Last updated 15 June 2000: added Individual Species: Levels 1-3 of Newts & Salamanders
Newts and salamanders (collectively referred to as caudates, although this is not a common word) are a smallish order ( Order Caudata, about 350 species) of animals belonging to the amphibian class (Class Amphibia). Their closest living relatives are the frogs and toads (Order Anura), plus an obscure order of amphibians, the caecilians (Order Gymnopoda). Together, these three orders form the Class Amphibia. Modern amphibians are much smaller than their prehistoric relatives, to whom the caudates bear the closest external resemblance today.
Caudates are mainly creatures of the Northern hemisphere. They are abundant in Europe and particularly so in North America, less so in Asia and South America, are confined to the northern parts of Africa, and are not found at all in Australia.
Amphibians belong to the vertebrates, or back-boned animals, a group that also comprises the fish, reptiles, birds and mammals. Compared with the other 95% of the animal kingdom, vertebrates share a vast number of common characteristics. In particular, most people tend to mentally lump amphibians and reptiles together. However, there are also important differences between amphibians, reptiles and mammals, which if overlooked can make a captive amphibian's life a miserable one.
Newts and salamanders can normally be characterised by a moist, porous skin (in common with all other amphibians) and, more specifically, four limbs of roughly equal length, in contrast with frogs, with their hugely developed rear limbs, and caecilians, which have none at all. Most importantly, newts and salamanders have tails, whereas frogs and toads do not. Other than this the various caudate species have a variety of environments, lifestyles and physical adornments such as crests, colouring or webbing between the digits of their limbs. The vast majority return to water to breed, or at least to give birth.