Emperor newt (Tylototriton shanjing)

GenusTylototriton (1)
SizeLength: up to 140 mm (2)

The emperor newt is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The scientific name of the emperor newt (Tylototriton shanjing) is derived from two Mandarin words, “shan” meaning mountain and “jing” meaning spirit or demon. This brightly coloured amphibian has rough skin, and distinctive bony ridges on the sides and top of its head (3).

While the background colour of the emperor newt is a dark brownish-black, this species is easily identified by its bright yellow or orange markings, notably on its head, on the ridge along its spine ridge, and on the warts along its sides. Its tail and limbs are also a yellow-orange colour, and the markings are the same in both sexes (2) (3).

Until 1995, the emperor newt was considered to be the same species as the Himalayan newt Tylototriton verrucosus (4). The separation of these two species was based mostly upon the emperor newt’s striking colouration, in comparison to the uniform brown colour of the Himalayan newt (2).

The emperor newt occurs in central, western and southern Yunnan province, in China (1).

An inhabitant of the forests and wetlands of Yunnan’s mountain ranges, the emperor newt uses small ponds, ditches and occasionally artificial waterbodies as spawning sites (1) (2).

Outside of the breeding season the emperor newt is entirely terrestrial (3). The species has an interesting and complex courtship behaviour, which involves a series of dance-like circular movements (2).

The spawning season of the emperor newt runs from the end of April until August, and the female lays between 80 and 240 eggs, which are deposited either individually or as strings, on aquatic plants in ponds and ditches. The eggs hatch after 15 to 40 days, and the larvae undergo metamorphosis after approximately 60 days, reaching sexual maturity after 3 or 4 years (2) (3).

The emperor newt is threatened by a variety of factors. Although the main threat to the species is over-harvesting for traditional medicine, it is also collected for the international pet trade due to its bright and attractive colouration. Like many amphibians, the emperor newt is also affected by habitat loss and degradation, as a result of expanding human settlement (1).

Although there are currently no specific conservation measures in place for the emperor newt (3), some parts of its range fall within protected areas (1). There are also captive breeding programmes in Europe and North America (1).

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For more information on amphibian conservation see:

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  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2011)
  2. Ziegler, T., Hartmann, T., Van der Straeten, K., Karbe, D. and Böhme, W. (2008) Captive breeding and larval morphology of Tylototriton shanjing Nussbaum, Brodie and Yang, 1995, with an updated key of the genus Tyloyotriton (Amphibia: Salamandridae). Der Zoologische Garten N.F, 77: 246-260.
  3. Amphibiaweb - Tylototriton shanjing (November, 2011)
  4. Nussbaum, R.A., Brodie, E.D. and Datong, Y. (1995) A taxonomic review of Tylototriton verrucosus Anderson (Amphibia: Caudata: Salamandridae). Herpetologica, 51(3): 257-268.