Bio Facts: Newt, Kaiser’s
Kaiser’s Spotted Newt
Southern Zagros Mountains in Iran (total range 6.2 mi2 or 10 km2)
Four highland streams surrounded by arid scrubland, ponds and pools
Adult length – approximately 4 in (the smallest species of this genus); coloration is distinctive; a long narrow yellow or orange-red dorsal stripe overlaying bleached white (spots or a continuous band) on a black background. The venter is whitish or orange-red, and may have black markings. A large white patch between the eyes narrows as it reaches the snout tip. Behind each orbit is a yellow blotch which runs toward the jaw. Legs have orange-red, black, and white markings. The sexes can be differentiated by the anatomy of the cloaca, with the male having an enlarged, rounded cloacal region, and the female having a volcano-shaped cloaca. However, these differences are clearly visible only during the breeding season. Outside of the breeding season, it may be impossible to distinguish between the sexes.
Unknown in the wild; 6 – 8 years in captivity
Unknown in the wild; 2 – 3 years in captivity
In the wild, they eat small invertebrates; in the Zoo, they are fed small crickets, fruit flies, and blackworms.
IUCN – Critically Endangered; CITES – Appendix I
The Kaiser’s spotted newt has a reputation for being a shy, skittish species. Movement on land resembles that of lizards more that that of typical salamanders. When aquatic, however, the animals usually lose their flighty behavior. Wild-caught adults are generally shyer than their captive-bred counterparts. The animals generally avoid light and are active in low light and at night.
When terrestrial, the newts spend the day under the lower hides and at night will forage for food amongst upper hides and open spaces. They have a preference for perching high and are very active soon after the lights are turned out. They are very gregarious towards one another and will often be found huddled together under a single hide. Intraspecific aggression is not a problem.
The Kaiser’s spotted newt leaves water outside the breeding season, and is found in oak-pistachio open woodlands dominated by Quercus brantti and Pistachio spp. The streams are mostly surrounded by open patches of woodland with rock outcrops.
It is a stream-breeder. Courtship behavior generally resembles that of Triturus. Facing the female, the male fans his tail, attempting to maintain his position in front of her. In contrast to the other Neurergus, only the distal third of the tail is fanned. The male then turns away from the female and deposits a spermatophore in front of her. He then moves one body length forward and turns to block her path. If she is receptive, she advances and picks up the spermatophore with her cloaca.
Kaiser spotted newt eggs are larger than the eggs of other Neurergus species. In nature, eggs are deposited singly on rough surfaces. Unlike other Neurergus, which ordinarily lay eggs on the underside of stones, kaiseri also use vegetation for laying their eggs. The eggs are laid away from light, but not always on the underside of stones. In captivity, eggs are deposited in many different locations in the tank - on stones, rocks, plants, glass - and many are laid in illuminated areas.
The larvae are adapted to flowing water habitats in that they have a conspicuously long tail, which helps them to swim against strong currents. They develop for about a year prior to metamorphosis, spending their first winter in water.
Water is absent from its habitat for a significant part of the year, during which this species is known to estivate. Estivation or aestivation (from Latin aestas, summer), also known as “summer sleep”, is a state of animal dormancy somewhat similar to hibernation. Amphibians estivate during the hot dry season by moving underground where it is cooler and more humid.
Its striking coloration is thought to be a warning to potential predators of its toxicity. It also produces a bitter odor if disturbed.
Kaiser’s Spotted Newt (Neurergus kaiseri), is also known as the Luristan Newt or Emperor Spotted Newt.
The first known captive specimens of N. kaiseri were brought to Europe from field studies conducted in 1970s by father and son Schmidtler and Schmidtler. In the early 1990s, Schultschik and Steinfartz brought some pairs to Europe, from which some descendents are still alive.
It is considered critically endangered due to its tiny range (it inhabits an area of less than 6.2 sq mi (10 km²)), continuing habitat loss, and the illegal capture of salamanders for the wild animal trade. It has been estimated that the entire wild population numbers fewer than 1,000 adults. There is a breeding program for the Luristan Newt at the Sedgwick County Zoo. Iran is planning on starting its own breeding program.
Of great concern is the current growing trade in the species for the pet trade. At present it appears that individuals caught in the wild are being illegally exported out of Iran. Some of the individuals in the trade are reportedly captive-bred but this requires confirmation. A few animals have been observed for sale in the Tehran market, presumably for local use in aquaria. Habitat loss resulting from firewood collection for small-scale subsistence use and coupled with the effects of recent severe droughts is also a major threat to the species. Damming of the few known inhabited streams is a serious potential threat to the species. Non-native cyrpinid are additionally spreading into the streams from lower elevations and present a threat to the larvae and eggs of this species.
The Kaiser’s spotted newt is emblematic of the availability of the internet as an additional way to sell endangered wildlife and products thereof. It is the first species to be up for protection mostly because of e-commerce sales. The newt is sought as a pet by collectors and wildlife enthusiasts and numbers have declined by more than 80 percent in recent years.
In 2006, an investigation by TRAFFIC into the sale of Kaiser’s spotted newts revealed 10 websites claiming to stock the species. One Ukrainian company claimed to have sold more than 200 wild-caught specimens in a single year.
The species is protected by Iranian national legislation. The area that the species is known from is close to the Zagros Oak Forest protected area. Actions need to be taken immediately to prevent the illegal export of this species for the international pet trade. Specimens have been exported to European countries and to Japan, in violation of Iranian law.
Jacksonville Zoo History:
The internationally protected Kaiser’s newt has been part of the Jacksonville Zoo animal collection since 2010 and has successfully bred here.