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California Newt (Taricha torosa) and Rough-skinned Newt (T. granulosa)

(Photo by John Sulivan)

Introduction: California newts and rough-skinned newts were once common in the pet trade and could be found for sale in most pet stores in North America. Laws have been put in place to help reduce the numbers that are taken from the wild each year to supply the pet trade so that wild populations are not depleted. Though not as available as they once were, both species can still be found for sale from dedicated newt breeders and occasionally from herp dealers online.

Both the California newt and rough-skinned newt look similar. They both can grow to a length of over 8 inches (20 cm). Their ventral side is a orange to indicate that they are poisonous. Their dorsal side is dark chocolate brown, although the shade of brown can vary between individuals. Rough-skinned newts can be distinguished from California newts by their smaller eyes. California newts are native to the coastal ranges of California, while rough-skinned newts have a much larger range that extends up through the Pacific Northwest, as far as Alaska. In the pet trade, they are often called Oregon newts.

Cage: California and rough-skinned newts are active animals and will use all of the room they are provided with. A standard 15 gallon aquarium that measures 24 inches long by 12 inches wide by 12 inches high (61 cm by 30 cm by 30 cm) is enough space for a pair of adult newts, although more room is better. A secure screen cover is very important because these newts are capable of escaping an uncovered aquarium easily.

In the wild, both species go through terrestrial and aquatic stages, although the rough-skinned newt is generally more aquatic than the California newt. In captivity, both generally do well in a semi-aquatic setup with both a deep water area, as well as a land area. California newts should be provided with a larger land area than rough-skinned newts. The depth of the water can vary from shallow water that is around 1 inch (2.5 cm) deep, to deeper water that is more than 10 inches (25 cm) deep. This can be accomplished by filling the cage with a few inches of gravel and gradually sloping it to one end so that one side of the cage has a high end of gravel, and the other side has a thin layer that is less than 1 inch (2.5 cm) deep. The aquarium can then be filled with just enough water so that the high end of gravel is just above the water line. Larger river rocks or flat slate can be placed along the slope to help keep its form. It will look like a miniature model of the shore of a lake when finished. Another possible way to provide a land and water area in an aquarium is to use a large rock or piece of driftwood that gradually slopes up out of the water and forms a land area. Provide multiple hiding spots on the land area such as cork bark, moss, rocks, and driftwood. Live aquatic plants with sturdy leaves can be planted in the water for aquatic hide spots and perches.

Two styles of semi-aquatic setups suitable for amphibians such as some newts

A small submersible filter or canister filter can be used to circulate and filter the water in large aquariums. 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 small aquariums that are stocked heavily, while large aquariums with only a newt or two my only need monthly partial water changes. Generally, no more than half of the water should be removed from the tank to prevent removing too many beneficial bacteria that help maintain water quality. It’s better to do small frequent water changes than occasional large ones. Maintaining good water quality is essential. The larger 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. Bottled spring water can often be used instead of water from the tap.

Temperature: Rough-skinned and California newts do not tolerate warm temperatures well. Generally, the temperature in the tank during the day should range from 60°F (16°C) to 70°F (21°C), with a slight decrease in temperature at night. Temperature lower than these are tolerated well, and a drop to as low as 50°F (10°C) isn’t a problem for healthy animals. Warm temperatures, on the other hand, are usually harmful, and those above 80°F (27°C) should be avoided. It can be helpful to keep the cage in a cool basement or air conditioned room so that the temperature doesn’t rise too high.

Food: A wide variety of foods should be offered. Their diet can consist of black worms, blood worms, chopped earth worms, small crickets, slugs, ghost shrimp, freeze dried krill, and occasionally brine shrimp. Frozen foods should be thawed in lukewarm water prior to being offered. Some newts may not accept all foods in the above list, and some experimentation may be needed to find a good, varied diet for a newt. Few newts learn to accept commercially available newt pellets, and in general these should be avoided. Feed adult newts two 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.

Last updated 05.22.05

Online Resources
Bethnewt: Taricha Species
Caudate Culture: California Newts
Caudate Culture: Rough-skinned Newts
Caudate Culture: Water Quality
University Of Michigan - California Newt
Wild Herps - California Newt