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Friday, Aug. 17, 2001
By ROWAN HOOPER
* Japanese name:Imori * Scientific name:Cynops pyrrhogaster * Description: Fire-bellied newts have rough, blackish-brown skin and a vibrant, crimson-orange belly. This is the most common salamander in Japan, found from Honshu to Kyushu. Females grow to between 8 and 14 cm (including the tail); males 7-11.5 cm. In the breeding season males develop smoother skin, and grow a thin tail filament at the tip of the tail; the body and tail get a blue-purple sheen. There are six subspecies in different parts of Japan, each with different colorations. * Where to find them: In clean water of ponds, rice fields, swamps and streams. Adults usually live in the mud at the bottom of the pond, but juvenile newts are terrestrial, and can be found under stones, bark and leaves. Females lay their eggs on the of leaves of aquatic plants. They can lay up to 200 eggs in a breeding season (April to early July); eggs hatch after about 20 days and metamorphose after 3-5 months. Juvenile newts are terrestrial for 1-3 years, but when they are sexually mature, they return to the water. Imori should not be confused with yamori (lizards), which look similar but are reptiles, not amphibians. * Food: Worms, insects, tadpoles. * Special features: If startled, they assume a defensive posture, showing their red belly to the potential predator. The red belly is a warning signal meaning "poison." In case the predator needs more persuasion, the newt secretes a foul-smelling mucus from the skin. During courtship, males chase after females, ramming them with their nose and blocking their path. They waft their tails at the female, which bathes the females in pheromones. The subspecies of this newt in the Kansai Region encourages the female to stay by putting his hind leg on her neck while he wafts his tail. If she decides to mate, the male produces a bag of sperm which the female draws into her body and uses to fertilize her eggs as she lays them.