Chinhai Spiny Newt
(Echinotriton chinhaiensis)
The Chinhai spiny newt is a secretive, land-dwelling species that hibernates for about five months of the year during the winter. Females mate and then migrate to egg-laying sites next to small ponds. The eggs hatch and are washed into the adjacent pond by heavy rains in May. They metamorphose in the pond and then permanently leave the water. This species possesses a remarkable defense mechanism against predators. They have sharp, elongated ribs whose tips project through the skin when these animals are grasped and inject painful skin secretions into the mouths of would-be predators. This species is mainly threatened by habitat destruction and the pollution of its breeding ponds.
Urgent Conservation Actions
The establishment of a protected area within good quality habitat; further research into this species’ ecology; continuation of the current captive breeding initiative.
Zhejiang Province, China.
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Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Caudata
Family: Salamandridae
The Salamandridae (commonly referred to as the “true newts and fire salamanders”) is a family of around 74 species that diverged from all other salamander lineages around 200 million years, at the end of the Triassic period. This family of salamanders evolved at the feet of the dinosaurs, arising 30 million years after the origin of the dinosaurs and 135 million years before their eventual extinction. There are 59 species of newt in this family, which form the subfamily Pleurodelinae. The remaining salamander species form the subfamily Salamandrinae, and these tow subgroups diverged around 48 million years ago, which in terms of mammalian evolution makes them as dissimilar as chinchillas and porcupines. The true newts and fire salamanders are today distributed across Europe, Asia and North America, and have the largest range of any salamander family.

All salamandrids have toxic skin secretions, and newts are highly poisonous in all stages of their life history. The skin secretions of the California newt (Taricha torosa) are among the most toxic substances known to man. Many salamandrids have bright colours and markings that serve as warnings of their toxicity and may be used in defensive displays. The males of many species within this family have also been observed performing elaborate courtship displays to entice the female into mating. Unusually in amphibians, females of some species within this family retain fertilised eggs within their body and give birth to live young (e.g. Lyciasalamandra – the genus of Luschan's salamander, EDGE rank 35) – although egg laying is known to be the ancestral state from which this curious trait evolved. Another bizarre modification found in the salamandrids is the reduction or loss of lungs in several genera that evolved from species with lungs. Outside of the Plethodontidae (the “lungless slamanders” family), these salamandrids are some of the only amphibians to have lost their lungs. The genus Echinotriton contains the “spiny newts” (such as the Chinhai spiny newt), which possess a remarkable defense mechanism against predators. They have sharp, elongated ribs whose tips project through the skin when these animals are grasped. The rib tips of the spiny newts pass though enlarged glands on the sides of the body, and painful skin secretions are injected into the mouths of would-be predators.
The Chinhai spiny newt is a stout salamander with a flattened body and head. This is a moderate sized species, with males growing to a total length of 120 mm and females being slightly larger at 140 mm. Both sexes have a series of 12 highly conspicuous knob-like glands along either side of the body. The head is broad and triangular in shape. It is uniformly dark brown or black in colour, with yellow-orange markings on the underside of the tail, around the cloacal (reproductive opening) region, and on the soles of the feet and palms of the hands. The skin is granular. Although males and females are almost identical apart from a slight size difference, when the females are carrying eggs they have distended abdomens.
This species inhabits forests in low hills and the breeding season extends from late March to late April when female Chinhai spiny newts migrate to their breeding habitat around small ponds after mating. This species courts, mates and nests on land. The courting male marks a trail by a mucous excretion from his cloaca (urino-genital reproductive opening). The pair follows an elliptical track, with the male depositing a sperm packet or “spermatophore” along the way. The mating pair align their bodies and the male leads the female over the spermatophore, which she clasps with her cloaca and uses the sperm to fertilise her egg within her body. A male may deposit several spermatophores in one evening.

Females lay small clumps of eggs on land close to small, sheltered pools and ponds in the humus or under rotting leaves. The female lays 72 to 94 large, single eggs on land, in one or several clutches and does not guard the eggs, instead moving out of the breeding site immediately after egg-laying. In May, after about three to four weeks, the larvae are flushed out of the nest site by rains and are capable of finding their way to water by wriggling over land, sometimes leaping several centimeters above the ground. The development of the young from egg to metamorphosis takes around 110 days, where upon they make the transition back to the land and never return to water again. Newly metamorphosed salamanders measure 340 to 400 mm in total length and climb on to land in August.

The Chinhai newt is very long-lived and slow breeding. Preliminary information from captive animals suggests that they do not become sexually mature until they are at least 10 years old, and they may live for at least 20 years, and probably longer. Both males and females of this species lead secretive lives, mostly spent hidden and they are difficult to observe outside the breeding season. Between breeding seasons, this species hides among grass, in soil crevices, under stones, or in dark, moist, humus-rich, loose areas of soil. They are inactive during the day and very slow moving when active. Hibernation takes place from November to March, which is immediately followed by the breeding season. During the reproductive season, only the females migrate to the egg-laying sites. Males are rarely encountered and mating takes place on land away from these ponds, although it has only ever been observed in the laboratory. The diet of the Chinhai spiny newt includes a number of different invertebrates, such as earthworms, small mollusks and ground beetles.

The “spiny newts” of the genus Echinotriton are so-named because of their remarkable defense mechanism against predators. They have sharp, elongated ribs whose tips project through the skin when these animals are grasped. The rib tips of the spiny newts pass though enlarged glands on the sides of the body, and painful skin secretions are injected into the mouths of would-be predators. They also exhibit a rigid antipredator posture, during which the body is flattened and curled up and the hands and tail are raised, revealing red “warning” markings.
The Chinhai spiny newt inhabits forests in low hills. The typical spawning habitats are ponds surrounded by dense plant cover. The vegetation is composed of an upper layer of evergreen broad-leaved trees, a middle layer of shrubs, and a lower layer of grasses, which creates a dark and humid habitat. These ponds are semi-permanent, slightly acidic or neutral in pH, small and shallow, receiving water mainly from rain. The areas where eggs are laid consist of slopes and flat ground directly bordering the ponds, and these sites have loose soil and stones, and are invariably covered by a thick leaf litter.
This species is only found in the Beilun area, east of Ningbo City in Zhejiang Province, China, from altitudes of between 100-200 metres above sea level. It is known from only three subpopulations, one of which has become extinct.
Population Estimate
Only three populations are presently known: the type locality in Chengwan, where the species was discovered by Chang in 1932, one population in Ruiyansi forest park, and a recently discovered site in Qiushan. The total population comprises around 300 mature individuals.
Population Trend
This species is registered as declining in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The Chinhai spiny newt is listed as Critically Endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species because its extent of occurrence is less than 100 km sq. and its area of occupancy is less than 10 km sq., all individuals are in a single location, and there is continuing decline in the extent and quality of its habitat, and in the number of subpopulations, east of the city of Ningbo in eastern China. It is also listed as a Class II state major protected wildlife in China since 1988.
The Chinhai spiny newt is predominantly threatened by habitat destruction and degradation, especially as a result of forestry activities, road construction, agricultural plantations (such as small-scale tea and oranges) and human settlement. Pollution of the breeding habitat is also a serious threat. An additional potential threat is the over-collection of individuals for scientific purposes.
Conservation Underway
The Chinhai spiny newt has been listed as a Class II state major protected wildlife in China since 1988. The largest sub-population is within the Ruiyansi Forest Park, which does not yet constitute an effective protected area for the species, although it has been relatively well monitored. There is a small captive-breeding programme in an outdoor enclosure at the Chengdu Institute of Biology, and some young individuals have been reintroduced to the wild.

In 1999, artificial ponds were created near the known breeding ponds in Ruiyansi Forest Park to provide extra breeding habitat for this species. Further encroachment upon the habitat by orange orchards and tea plantations was stopped, and a sign was posted telling the farmers that it was forbidden to dump any remains of pesticide containers in the pond or to wash their equipment there.
Conservation Proposed
Suggested conservation measures include the establishment of a nature reserve within the habitat of the Chinhai spiny newt. Further studies should be promotes that investigate the distribution, ecology, and conservation biology of this species. The captive breeding programme should be continued to ensure that they are reserve populations of the Chinhai spiny newt to supplement wild populations should they decline further.
AmphibiaWeb: Information on amphibian biology and conservation [web application]. 2006. Berkeley, California: AmphibiaWeb. Available: amphibiaweb. Accessed: 08 December 2006.

Fei, L. 1992. Echinotriton chinhaiensis (Chang) and its endangered status. Chinese Journal of Zoology 27(4): 39-41.

Feng, X. & Huiqing, G. 2004. Echinotriton chinhaiensis. In: IUCN 2006. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 31 July 2007.

Frost, D. R., T. Grant, J. Faivovich, R. H. Bain, A. Haas, C. F. B. Haddad, R. O. De Sá, A. Channing, M. Wilkinson, S. C. Donnellan, C. J. Raxworthy, J. A. Campbell, B. L. Blotto, P. Moler, R. C. Drewes, R. A. Nussbaum, J. D. Lynch, D. M. Green, and W. C. Wheeler. 2006. The Amphibian Tree of Life. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 297: 1-370.

Frost, Darrel R. 2006. Amphibian Species of the World: an Online Reference. Version 4 (17 August 2006). Electronic Database accessible at: . American Museum of Natural History, New York, USA.

Halliday, T. and Adler, C. (eds.). 2002. The new encyclopedia of reptiles and amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

IUCN, Conservation International and NatureServe. 2006. Global Amphibian Assessment. Global Amphibian Assessment. Accessed on 08 December 2006.

Obst, F.J., Richter, K. and Jacob, U. 1984. The Completely Illustrated Atlas of Reptiles and Amphibians for the Terrarium. T.F.H. Publication Inc., N.J., U.S.A.

Roelants, K., Gower, D. J., Wilkinson, M., Loader, S. P., Biju, S. D., Guillaume, K., Moiau, L. and Bossuyt, F. 2007. Global patterns of diversification in the history of modern amphibians. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104: 887-892.

Sparreboom, M., Feng, X. and Fei, L. 2001. Endangered Chinhai Salamander colonising newly created breeding habitat. FrogLog 47: 1-2.

Xie, F., Fei, L. Ye, C.-Y., Chunmo, C., Wang, Z. and Sparreboom, M. 2000. Breeding migration and oviposition of the Chinhai Salamander, Echinotriton chinhaiensis. Herpetological Journal 10(3): 111-118.

Zhao, E.-M. 1998. China Red Data Book of Endangered Animals - Amphibia. Science Press, Beijing

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