Mendocino to San Diego counties in California, from the coast to coastal mountains up to more than 4,000 feet in elevation
A 15-gallon aquarium will house up to two adults. You’ll want to provide separate land and water areas. I use a Rubbermaid container to create a land area filled with bark, coconut coir or a mixture of both, with a little water added to make it damp. Place some cork bark or other cover on top of the substrate for the newts to hide and burrow under, then place this container into the aquarium. Of course, make sure the container doesn’t take up all the space; you want to leave room around it for the water area.
Add water treated with a dechlorinator (available at stores that sell tropical fish supplies). The water can be as deep as you like, though not so deep that the container acting as the land area is submerged.
A small filter can be used to keep the water clean, but make sure the current created by it is not too strong. Placing a rock in front of the outlet will help deflect the current. Add some plastic plants to the water area to make the newts feel comfy, and your setup is complete.
Place a secure screen top over the aquarium to prevent newts from escaping. No light or heat is required; in fact, too much heat will cause captive California newts to die. They do best in temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
California newts will eat just about any soft-bodied creatures they can catch and swallow, including crickets, mealworms, earthworms and slugs. Dusting crickets with calcium is a good idea and sure won’t hurt.
California newts are protected in California, so field collecting them is illegal. There are a few dedicated breeders outside of California who produce small numbers, but these are few and far between. Still, you might be able to locate some on the Internet and (rarely) at reptile shows or pet stores.
California newts have a highly toxic tetrodotoxin that is harmful to other animals if ingested (the newts themselves are immune to it). Do not kiss your newt (!), and always wash your hands after handling it.
California newts are very enjoyable little guys that are undemanding and easy to care for. Just remember to wash your hands very thoroughly before and after handling them.
Ken Foose produced his first captive-bred snakes at age 11. With a Master’s Degree in zoology, he has been both a zookeeper and curator. He opened Exotic Pets, which specializes in reptiles and amphibians, in Las Vegas in 1991. He is currently president of the International Herpetological Symposium.