Chinese Fire Belly Newts (Cynops orientalis)
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The Chinese Fire Belly Newt (Cynops orientalis) is a small (2.2-4 inc, 6-10 cm) black newt, with bright orange aposematic coloration on the ventral side. Cynops orientalis is commonly seen in pet stores, where it is frequently confused with the Japanese Fire Belly Newt (Cynops pyrrhogaster) due to similarities in size and coloration. C. orientalis typically exhibit smoother skin and rounder tails than C. pyrrhogaster, and have less obvious parotoid glands.
Chinese Firebelly Newts are mildly poisonous and excrete toxins through their skin. Consisting primarily of tetrodotoxins, newts of the genus Cynops pose a medically significant threat if enough toxins are consumed (Brodie et al., 1974). Despite this, skin excretions alone are unlikely to be harmful to humans unless the entire animal is swallowed. Regardless, the washing of hands before and after contact with these or any amphibian is important to reduce the risk of transferring toxins or disease to and from the animal.
In the year 1008 AD, a Chinese author mentioned that a small black salamander could be found in the water weeds in pools on the Mou prairie. This animal had a head like a lizard and a dark red underside, four feet and four toes in paler colors. Without a doubt, this passage describes the same species that we call Cynops orientalis today.
Furthermore, this author stated that these salamanders were cultivated in the sublime lake of Tien-tse at the summit of Mount Luchan around the same time. There, they were thought to be the sons of the celestial dragon. Local peasants believed they had the power to bring rain.
Chinese Fire Belly newts are one of the most commonly found species in the pet trade due to extensive collection from the wild, where hundreds of thousands of individuals are collected annually. Though relatively easy to care for, many new imports die due to stress or diseases contracted during shipping. For the animals that survive shipping, mortality rates remain very high from poor husbandry received at pet stores or from the final owner.
When searching for a pet firebelly it can be wise to check for local breeders, or individuals giving their pets away, as these animals are often much healthier while reducing the demand from the wild. If captive animals can not be found, be sure to buy an animal in fair condition. Open sores, missing limbs, fungus, and overly thin animals should be passed over, or even healthy-looking individuals if dead newts are present in the tank. While many people buy sick animals out of pity or with the intention of nursing them back to health, purchasing these animals simply encourages poor care on behalf of the pet store owner.
Cynops orientalis does best in an unheated aquarium at temperatures between 58-68 °F (14-20°C). Temperatures exceeding 74°F typically result in high levels of stress or death. Adults typically do best in aquatic habitats with some degree of land provided (turtle docks, floating plants, and certain types of driftwood function well in this regard). Failure of newts to enter the water may be a sign of stress, improper water quality, or other health problems. As a rule of thumb, five gallons of aquarium per animal is ideal, though smaller tanks may have water quality problems. A twenty gallon tank (~76L) filled 3/4 to the top can house 4-6 adults, provided the water quality requirements and other needs of the animals are met. Including live plants in the aquarium can help maintain a healthy water quality while providing cover for the newts and a more attractive enclosure.
Mixing other amphibians, fish, or other animals with C. orientalis is to be discouraged. Other animals may be aggressive, carry foreign diseases, have different housing requirements, and may eat or be eaten by the newts. Firebelly toads (Bombina orientalis), Paddletail newts (Pachytriton spp.), fiddler crabs, and various fish are often inappropriately kept together at pet stores. Firebelly toads require different temperatures and have been known to eat or wound newts, while paddletail newts are known for a high degree of aggression. Additionally, toxins from various newts may be fatal to other species. Firebelly newts should never be kept with dwarf or clawed frogs, as these animals are known carriers of chytrid, a skin fungus that is generally fatal to most amphibian species. A few species of small, cold water fish such as white cloud minnows are generally considered acceptable as tankmates for C. orientalis, however they may still carry disease, parasites, or be eaten by hungry newts.
Captive newts may eat pellets or freeze-dried foods, though some animals may refuse this. Live food items that are readily taken may include bloodworms which are the larvae of Chironomidae, earthworms, water fleas such as Daphnia, adult brine shrimp, blackworms, or mosquito larvae. Tubifex worms can carry a wide array of diseases, however, so should be avoided. Large worms may need to be chopped to suitable size. Newts may also eat tadpoles or small fish, but these food items present a higher risk of parasite and disease transmission if wild-caught.
Many times, newly purchased females are gravid and may be induced to breeding if provided suitable egg-laying sites. Water plants and plastic egg-laying strips (thin strips of clean garbage bag tied to a rock or other weighted object) work well, and plastic strips may be preferred to live plants 1. Eggs are laid singly wrapped into plants or plastic, with a few eggs laid each day. Typical clutch size may vary between 50 and 250 eggs per female. Larvae hatch after a few weeks and can be raised on baby brine shrimp, daphnia, or cut blackworms. However, due to the low demand for captive bred C. orientalis, intentional breeding is uncommon and metamorphs can be difficult to sell or even give away. After metamorphosis, this species tends to go through a terrestrial stage. At this time you would need a tank with a water depth ranging from 2.5-5.8 cm (1-2 inches). Though, this water depth can be slightly higher or lower. Heavy planting is needed; such as elodea and java moss.
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