SO YOU FANCY BUYING A NEWT OR SALAMANDER?
Contrary to popular belief, I think newts and salamanders are attractive creatures.
That is why you should consider carefully the following before rushing down
to the pet store with your money:
Do you have any idea which newt or salamander you would like to buy?
If the answer to the above is no, a good idea would be to get a book out of
the library. When my wife first fell in love with a pair of leopard geckos (lizards),
that's what I did. Apart from hooking me on lizard keeping, the books I borrowed
showed what was available, and at what level of cost and difficulty. You can
adopt the same approach towards starting to keep newts and salamanders: read
and learn before you buy. Most books on the subject are also well endowed with
pictures, and as most newts or salamanders are display animals more than companion
pets, you can see what takes your fancy.
When thinking about the sort of newt or salamander you want to purchase, you
will need to consider the next lot of questions:
- Can I afford it? Captive newts and salamanders vary somewhat in price
from species to species, but unlike reptiles, some of which command very high
prices owing to their rarity, demand and desirability, most amphibians are
actually modestly priced (the few expensive ones are probably only keepable
by zoos anyway). For under £50 you should be able to buy some beautiful tailed
amphibians, possibly a number of one species with change to spare. What will
probably cost you more is the initial outlay for the necessary equipment:
the habitat (their tank or vivarium) plus any heating or lighting accessories,
or more usually filtration equipment (pumps, etc), all of may be absolutely
essential to the survival of your captives. You should reckon on spending
up to £100 on setting up your newt(s) or salamander(s).
- Can I afford to keep it?Actually the financial maintenance of a tailed
amphibian is not that great. The food your captive will eat depends on the
type of newt or salamander you have, but a tub of insects from the shop will
only cost you about £2.50 or so per week, while heating, lighting and/or filtration
costs surprisingly little in electricity. A bag of daphnia is usually around
about £1.20, while for those large salamanders who eat them occasionally,
frozen rodents are about 25-50p each, depending on the size of the item. What
may cost you more, should your pet need attention at some point in its long
life, are vets' bills. A visit to a vet who knows a reasonable amount about
amphibian care will normally cost at least £10 and normally £20-£30, depending
on what care is needed. I must add, however, that I have normally paid no
more than this for any of my collection of reptiles (who face similar veterinary
demands), including one small gecko who had persistent problems. If you anticipate
getting large veterinary bills, the sensible course is to take out veterinary
insurance on your pets. To put it into context, I know a family who spent
about £1,000 on medical care for their sick dog.
- Can I make the time for it? Newts and salamanders do not depend on
a lot of human interaction, nor do most of them in fact welcome it. Most are
quite content to be undisturbed in their homes - and indeed human handling
has dangers for both captive and keeper. Nevertheless they do need to be fed
at certain times during the week, and do need their habitats cleaning when
dirty. They also benefit from regular observation to make sure there are no
health problems. Some newts or salamanders are far more time-consuming than
others, a factor that must be taken into account. In particular think about
whether (if applicable to the species you want) you are willing to do regular
- Can I practically keep it?There are other prime considerations when
looking for a newt or salamander: space and the reaction of "significant others".
In other words, do you have the room for it, and will parents, partners or
future landlords be happy with it? This may not be as difficult as it sounds.
Although Linnaeus spoke for a lot of people when he uttered the words "foul,
loathsome creatures" (and he was a naturalist!), more people probably find
snakes repulsive than newts and salamanders, and apart from the 'slime' factor
most people seem to be accepting nowadays about amphibians. The smaller types
have the advantage that they can be kept in fish-tank sized units (just like
a goldfish) on the top of other furniture, etc, and thus be unobtrusive. The
few large amphibians ("large" for an amphibian is probably anything
over a foot long) are not always suited to private keeping anyway, even if
you own your own property. Don't forget, of course, that some species (in
the right climate and with the proper setup) can be kept out of doors.
And, most importantly..
- Do I have the commitment to it?In comparison with similar-sized mammalian
pets (rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, etc), pet newts and salamanders normally
have long lives. Even short lived species tend to number their lives in years,
while some will live for at least ten years and often twenty or more. While
people's circumstances do inevitably change, be aware that the commitment
you are making to a pet amphibian is the same as if you were buying a puppy.
Although amphibian owners do not face the same difficulties as the owners
of feisty green iguanas or huge reticulated pythons in passing on a pet that
they cannot or will not keep any longer, you should be aware that the demand
for amphibians is also smaller than that for reptiles. Incidentally, non-native
amphibians should never be released into the wild!
If the answer to all of the above is yes, then it is still a good idea to trot
down to the library and do a bit of research. Alternatively there are often
books available from pet shops on the newt or salamander you are interested
Having listed all the potential pitfalls, I should also list the advantages of frogs and toads over some over pets:
- They don't take up a lot of room, in most cases
- They don't normally scratch or gnaw the furniture
- They don't smell (unless you are sloppy in changing the water, in which case you only have yourself to blame!)
- They don't eat a vast amount of food
- They don't frighten people into thinking they're going to be bitten to death or eaten
- They don't need to be taken for a walk each day
- They can be left for weekends
- They don't make a lot of noise or disturb the neighbours
Of course there is always the exception to the rule, which is why you should
find out as much about your projected pet as possible. But by and large these
rules tend to be very much the norm for newts and salamanders. It is true that
you should always wash your hands after touching one, but then you should after
handling any animal.
In the following section I would like to consider some newts or salamanders
that are commonly seen for sale, and give my opinion on the level of difficulty
of keeping them. Those which I have direct experience of will be marked. All
the others I have either read up on to a good degree or spoken to some of their
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