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Spanish Ribbed Newts (Pleurodeles waltl)
Spanish ribbed newts (SRNs) are very large, mostly aquatic newts from the Iberian peninsula. They are an ideal beginner newt as they are hardy, personable and impressive. The reason they are called "ribbed" newts is that they can eject their own ribs from their sides when threatened, coating them with a skin toxin on the way out, making them undesirable to predators. In captivity they almost never do this, and the toxin is not dangerous to people. Having been in the hobby a very long time, SRNs come in a "wild type" color morph and a "leucistic" morph. The wild type is greenish or brownish with faint black and sometimes orange spots. The leucistic is pink with black eyes.
Housing
Spanish ribbed newts can be housed in twenty gallon or larger aquaria with a small piece of cork bark to haul out on. They very rarely leave the water, but I always offer it to them in case they want it. Temperature should be ideally around 65 F, but because of their natural range, they are more tolerant of warm temperatures than most newts. A simple sponge filter attached to an air pump works for filtration.
I use a tight-fitting screen lid on my SRN tanks, but I have never seen one of them attempt to leave the water. Just to be safe, I recommend securing the top of the tank in some way. I change the water in the tank once a week, and do a pretty large percentage since these are large newts that produce a lot of waste. Avoid using any substrate that might be ingested. Large river rocks, a bare bottom tank, or very fine loose sand are acceptable.
Live plants such as elodea or java fern work well. SRNs don't need any special lighting but the plants may do better with better lighting. They seem to really enjoy sitting in masses of surface vegetation and sticking their little faces out of the water so I recommend plants for them. If live plants are too much of a hassle, they don't seem to mind fake plants as a substitute.
Feeding
Spanish ribbed newts are not picky eaters. Adults will eat commercially prepared sinking pellet fish foods, frozen blood worms and live worms of almost any kind. (However, be careful when acquiring wild worms from outside, as they may contain trace amounts of pesticides and other harmful things). Offering a variety of foods ensures good nutrition for your newts so mixing it up is recommended. Feed newts every two to three days and siphon out any uneaten food before it rots.
Breeding
SRNs are ridiculously easy to breed. They are the bunny rabbits of the newt world. My adults breed almost every time I change the water in the tank and replace it with water that's in any way a different temperature. Adult males are generally smaller and thinner than females and have beefy front limbs which they use to grab onto the females in what's called "amplexus." If you see your newts giving each other piggy back rides, they're amplexing. The male will fertilize the female's eggs on the way out and then she'll start attaching them to any plants she can find in the tank. Pull the eggs out and rear them in a separate container.
Feed them pond water from outside, chopped black worms, daphnia moina or baby brine shrimp. They are born much smaller than similar sized salamanders like axolotls, and grow a bit slower, but care is essentially the same as most larval salamanders. After a few months, the larvae will develop into what look like small versions of the adults and can be cared for in exactly the same way. At about a year old, they will be full grown adults.
A Word About Mixing Species
Many people ask if they can mix X species with Y species. My answer is almost always, no. These animals should be kept in a species specific setup for their own safety and the safety of anything else. They will generally try to eat anything they can fit in their mouth (and sometimes things they cannot), and the risk of potential diseases being transmissible between amphibians is well documented. That said, I have safely kept ribbed newts with small snails, and live plants such as java moss, java fern, green myrio and elodea.