limited to such a tiny natural range, and not capable of causing human fatalities if ingested (see below), it might make a fine pet. However, it is best left to zoos and similar organizations seeking to bolster wild populations.

The natural range is limited to a small section of northwestern California, USA. Red-bellied Newts dwell within and on the outskirts of Redwood forests, often in the vicinity of cold, fast-moving streams.

Appearance / health:
The brownish-black back is unmarked, while the ventral surface is bright red. Adults reach 5.5-7.6 inches in length.

Captive longevities of 15+ years have been recorded. Heat stress, and the resulting bacterial and fungal infections, is the most commonly-encountered health concern.

Behavior / temperament:
Red-bellied Newts are somewhat more secretive than related species, although zoo specimens lose much of their shyness after a time.

In common with all members of the genus Taricha, Red-bellied Newts produce a powerful toxin known as Tetrodotoxin. They have been responsible for human fatalities when accidentally (water from a stream, containing an unseen newt, boiled and used to make coffee) or purposely swallowed. Their skin secretions may also cause serious health concerns when transferred to wounds, eyes, or the mouth.

A single adult can be kept in a 15 gallon aquarium; larger tanks can support small groups.

Moist sphagnum or carpet moss makes a good substrate, and cork bark rolls or plastic caves serve well as retreats. Adults in the aquatic phase (captives may move into water even if not in breeding condition) should be kept in a filtered aquarium half-filled with cool, chlorine-free water and supplied with cork bark or floating plants as resting spots. Gravel, which may be swallowed, should not be used.

Red-bellied Newts do best at 48-52 F, and will remain active at lower temperatures. They are stressed and eventually killed by sustained warm temperatures.

Earthworms are ideal as the bulk of a Red-bellied Newt’s diet. Sow bugs, small crickets, butterworms, blackworms, and other commercially-available invertebrates should also be offered. Aquatic forms accept commercial newt chow.

Most meals should be coated with a powdered Calcium/Vitamin D3 supplement. A vitamin/mineral supplement should be used 2-3x weekly.

Mature males may be distinguished from females by the swollen area about the cloaca, which develops a white stripe during the breeding season. A cooling-off period of 4-6 weeks at 36 F may spark breeding activity. Females attach flat egg masses containing 5-12 eggs to submerged plants and rocks. The larvae may be raised on live blackworms and frozen bloodworms. Metamorphosis is attained in 3-4 months.

Written by Frank Indiviglio


elementary science, bright bellied surprise, newt behavior, easy pet, young children


weekly cleanings, ecologically fragile creature


bloodworms, shallow water, small aquarium, small pet

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