The emperor newt can reach 4.5 to six inches (12 to 15 cm) in length. Its body is round with a flat, broad-finned tail. This is a rough-skinned newt with distinct bony ridges on the top of the head and spine and a row of warts that runs down each side. The body is dark brownish-black color with orange or yellow pigment on head, parotoid glands, vertebral ridge, and its 30 dorso-lateral body warts. Although color varies between individuals, the patterns of markings are relatively constant. This new is highly toxic.
These newts are found only in western Yunnan province in China in the mountains along the Nu, Lancang, and Yuan rivers. They live at elevations between 330 and 8,200 feet (100 and 2,500 m).
They live in water fields, such as rice paddies, ponds, or humid grasslands beside trenches in the breeding season May to August, and are fully terrestrial in the non-breeding season.
Newts feed on earthworms, centipedes, snails, and other small invertebrates.
They eat earthworms and small crickets 2 to 3 times a week.
In the wild they typically breed May through August. They deposit eggs singly or in clumps on rocks and plants in standing water bodies.
In captivity, breeding may be initiated in many ways. One way is to maintain the animal at ambient temperatures in the lower 60s and on a fairly dry substrate during the winter. Then during summer, the ambient temperature is raised to the upper 70s and the humidity increased. If breeding is to occur, they must have enough water for courtship and for depositing eggs, as well as a nice-sized land area.
China has classified this newt as a Class II state protection animal. It is not listed on CITES.
Newt populations are often threatened by habitat destruction inflicted by the growing human populations. People regularly catch and dry this newt for medicinal usage, and because of its coloration, it is commonly sold in the pet trade.
The species name is derived from the Mandarin words “shan” (mountain) and “jing” (spirit or demon). They are also called the Yunnan newt.