Dweller of both woods and water: eastern or red-spotted newt
After a dry spell we finally had two days with a combination of passing showers, an evening of steady rain and then heavy downpours by the bucket-full for 10 to 20 minutes or so. The following day was sunny and very warm, so I took to the woods for a late-morning ramble. With the previous day’s wet weather, the old logging trail had some mud in low spots but would be dry by afternoon. I entered the mostly hemlock and pine woods and within 100 feet came upon a small salamander. Despite its diminutive body it was hard to miss with its orange red color that would rival the red plumage of a cardinal or the orange wings of a monarch butterfly.
I knew it to be a juvenile eastern or red-spotted newt, known as a “red eft” during its juvenile life stage as a terrestrial woods dweller. The wet and warm weather had brought it out from the leaf litter. I didn’t have a clue as to where this one was going, perhaps like me it was just out to enjoy the morning, but it did appear determined in its direction.
Summer is a great time to find these unique woodland creatures, and can also be a great introduction for kids into the interesting world of amphibians. Here is some information about the eastern or red-spotted newt. (Note that I use the term eastern “or” red-spotted because the species is knows as both the eastern and red-spotted newt, and in one reliable amphibian guide that I use it is listed with the “or” in its name.)
The life cycle and longevity of this animal is unique. It starts as an egg, hatching underwater into a larva with extended gills. It then leaves the water for terrestrial habitat as a juvenile, with lungs replacing the gills. Later it returns to an aquatic habitat as an adult but retains its lungs.
The red-spotted newt’s breeding season is from March to August in permanent or temporary water such as ponds and vernal pools. The female will lay up to 375 eggs singly on underwater plant leaves and stems. The eggs will hatch within three to five weeks and be in the larval stage for two to three months, after which they leave the water to live in their juvenile terrestrial “red eft” form for two to five years. They then return to the water to breed and can reside in both water and on land for up to 15 years.
In its adult stage the red-spotted newt is between three to five inches in length, with variations from olive to dark green sides and back and yellow below. There are small red dots, circled in black, along its sides, back, tail and legs. I have only seen the adults in water, though they can also be found under logs and near ponds and streams. The adults are certainly more camouflaged than juvenile red efts, and that is probably why I have not seen them on land.
The trail where I spotted the red eft leads past an old beaver pond that is just downhill of a forest spring or “seep” that beavers dammed up more than 25 years ago. The outflow of their dam twists through the woods for almost one mile before entering a nearby brook. The beavers used this flooded pond for about 10 years before moving on, but the dam has held, and the pond still retains water year-round – perfect habitat for amphibians such as the red-spotted newt. Many times during the late spring and summer months I have walked over the top of the dam and seen the newts in the shallow water along the shore. Their size makes it easy to spot them. At times they are the only movement along the bottom.
If I am lucky, I may see larvae as well as adults. The larvae are from a half-inch to one-and-a-half-inches long with the lighter yellowish green color of the adults and a gray stripe on each side of their bodies with wavy soft external gills. Their gills are the giveaway that they are larvae that will eventually metamorphose into efts in late summer, leaving the pond and taking up their air-breathing terrestrial stage.
According to a fact sheet by the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP) Wildlife Division, red-spotted newts are widespread throughout Connecticut where their preferred forest and wetland habitat can be found. There are also several subspecies found throughout the United States. Here are some interesting facts about them from the CT DEEP fact sheet:
• Adult and larval newts inhabit a variety of aquatic habitats. They prefer sunny, weed-filled, slow-moving and shallow bodies of water, such as slow meandering rivers, lakes and reservoir margins, pasture ponds, bogs, mill ponds, drainage ditches, vernal pools and wooded swamps.
• Efts are found in deciduous and coniferous woodlands, pastures and meadows. Soils of these woodlands vary from dry to soggy and waterlogged. Red-spotted newts require large areas of forested habitat adjacent to their breeding sites to support the multi-year terrestrial eft stage.
• Adult newts feed on insects, leeches, crustaceans, mollusks and small amphibians and fish. The efts eat insects, spiders, mites, worms and tiny mollusks, while larvae will consume aquatic micro-invertebrates.
• Red-spotted newts can be indicators of healthy wetlands and forests and are an important environmental species. They also help control aquatic insects, including mosquitoes, and are aesthetically pleasing with their vibrant colorations at all life stages.
• The adults secrete poisonous toxins on their skin to be distasteful to predators, and the efts’ bright coloration serves as a warning.
The CT DEEP Wildlife Division also advises: “If you find a red-spotted newt or the terrestrial eft stage, in the wild, leave it where you found it and only take photographs. Every individual salamander is vitally important to its local population.” CT DEEP also discourages the collection of newts or other salamanders as most will not survive captivity and collection can negatively affect populations.
I always enjoy spotting red efts on forest trails and this is the time of year to find them. Their life cycles and longevity make them one of our more unique creatures and like all salamanders should be appreciated.
I hope you’ll join me to help spread the word about our important salamanders. Additional information about salamanders is available on the CT DEEP Salamander Website at:
The fact sheet on the eastern or red-spotted newt can be found at:
We live in a beautiful place called The Last Green Valley filled with interesting and important animals. I hope you’ll join me and others as we look to enjoy, care for and pass them on.
Information for this column was gleaned from the Stokes Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles by Thomas Tyning as well as the CT DEEP Fact Sheet on the red-spotted newt.
Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for more than 35 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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