Newt Nature Note

Categories // Tales from the Field

Now Here's Something You Don't Hear Everyday!

If you spend a little time with a dipnet in any of our shallow freshwater ponds you will capture an assortment of aquatic insects and crayfish. If you are really persistent you might even catch a newt, an interesting salamander that has a lifecycle that is well-suited for the temporary wetlands of the lowcountry.

Most amphibians have a pretty straightforward life: egg → aquatic larvae → terrestrial adult.

Newt life is not quite so simple; they have four (instead of three) distinct stages: egg → aquatic larvae → terrestrial eft (juvenile) → adult.

This actually gets even more complicated because adult newts can be either aquatic or terrestrial.

Let me explain how this whole thing works. Red efts (the immature stage between larvae and adult) spend several years on land. After feeding on small insects and earthworms on the forest floor, they migrate back to the same wetland where they hatched and turn back into aquatic adult salamanders to breed. After mating the females lay eggs (on clumps of aquatic vegetation) that hatch into miniature larvae. These larvae increase in size until they change into efts and move on to land. After the breeding process, the original adults may spend the remainder of their lives in the water. However, if the wetland dries up, the adults will likely change back into terrestrial adults and live on land for a while. When this same pond refills, they can become aquatic again and breed again. Whew!

I had always read that newts were distasteful and even toxic to some animals. Many years ago I decided to put this theory to a test and lightly licked a newt. The reports were certainly correct; both the newt and I survived the ordeal but I lost all feeling in my tongue for a few minutes. I certainly learned why few animals are willing to eat one of these little salamanders.

P.S. Rest assured, no newts were harmed during the creation of this article.