The Chinese fire belly newt (also called the oriental fire belly newt) and the Japanese fire belly newt are some of the most common amphibians sold as pets. In the wild, the Chinese fire belly newt is found at low and middle elevations around slow-moving bodies of water in China while the Japanese fire belly newt is found in similar locations throughout Japan. With their vivid orange-red markings on their stomachs, fire belly newts make an attractive pet and require only a small enclosure that mimics their environment in the wild.
Active, hardy, and relatively easy to care for, fire belly newts are a popular choice for beginner amphibian keepers. They're a fun pet to observe, though their somewhat toxic skin secretions make them unwise to handle. Still, once you get them set up with the proper environment and determine their feeding schedule, they can be a low-maintenance, enjoyable companion for many years.
Common Names: Fire belly newt, fire newt, Chinese fire belly newt, oriental fire belly newt, Japanese fire belly newt
Scientific Names: Cynops orientalis, Cynops pyrrhogaster
Life Expectancy: 10 to 15 years on average and up to 30 years
Adult Size: 3 to 5 inches long
Fire Belly Newt Behavior and Temperament
When you first bring home your fire belly newt, it might seem shy and reclusive as it gets used to its new enclosure. But once the newt figures out its new scene, it should be quite lively. Fire belly newts and other aqueous amphibians spend most of their time in the water, coming to land only occasionally. They are nocturnal, feeding and frolicking mostly at night, so they might not be a good choice to keep in a bedroom.
In the wild, the fire belly newt's markings serve as a warning to predators of its toxic nature. The animal's skin excretes poisonous toxins as a defense mechanism. Thus, they are not good pets to handle and not ideal if you have small children. The toxin can irritate unbroken skin and can even cause numbness, dizziness, and shortness of breath if it gets into a cut or scratch. Plus, it can be very dangerous when ingested.
Housing the Fire Belly Newt
Housing the fire belly newt requires replicating its natural habitat inside of an aquarium. In the wild, fire belly newts are aquatic, so an ample water source is necessary. However, newts also need a dry land area in the tank, so they can climb out to rest and bask in the artificial sun. While they don't need a huge enclosure, the larger the volume of water is, the less chance of waste buildup. A 20-gallon tank can house up to four fire belly newts.
The aquarium's land area can consist of a sloping gravel substrate, replicating the shore of a natural water source. You can create this with plexiglass set in place with aquarium-grade silicone. Rocks, moss, and pieces of bark make great hiding places. And a floating island of wood or rocks, which should be smooth to prevent damaging the newt's delicate skin, can be provided as a supplemental land source.
Fire belly newts thrive in cool temperatures. While they tolerate room temperature, they are happiest between 62 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. At temperatures above 75 degrees Fahrenheit, fire belly newts can become stressed and susceptible to infection, particularly of the fungal variety. Keeping your newt's tank in the basement can help to maintain optimal temperatures. And in hot weather, positioning a fan over the aquarium or providing a source of melting, dechlorinated ice can help your newt cool off if the ambient room temperature runs high.
Newts should be kept on a regular cycle of 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark per day. During the summer, a well-lit room with ample daylight should suffice, as long as the tank isn't in direct sunlight. In the winter, you might need an artificial light on a timer to replicate these conditions. Newts do not have special UV requirements, but a low-watt fluorescent fixture may be used to propagate live plants. Just make sure the newts have a shaded area or shelter they can retreat to.
To mimic the floor of a natural water source, line the bottom of the tank with smooth gravel. Make sure the gravel you choose is large enough that the newt can't ingest it. While plastic plants are easier to care for, you also can provide live plants to maintain homeostasis in the aquarium and keep the water clean and healthy.
Food and Water
You might have to try a few food sources before finding one that works for your newt. However, bloodworms (frozen or live) seem to be a favorite and are readily available at most pet stores. Fire belly newts also eat earthworms (tip: chop them up first), brine shrimp, glass shrimp, daphnia, and freeze-dried Tubifex cubes. You can also try floating amphibian sticks, but many newts refuse to eat them. Large newts—particularly larger Japanese newts—also sometimes dine on guppies.
It can take a little experimentation to figure out how much and how often your newt should be fed. Typically every other day or every three days is sufficient. Monitor your newt's body condition to assess whether you're feeding it too much or too little. Any excess food left in the tank is a telltale sign you're feeding your newt too often, and decaying food will contribute to toxic buildup in the tank.
Fill your tank with dechlorinated water. Water filtration is crucial to tank health, though strong currents are best avoided. Air-powered corner filters work best and create very little current. Internal power filters, positioned on their minimal setting, and under-gravel filters can also be used. Approximately a third of the tank's water should be removed and replaced with fresh water every one to two weeks, depending on the size of the tank and the number of newts it houses. A gravel washer (available at many pet stores) also makes cleaning easy, as it gently agitates the tank's bottom as the water is siphoned off.
Common Health and Behavior Problems
Most health problems in captive newts arise from unclean water. Bacteria and fungus can build up in the tank, causing skin lesions and infections. If you notice a lesion on your newt, contact your veterinarian and clean its water promptly. If you catch the problem quickly enough, it should be easy to remedy. However, prolonged unhealthy tank conditions can cause death.
In terms of behavior, fire belly newts aren't typically territorial or aggressive, allowing them to coexist with other newts of their species. If you must handle your newt, wear impermeable gloves to avoid skin irritation. Also, keep other pets and children away from your newt, as ingesting the toxin can lead to death.
Choosing Your Fire Belly Newt
Obtain your fire belly newt from a reputable breeder or rescue group. Look for reptile and amphibian groups online or contact your local pet shop for recommendations. Make sure the seller can give you adequate information on the animal's health and origin, and expect to pay around $20.
Select a newt with vivid coloring and bright eyes. Cloudy eyes can indicate disease. Its skin should be smooth without any abnormal lesions or other marks. And it should appear well-fed.
Similar Species to the Fire Belly Newt
If you're interested in similar pets, check out:
Otherwise, check out other types of reptiles and amphibians that can be your new pet.
Kudo, Yuta et al. Confirmation Of The Absence Of Tetrodotoxin And Its Analogues In The Juveniles Of The Japanese Fire-Bellied Newt, Cynops Pyrrhogaster, Captive-Reared From Eggs In The Laboratory Using HILIC-LC-MS. 2015. Toxicon. 2015. dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.toxicon.2015.05.008
Environment and Husbandry for Amphibians. Merck Veterinary Manual.
Infectious Diseases of Amphibians. Merck Veterinary Manual.