A Newt Tale

The largest of the European salamanders, ribbed newts are also one of the most popular in home aquariums.

With a flat head, big rounded eyes, and a long dorsal fin that runs like a dragon's crest along the length of its body, a ribbed newt is something of a spectacle. In fact, its common name comes from the wart-like bumps along its sides, caused by the poking tips of its ribs. These sharp bones sometimes break through the skin, but without harming the animal.

While their eccentric looks - along with long lifespans and the ability to tolerate changing environmental conditions - have made them popular aquarium pets, you are not likely to come across one in the wild. Entirely aquatic, Pleurodeles waltl hide during the day among rocks or vegetation, coming out at night to hunt for worms, snails, and other freshwater invertebrates. Often taking up residence in temporary pools of water, they survive bouts of drying by burrowing into moist confines below rocks.

Active throughout the year, ribbed newts breed in late spring to early summer. After mating, females lay up to 800 eggs in jellylike masses, attaching them to water plants, rocks, or other submerged material. Legless with feathery gills, larvae are born killers, feeding on tiny aquatic organisms including smaller brothers and sisters. About the size of a grain of rice at birth, P. waltl adults may reach a foot in length.

Pleurodeles waltl is found in the southwestern two-thirds of the Iberian Peninsula and Morocco.