The Aquarium

Please read the imporant Update below.

What's a Newt?

A newt is an amphibian, lizard-like, but actually in the salamander family. There are different kinds, but mine are Firebelly newts because of their bright orange bellies.

Why Newts?

Because they're unique, mostly. But I got them also because they're "not completely dependent upon water."

That may sound like a pretty strange criteria for picking a pet, but not when you consider what happened to my fish, back when I had them. I used to have 10 fish. I had them for almost a year before I moved. They were perfectly happy in Kansas City, living in dechlorinated, heated, filtered tap water. But then I moved to the DC area. I moved the aquarium by removing half the water and putting it in the cab of the truck. When I got to my new apartment, I filled the aquarium up the rest of the way. Believe it or not, all ten fish survived the two day trip half-way across the country.

But then it came time to change the aquarium. I took out the fish, dumped the water and wiped the aquarium out with the rag I keep around just to clean the aquarium. I refilled the tank, dechlorinated the water, tested the temperature and then put the fish back in. 8 of them died in one hour. The 9th died an hour later. The algae eater, the largest and most hardy of the fish, lasted until morning.

I felt so bad, I kept the tank empty for nearly a year. I didn't want to kill any other fish with DC water.

But the empty tank was...well, empty. So, deciding I wanted to put life into it again, I wanted something "not completely dependent upon water." Amphibian!

But what kind of amphibian? I've always had an eye for unique aquarium dwellers. I'd tried loaches before and little fiddler crabs (named Clawdius and Clawdia!) and even a little frog. But I'd had no luck with any of them. I couldn't keep them more than a couple of weeks. And it hurts me to bring home some little animal just to kill it. I didn't want to try any of those again for fear of a repeat. So I went to the pet store and looked around. And then, I saw them: Newts.

Little Newts. They were about four inches long, black on top and bright orange underneath (Chinese Firebelly newts or Cynops Orientalis). They were amphibious and could come out of the water. I liked it. So I brought two of them home. I couldn't tell if they were male or female, so I just assumed male (never did get any baby newts, so they were the same, whichever gender they were). I named them Julian and Miles after my favorite TV character and his best friend. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine reference. Check out my Star Trek pages: The Edge of the Frontier, for more information.)

Funny thing was, the first day after I brought them home, I came home to find one of them missing. I lifted every rock and clam shell out of the aquarium, but I only counted one newt. Amphibious was right. One had crawled right out! I found him, luckily (the cat didn't seem interested) and put him back in the water. But it wasn't the last time these two ever got adventurous. I caught Miles outside the aquarium (he'd crawled down the back of the cart the aquarium sits on) one other time. The second time, I didn't find him. Not for months. I thought maybe the cat had taken an interest after all, but sadly, he showed up later. It was so sad. He'd made it across the living room and the dining room. We found him under the dryer.

Julian waited almost a year to explore the world beyond the aquarium. There must have been a ripple in the mesh I use under the aquarium lid, because one morning, he just wasn't there anymore. I wouldn't go to work without finding him, since I hoped to get him back to the water before he dried out. Turns out,, he didn't get nearly as far as Miles, but it was too late for him, as well.

I waited a few more months to get more newts, mostly because I didn't have a car to get me to the pet store, but I eventually got a ride. I got Vlád'a and Max at the same store, though, sadly, Max decided to see the world last year. I found him in front of the entertainment center. Vlád'a, in his early life, displayed some suicidal tendencies early on by climbing up the side of the aquarium and hanging out until he was almost dry. He doesn't do that anymore. To be honest, I wasn't nearly as good at telling he and Max apart as I was Miles and Julian, but I'm pretty sure Vlaád'a is the one that's left.

Why are newts more interesting than fish?

For one thing, they are more attentive. My newt will watch me watching him. He sometimes crawls/swim forward to get a better look. I'd even gotten Max to take his food pellet directly from my hand on several occasions. They have the cutest little feet and they're a lot of fun to hold, when you can hold onto them. (They wiggle a lot.) They are cleaner than fish, too. I don't have clean my aquarium near as often as when I had fish.

Important Update!

Vlád'a is sick and will likely die. I found him bloated on the night of June 9th, 2001. He's well over two years old. But that is still young by newt standards. Bloat is almost always fatal.

When I got my first newts I asked about water temperatures and what-not. As I've said, I don't like to bring things home just to kill them. But the pet store guy wasn't very informative. He told me 75 was an okay temperature. Because of Vlád'a's sickness, I went frantically searching on the internet and found several sites, though none really gave me an idea of the cause. Until I found a forum. It's a wonderful forum with lots of knowledgable posters. And now I know that I have likely killed my little newt due to ignorance.

The temperature was too high. With summer heat, the temperature was climbing toward 80F. And even 75F is too high. Firebelly newts need to be below 70F.

I want others to know, in honor of Vlád'a, my longest living newt, how to take care of their newts so that something tragic like this does not have to occur. Please visit the forum linked below. Ask about your kind of newt as soon as you can (even before you get them if possible!). I've linked a couple of other helpful sites as well.

May your newt live long and prosper.

Newt Links:

The forum: Kingnake Salamander and Newt Forum. Also has forums for other pets, including fish, cats, and dogs.

bethnewt's salamander page has info on a few different species.

Super Newt has a lot of information for someone getting started with newts, such as tips on choosing an acquarium, setting it up, water chemistry, care and feeding.

Caudate Central. A site with loads of information on salamanders and newts.

Hellfish's Fire-bellied newts Web Site has information for beginners, including water condition and compatible animals.

Please inform yourself so that you can adequately care for your pets.


Vlád'a's not the only thing living in my aquarium. Kockisek lives there too!


Or check out my Cats! page.

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