Chinese Fire Belly Newts are fun and easy to care for, as long as you have a proper set-up and keep up on cleaning regularly.
These social little newts grow to 3-4 inches, are best kept in small groups (2-4 newts) and can be kept in as small as a 10 gallon aquarium (though larger is better, and more than 3 newts will need a bigger tank). With proper care they can easily live up to 30 years (yes, thirty). Sadly, most newts will die within 5-years due to improper care.
The Set Up
You should have your tank set up and running before bringing home a newt. For 1-3 newts, a 10-gallon tank is sufficient; of course the larger the tank, the better. The set up should be about 2/3-3/4 water and 1/4-1/3 land. The water should be 4-6 inches deep to allow for swimming and exploring. Use spring or tap water, but do not use distilled water as it prohibits the growth of good bacteria. The land portion of the tank can be rocks, floating plants, (sanitized) driftwood, cork bark, a small turtle dock, or anything else that can float above water (or stick up above the water when resting on the bottom) and allow your newt to get up and out for a rest. The land portion should be easy to climb up on, and be smooth to avoid hurting your newt's sensitive skin (no metal and avoid rough or chemically treated wood).
Filtration is important. These newts like calm water, so you'll need a filter that doesn't offer much water flow. Corner filters and under gravel filters are good options. Remember that the more newts, and the smaller the tank, the more often you'll need to siphon the bottom to keep it clean. Chinese fire belly newts do release a mild toxin, and it does build up in the water if you don't clean it regularly, but so does their waste. For a ten gallon aquarium with 2-3 newts, you should be siphoning 1/4 of the water every 2-3 weeks. You can siphon less if you have fewer newts, and/or a larger enclosure.
You won't have to worry about a heater or lighting with these newts. They prefer cooler temperatures, so do best at room temperature. They actually get stressed out and will get sick and die if the water is too warm for their liking. As far as lighting goes, they do need a schedule. Many newt keepers put their aquarium lights on automatic timers that turn them on and off every 12 hours. Most newts do fine without an aquarium light at all if the room they are kept in gets natural sunlight every day.
The bottom of your tank should be sand or smooth rocks that are too big for your newt to eat. Newts are very curious creatures and love to explore their surroundings. Be sure to rearrange your tank regularly to provide mental stimulation for your amphibious friend. Some suggestions for creative decorating include drift wood, live and fake plants, large odd-shaped rocks, any aquarium-safe decorations (without sharp pieces and with holes big enough that your newt won't get stuck), old clay pots, shells (again, be sure your newt won't get stuck in them), etc. Be sure to properly sanitize anything that will be going into your newt cage. Bleach or vinegar are safe to use because they do not leave any residue. Never use soap on anything that will be in contact with an aquarium!
Make sure that your newt tank has a secure lid. These newts can climb the glass and are well-known escape artists. Unfortunately, without access to water to keep their skin moist, they die quickly. An escaped newt is a dead newt unless you can find him soon.
Some newts are pickier than others. Some will eat commercial newt food (we recommend HBH brand newt and salamander bites), while others will starve to death if not offered live food. If you have a picky newt, live brine shrimp, ghost shrimp, small tadpoles and small or cut up earthworms are good choices. Some newt keepers have had luck with frozen brine shrimp or frozen bloodworms, but they should be thawed before being offered to your newt. Some newts will accept freeze-dried bloodworms, freeze dried brine shrimp, or freeze dried daphnia. You will have to experiment with feeding until you find something that your newt will accept. Chinese fire belly newts are carnivorous. Feeding a variety of foods is preferred, as long as your newt is eating the foods offered. Chinese fire belly newts only need to be fed every 2-3 days. Over-feeding can lead to obesity.
Handling Your Newt
Chinese fire belly newts are named for their bright orange bellies. In the wild this is a clear warning to predators that they are poisonous. While they do secrete a mild toxin, they are not generally dangerous to handle. Make sure you wash your hands after you handle them and never put your newt in your mouth. Keep your newts away from small children who may want to put them in their mouths.
Newts have very sensitive skin, and can get stressed and sick if handled too much. If you do need to handle your newt for some reason, be sure to wash your hands before you do, to get as much of your natural salt off as possible.
The best advise is not to handle these guys at all unless you have to.
When they aren't feeling well, newts give off some very obvious signs, if you know what to look for.
A newt that stops eating needs to be watched carefully. Offer other foods and try to get your newt back to eating as soon as possible. While they really only need to eat every 2-3 days, they don't have a lot of weight to lose if they stop eating. Perhaps your newt has grown tired of what you're offering and wants something different. Experiment with other foods until he starts to eat again. Variety is always welcome in their diet, as long as they are eating what you are offering.
A newt that stays out of the water is signalling that something is wrong. Most of the time when a newt no longer wants to go in the water, it's a sign that you need to clean the tank, as the toxins are building up and making your sensitive newt uncomfortable. You should never wait this long to change the water! Regular water changes should prevent this behavior from occurring.
Staying out of the water is also a sign that they are afraid of something in the water. Never house a newt with goldfish, crabs, fire belly toads, guppies, aquatic frogs or other newt species. Your newt habitat should be just for Chinese fire belly newts. Other species of larger newts, crabs, goldfish, and even guppies have been known to kill Chinese fire belly newts! Fire belly toads, despite a similar name, are not compatible with Chinese fire belly newts. Their environmental needs are different, and their combined toxins quickly turn the water to poison.
Inevitably, some owners will decide that the Chinese fire belly newt is not the pet for them. If you no longer want your newt(s), please contact your local pet store, animal shelter or pet rescue to see about surrendering your pet. Never release newts into the wild. They are not equipped to survive in the wild here, and would likely starve, or be killed by a predator. If they did manage to survive the summer, they'd die in the fall/winter because they can not deal with the extreme temperature changes.
This Chinese fire belly newt guide was written by Amanda