Common Names: Rough-skinned Newt, Oregon Newt
Size: Adults have a total length of often 7-8 inches (18-20 cm) or more, with most of that being tail and a snout to vent length of only around 2-3.5 inches (5-9 cm).
Appearance: Dorsally brown to tan and ventrally bright orange. Their orange ventral coloration warns of their poisonous nature. As the common name implies, their skin is usually rough, except for during the more aquatic breeding season when the skin becomes smoother and, especially in males, the tail crest increases in size.
Distribution, Habitat and Behavior: Forests and grasslands throughout the west coast of the United States and north into British Columbia. They live a seasonal life and during much of the year they are terrestrial while during the breeding season they switch and migrate to water bodies to breed.
Availability: Formerly collected from the wild in large numbers and widely available at pet stores. Today they are only sporadically available and are best located through the amphibian hobbyist and breeder community.
Housing: A 29 gallon aquarium that measures 30 inches long by 12 inches wide by 18 inches high (76 cm by 30 cm by 46 cm) is enough space for a pair or two of adult newts. Make sure to use a secure screen cover to help prevent escapes.
Although in the wild they occupy different habitats (terrestrial / aquatic) during different times of the year, in captivity rough-skinned newts can be provided with both in the same enclosure. Provide a large water area that takes up half of the enclosure and reaches a depth of around 10 inches (25 cm). Aquatic plants, either artificial or live if there is sufficient lighting, can be used to offer footing and cover underwater. The land side of the enclosure can be simple, with a few moist clumps of moss, some shelter such as a curled piece of cork bark or driftwood, and plants if desired.
To create a semi-aquatic setup, often the easiest way is to use large grade aquarium gravel and slope it up to one side. A glass divider or large stones can be used to help hold the gravel in place and form land on one side. Then fill the aquarium with water so that the water level reaches within an inch or so of the land. Pay attention to the behavior of the newts as well. If they seem to be spending almost all of the time in the water, their skin is smooth and their tail crest apparent the water portion of the enclosure should be increased, while if the newts appear to have very rough skin and are always on land the enclosure can be converted to a more terrestrial setup.
Water: A small submersible filter or canister filter can be used to help maintain good water quality. Deflect the output of the filter with a rock or piece of wood so that the current isn’t too strong. The water may need to be partially changed as often as once a week in a small aquarium that is stocked heavily, while large aquariums with only a newt or two my only need monthly partial water changes. It’s better to do small frequent water changes than occasional large ones, and the larger the volume of water in the tank, the less concentrated waste will be, and the easier it will be to control water quality. It may be helpful to purchase test kits or bring water samples to local fish stores so that the quality of the water can be monitored. If tap water is used, treat it with tap water conditioner to remove chlorine, chloramines, and heavy metals from the water.
Temperature: Rough-skinned do not tolerate warm temperatures well so keep the enclosure and the room it is in cool. Most of the time the temperature in the tank during the day should range from 60°F (16°C) to 70°F (21°C), with a decrease in temperature at night. Temperatures below this range are tolerated well, and a drop to as low as 50°F (10°C) is not a problem for healthy animals. Warm temperatures, on the other hand, are usually harmful, and those above 80°F (27°C) should be avoided. Consider keeping newts in a cool basement or air conditioned room so that the temperature does not rise too high.
Diet: A captive diet for rough-skinned newts can consist of black worms, blood worms, chopped earth worms, small crickets, slugs, ghost shrimp, freeze dried krill, and brine shrimp. Using a variety of foods will help prevent nutritional problems. Frozen fish foods should be thawed in lukewarm water prior to being offered. Some newts may not accept all foods mentioned above and some experimentation may be needed to find a good, varied diet for a newt. Feed adult newts two or three times a week. Over feeding is a common problem, so pay attention to how much is being fed and make sure to remove excess food that newts do not eat. Uneaten food will spoil the water quickly in a small aquarium.