Paddle Tail Newt
© Ren Weeks
Basic InformationCommon Name(s): Paddle Tail Newt, Paddletail
Scientific Name: Pachytriton labiatus
Commonly Misnomers: Giant fire belly newt
Often Mistaken For: Fire belly Newt
Description: A medium-sized newt, measuring roughly 6-7 inches snout to tail at maturity. The animal is long bodied but thickly built with small, short appendages and stubby toes. The characteristic tail is laterally flattened, giving it its name. The head is large, wide, and flattened with small eyes and enlarged labial folds, giving them the "dog like" face many find endearing in the species. Coloration is a medium to dark chocolate brown, and lateral lines of red spotting or striping are sometimes observed. The underbelly of the species is mottled, typically red or orange-red and brown with some white occasionally included. Mature males may have an observable bulge at their cloaca, and will also have white spotting towards the end of their tail that becomes more visible during breeding season.
Lifespan: 10-20 years possible/typical with good husbandry; actual lifespan thought to be longer as most specimens are WC adults. Captive temperatures may reduce lifespan.
Range: South-Eastern China
Habitat: Cool, high-oxygen (oligotrophic) streams in mountain forests.
Diet: Insectivore/Carnivore; the species feeds predominantly on invertebrates but readily consumes fish and other amphibians.
Reproductive Habits: Following a winter cooling period, generally in early spring, males will begin to seek out gravid females. Males exhibit tail fanning, which releases communicative pheremones, rigorously; both genders may also nudge one another's bodies and cloacas. If the female accepts the male's advances, she will nudge and nip his tail until he produces a spermataphore, which is deposited on the substrate. The male guides the female over the spermataphore with his enticing tail movement; upon contact with the cloaca, it is absorbed. The exact number of eggs laid by the species is unknown but captive records show 50 or fewer to be typical. Females lay their eggs beneath large debris or on the ceiling of constructed burrows. The female guards eggs aggressively until hatching. Little is known about the growth and development of the larval stage of this species, however.
Conservation Status: Stable/ICUN Least Concern
Captive Bred/Wild Caught: All pet trade specimens in the US thought to be WC. There has been no successful captive breeding of the species in the US, and minimal success in Europe.
Captive HusbandryHousing: The minimum tank or bin size for a single paddle tail newt is 10g, or a roughly 10inx20in footprint. Wider, more shallow containers are preferable to narrow, tall ones. If keeping multiple paddle tails communally (not recommended), afford at least five gallons for each additional newt. Make sure the lid is extremely secure with no openings, as the species is adept at escape.
Water & Water Quality: Unlike the fire belly newt, the paddle tail newt is 100% aquatic; there is no need to provide a land area, though offering plants and branches towards the surface will allow the animal to rest near the surface when breathing.
All water should be conditioned, not merely left out overnight, with a product such as Prime or any other conditioner that addresses chlorine, chloramines, and heavy metals.
Water must be kept pristine via weekly water changes to manually remove waste and ammonia; the tank should be cycled if possible for minimal disturbance. The water should be well oxygenated with a fast current produced by a high quality filter. Submersible and canister filters are preferred to HOB filters, which can result in escape at the opening in the hood.
Extreme pH levels can be deadly to the species, with neutral safest, but pH fluctuations serve a greater danger than moderately acidic or basic water. Thus, pH modifying products should not be utilized.
Lighting: Paddle tails yield from well-shaded bodies of water, so room lighting is generally considered sufficient on a typical 12/12 day-night schedule. If bright hood lighting is utilized, be sure to plant densely and provide hides. This species is diurnal.
Temperature: Paddle tails are not heat tolerant and prefer temperatures in the 50's to mid 60's (Fahrenheit). They should not be kept much above 70*F for prolonged periods of time, or they will suffer chronic stress. Temperatures of 80*F and above are deadly.
Substrate: It is easiest to keep paddle tail newts without substrate. However, if substrate is provided, it should consist of rocks too large to be consumed (ie. river rocks), or sand fine enough to be passed. Avoid gravel to avoid impactions.
Decor: Decor can be minimal, but at least one hide per newt is required. It is best to mimic the natural habitat of the species by offering broad, flat rocks and branches to hide under. Optionally, fake or live plants are enjoyed by the species for hiding.
Diet & Feeding: Paddle tail newts will accept pelleted food, but this is not suggested for health and longevity. Ideally a wide variety of invertebrate matter should be offered. Frozen foods intended for fish such as bloodworms, daphnia, krill, etc., as well as small crickets, roaches, worms, etc. should be fed in as much variety as possible. Small live-bearing fish (NO goldfish or rosy reds) are an acceptable treat.
Paddle-tail newts consume via suction, so avoid feeding over loose substrate that may be ingested. Tong feeding and had feeding is possible in this bold and gregarious species, and the species also likes to stalk/hunt live prey.
Paddle tail newts do not require large amounts of food to survive; they come from nutrient-poor waters and have slow metabolisms. Monitor the animal's body condition and cut back if overweight or obesity is observed. Typically, feeding a few times weekly is quite sufficient, but there is no exact science as temperature strongly influences energy needs.
Supplementation: Generally, when fed a varied diet, supplementation is not needed. Gut loading live prey, however, is strongly encouraged.
Communal Keeping: In the wild, paddle-tail newts are viciously aggressive to others of their kind, regardless of gender, due to fierce competition for food in the oligotrophic streams they inhabit. This behavior remains even with ample food supply in captivity. Communal keeping can be achieved in well-planted tanks with at least one hide per animal, but injuries, fighting, and harassment are all possible causes of chronic stress. Territorial skirmishes can be severe enough to result in deaths. Overall, they are best kept solitarily.
Tankmates: Tankmates are also ill advised for this aggressive and voracious species. While they may temporarily co-exist with tankmates, they are well known for killing or consuming fish and other amphibians. Conversely, larger fish, frogs, and turtles may harass or kill the newt.
Reproduction: Successful captive breeding has not been achieved on any significant scale. Keeping mature males and females together and providing seasonal temperature changes while offering a quality diet will typically result in the aforementioned mating behaviors. Egg production and hatching, however, is a rarity.
Health & Illness: A healthy Paddle tail Newt should be active and inquisitive with smooth, dark, matte skin. It should move easily in fluid movements, and should have a full range of motion in its limbs and tail. Feeding should be enthusiastic, and wastes should be well formed. The body should be thick, muscular but not obese.
Unhealthy paddle tail newts may be lethargic and often rest at the surface gulping air frequently. The skin may become pale, excessively shiny, wrinkled, or may show visible marks, sores, and blemishes. Stiff or erratic movements of the body and limbs, as well as darting and drifting, may indicate serious health problems. Disinterest in food, the absence of feces or stringy white waste, emaciation, or bloating are also indicative of ill health.
A myriad of health conditions may afflict the paddle tail newt. Dropsy/edema, parasites, and bacterial infections are the most commonly observed conditions, though edema is actually a symptom and may be caused by a variety of serious underlying health problems. When kept communally, injured or amputated limbs or internal blunt-force injuries are also common. Maintaining a clean, low-stress environment and feeding a high quality diet best avoid all illnesses. If your newt does fall ill, please seek veterinary attention or defer to the amphibian emergency medicine guidelines found in the emergency section of the forum.
- Paddle-tail newts communicate chemically and through body language; the tail-fanning behavior observed in the species is not only physically significant, but also chemically significant, as this behavior spreads biochemical signals through the water.
- Paddle-tails exchange gasses through both their lungs and their skin, so despite their ability to breathe, contact with the skin should still be minimized.
- Never offer over-sized prey to the paddle tail newt. They are enthusiastic enough eaters that keepers have reported them choking to death attempting to consume prey that is too large for them to swallow.
- Limb re-growth is possible in this species, though may be slower than in species that live in higher temperatures.
- These animals are ESCAPE ARTISTS and being fully aquatic and will die after prolonged periods of time out of the water. Lids should be thoroughly secured; gaps produced by equipment such as filters or bubblers should be patches as much as possible with plastic needlepoint canvas.
- As with all amphibians, heavy metals are devastating to paddle tail newts. Do not put any metals in the tank and be leery of rusted lids that may flake into the tank. Glass and plastic hoods are recommended.
- Reilley, Paris. (2005). Species Entry: Pachytriton - PaddleTail. Caudata Culture.org.
- Wu, Yunke. (2008). Pachytriton labiatus. AmphibiaWeb.org
- Drs. Foster & Smith Education Staff. (1997-2009). Species Info: Paddletail Newt. Drs. Foster & Smith.com
- Sparreboom, M, and Thiesmeier, B. (1999). ''Courtship behaviour of Pachytriton labiatus (Caudata : Salamandridae).'' Amphibia-Reptilia, 20, 339-344
- Urodela Info Center Pachytriton "C": captive care and breeding (Accessed 11/5/09)
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