Looking for a Long-lived Pet?

If you’re looking for a cute and cuddly pet, the one I’m writing about today probably isn’t what you’re after. But if you want a pet that will likely be around longer than any dog or cat (maybe a LOT longer), you might want to consider a newt.

When my son James was six years old, he asked for a pet snake. The answer was no. We already had enough snakes that came into the house uninvited. A visit to Exotic Tropicals yielded the perfect compromise—two red-bellied newts. We were assured they required minimal care and were fun to watch. All we needed to buy to go with them was a glass aquarium with a screened top, a bag of smooth pebbles, some plastic plants and a canister of amphibian pellet food. De-chlorinated water and a flat rock the newts could climb onto when they grew tired of swimming were available at home.

James named his new pets Nukem and Dukem.

For more than fifteen years, those newts thrived on neglect. We almost never cleaned their tank and refilled the water only when the level got so low we feared the newts might shrivel up and die. I can’t attest as to how often James fed Nukem and Dukem, but that first canister of pellets lasted until he was well into middle school.

James grew up. He graduated from high school and enrolled in Tennessee Tech. He got married. It was clear he had little interest in or time for his newts. I certainly didn’t want to take care of them. So James gifted Nukem and Dukem and their habitat to his wife’s young nephew, Jack. When Jack became too busy, he passed the newts down to younger brother Isaac, who in turn passed them to younger brother Jude.

Their mom Sarah calls nine-year-old Jude the “newt master.”  He takes responsibility for feeding live crickets and occasional pellets to Nukem and Dukem. He’s added two red-bellied toads to the aquarium with positive results. “In all honesty, though,” Sarah said, “these animals don’t require a lot of care or attention. They’re not something you take out and play with like you would a hamster. They just kind of hang out. In fact, one of the newts disappeared for several months and we just assumed he’d died and disintegrated. Then one day he showed up again on top of the rock.”

What will happen when Jude can no longer fulfill his newt duties? One more brother, six-year-old Will, is waiting in the wings.

How long do newts live? According to my research, 20 years is not unusual. One source said that some newts have been known to live far beyond that. So what will happen when Will gets too old for Nukem and Dukem? “I don’t know,” Sarah told me. “But I’m positive there won’t be any more little brothers to take over.”

(March 31, 2019)