Karl Wilkie, age 8, of Albany, NY., for his question:
What food does a pet orange salamander need?
We share our country with 135 different salamanders, but as a rule we have to search for them. Some of them never leave the waters of our streams and ponds, and the rest of them stay in the shelter of small holes where the air is damp and shady. Many of our salamanders make pretty pets, but we must go out hunting to find the foods they need.
Around albany there are at least five different orange or almost orange colored salamanders. Any one of them would make a pretty pet. He will need a special home called a terrarium, and, of course, you will want to keep it clean and tidy for him. The little fellow eats meat, live meat from the world of insects.
You find his food outdoors in the garden or along the weedy wayside, in the woods or among the moist plants that border a stream or pond. He will eat many different insects and also their eggs and their wormy grubs. He is used to the bugs that live near his home in the wilds where you found him. You may have to let him sample several different insects to find the one he enjoys most.
Chances are his favorite food is a beetle called the mealworm. The grown beetle is an inch long and maybe too tough for your adopted pet. But he will know just what to do with the long, wormy grub of the mealworm. You may find these beetles and their grubs hidden in rotting wood, leaves and moldy soil. You can take home a supply of them so that you do not have to go hunting for your salamander's food every day.
Store your live insect meat in a container of bran or crumbled cereal, and make sure to keep it fairly warm and very dry. In the wilds your pet did his sleeping in the daytime and went out to forage for his food after dark. So give him his meal in the evening. If he does not eat up all of his dinner, you have given him too much. Take the left overs out of his terrarium and give him a smaller dinner next time.
Your salamander may be yellowish orange all spotted with freckles of brown. If you found him among some damp rocks or in a rotting log, he may be the long tailed salamander, whose tail is longer than his body. His cousin, the cave salamander, lives near rocky caves, and his orange coloring is more reddish. If your pet's sides are marked with two long stripes of yellowish orange, he is a two lined salamander.
You can make a terrarium for your salamander from an oblong box of clean plastic or glass. Cover the floor with gravel, soil and a few shady rocks. Add some plant to grow in the soil. He will like the plants that grow near his home in the wilds, and you can gather a few from where you found him. Bury a shallow pan in the soil and keep it filled with water. This will keep the air of his hcnte moist and give him plenty to drink.