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Amphibians - Crocodile Newt

Region: Indomalaya

Class: Amphibia

Order: Caudata

Family: Salamandridae

Genus: Tylototriton

Scientific Name: Tylototriton shanjing

Description: Length: 15.24 - 20.32 cm. The Crocodile newt is also called the Emperor newt or Mandarin salamander. The vivid dorsal colouration of a dazzling orange vertebral stripe culminating in a completely orange tail with 12 - 14 orange round protuberances along the ribs on a black, dark brown or maroon background. It is considered to be mainly nocturnal and this is thought to be due to the fact that certain water snakes and raptors prey on them without displaying any adverse effects from the harmful alkaloids contained in their bodies. Males tend to be smaller than the females, are more streamlined, have somewhat thicker forearms and have a much more swollen cloaca. They are largely terrestrial during the non-productive periods and are not particularly adept swimmers although they do enjoy bathing.

Distribution: Mountains of western China (primarily in the Himalayan subregion of western Yunan), Burma, extreme northeast India, northern Thailand (where it is believed to be extinct) and Nepal.

Habitat: Cool woodland and forest usually in the vicinity of slow-moving water.

Food: Insects

Reproduction and Development: Mating usually takes place in water a few weeks after a dormancy period from December to March. Fertilization is external with the male dropping up to three small cone shaped spermatophores which he then drags the female’s cloaca across. There is a 7 - 21 day ova development period then the female searches in the water for a suitable egg laying site. Eggs are usually adhered to the side of a partially submerged rock in clumps of 10 - 15 with the normal quantity being 40 - 60 in total. Eggs are 2mm in diameter with a yellowish nucleus. The larvae hatch in 10 - 18 days and measure approximately 9mm in length. They are very slow developers and take 110 - 150 days to metamorphose. On metamorphosing they measure 4.93 - 6.35cm reaching maturity in the second or third year.

Adaptations: The newt’s colouration makes it very conspicuous so this would appear to make it vulnerable to predation. However apart from it being shy, it’s skin contains some distasteful and potentially harmful alkaloids. Also the skull and upper vertebrae are heavily armoured with additional layers of thick bone which serve to deter predators. Their brilliant colouration actually enables the newt to bath in the open during the day where shifting reflections of light against the pebbled stream beds enables cryptic colouration i.e. colours are broken up so that they merge with the colours of the pebbles.

Threats: Until recently Crocodile newts were imported into Europe and the US from specimens caught in the wild in Thailand. 10,000 were exported from this region alone in 1992. Since then strict laws have limited the collection of this species from the wild.

Status: Common

References: The Mandarin Salamander FAQ by Marc S. Staniszewski (via the Internet)