Nocturnal newts

I was in the pub last Friday with a good friend of mine enjoying a few pints but despite what you might be thinking this post is about amphibians. Mostly. We were talking about butterflies and other wildlife when he mentioned that he knows of a pond which is good for newts. So on our way back from the pub at around midnight we picked up torches and my camera and made for the pond.

We weren’t disappointed. As we shone the torch in the water we could fairly soon see two of the three species of British newt: the great crested, Triturus cristatus and the smooth or common Lissotriton vulgaris – which looks a bit like a small great crested. The third species is the palmate newt, Lissotriton helveticus, which in the breeding season is fairly distinct from the other two species but is apparently uncommon in the east of England.


This great crested newt headed for the cover of some pondweed in response to our torchlight


And shortly after made for deeper cover with a flick of his tail. The ‘great crest’ can clearly be seen here

Great crested newts spend most of their time on dry land where they rest up under rocks or logs during the day and emerge at night when they feed on land or in water for worms, tadpoles, snails and insects. They return to the water to breed where the female will lay several hundred eggs over the course of 3-4 months. The juveniles and non-breeding adults live a predominantly terrestial existence where they hide up during the day in undergrowth or other cover and emerge to feed at night. They reach breeding age at 2-3 years old when they begin the cycle of aquatic and terrestrial life.

The smooth newts were not dissimilar in appearance to the great crested newts but are only up to 10cm long – considerably more diminutive than their great crested cousins. Both male and female great crested and smooth newts become rather more distinctive during the breeding season when the colours, spot patterns and crests are at their most flamboyant.


A pair of male smooth newts

I originally thought these were a pair in the throes of courtship, but I’ve since been informed by a reader, see Duncan’s comment below, that they are two males.

The palmate newt is approximately the same size as the smooth newt but the colouration of the palmate is rather more subdued. All three species of newt in the UK live a terrestrial lifestyle outside the breeding season, but at this time of year they all head to the water to breed.


Female palmate newt – the male has a smooth crest along his tail with a distinctive filament on the end. He also has webbed feet which this one doesn’t.

All newt species are protected in Europe, including the UK, with varying levels of protection. The great crested newt is considered to be the most in danger and therefore has the highest level of protection such that disturbing them or habitat where they are known to be, killing, possessing and selling live or even dead specimens, is illegal.

I’d never seen a newt of any species until this so it was great to see them and be able to get a few photographs too, after spending the evening prior in the pub in pursuit of the obvious topical simile!

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6 responses to “Nocturnal newts

  1. Fascinating! Thank you!

  2. Nice photos. The ‘pair’ of smooth newts are actually two males. One has a less well developed crest than the other. The ‘palmate newt’ looks like a female smooth newt to me. You would have to look at the throat to see if it was palmate – it should be pink and unspotted if it is. Palmate is rare in eastern England .

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