International Wildlife Encyclopedia - Vol. 13

International Wildlife Encyclopedia - Vol. 13

International Wildlife Encyclopedia - Vol. 13

International Wildlife Encyclopedia - Vol. 13



A palmate newt sits on a cushion of golden saxifrage. Like all newts, this species breeds in fresh water and is always found in damp places.

Newts are amphibians and belong to the salamander family. They have a life history similar to that of frogs and toads in that the adults spend most of their life on land but return to water to breed. They are different in form from frogs and toads, however, having long, slender bodies like those of lizards, with a tail that is flattened laterally. The name comes from the Anglo-Saxon evete, which became eivt and finally a newt through the displacement of the n in an ewt. In Britain, newt refers solely to the genus Triturus, but in North America it has been applied to related animals, which are sometimes called salamanders.

Newts of the genus Triturus are found in Europe, Asia, North Africa and North America. There are three species native to Britain. The most common is the smooth newt, T. vulgaris, which is found all over Europe and is the only newt found in Ireland. The maximum length of the smooth newt is 4 inches (10 cm). The color of the body varies but is mainly olive brown with darker spots on the upper side and streaks on the head. The vermilion or orange underside has round black spots and the throat is yellow or white. The female is generally paler on the underside than is the male and sometimes is unspotted. In the breeding season the male develops a wavy crest running along the back and tail. The palmate newt, T. helveticus, is very similar to the smooth newt but about 1 inch (2.5 cm) shorter and with a square-sided body. In the breeding season the males of the two species can be distinguished because black webs link the toes of the hind feet of the palmate newt, and its crest is not wavy. In addition, the tail ends abruptly, and a short thread, about 6 millimeters long, protrudes from the tip. The largest European newt is the crested, or warty, newt, T. cristatus. It grows up to 6 inches (15 cm) long. The dark gray skin of the upperparts is covered with warts, while the underparts are yellow or orange and are spotted with black. This species’ distinguishing feature, besides its size, is the male’s crest, a tall, “toothed” frill that runs from the head to the hips and becomes the tail fin.

Breeding in water

When they come out of hibernation in spring, newts enter the water to breed. They make their way to ponds and other stretches of still water where water plants grow. Newts swim by lash- . . .

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