Newts are not just magical ingredients for witches’ brews. They are also the leading character in their own fairy tale. Each year, they wake up from a deep winter’s slumber and get ready to go to the ball, searching for their one true love.
They have a unique story all their own that involves more transformation than their salamander cousins are used to. Some decide to join Peter Pan’s Lost Boys and never grow up, while others prefer adventures on land. Many go through several chapters of change to return to the water with a fresh perspective. Which adventure would you choose?
Newts are salamanders
Just like toads are a type of frog, newts are a type of salamander. Eastern newts are native to eastern North America, including right here in Will County. Eastern newts can be further broken down into four subspecies: red-spotted, central, peninsula and broken-striped newts. They all look slightly different depending on where in North America they are found. Here in Illinois we have central newts (Notophthalmus viridescens louisianensis).
Eastern newts can be found in both deciduous and coniferous forests. Like other amphibians, they need a wetland nearby for breeding season and raising larvae. They prefer freshwater with muddy bottoms.
They are carnivores through every stage of their life cycle, eating aquatic insects like fly and mosquito larvae, snails, springtails and other small invertebrates. To avoid getting eaten themselves, they can secrete toxic ooze out of their skin that gets them spat out instead of swallowed down.
The grand ball
Breeding season for newts begins in late winter and runs through early spring. Males and females head to ponds, marshes or any other wetlands without fish looking their best and ready to get moving.
Females are attracted to a male’s spots and dance moves. The male will fan his tail and wiggle about, emitting pheromones. Pheromones are like a special cologne or perfume that helps “woo” the ladies.
Once a female chooses her mate, she will individually lay a few eggs a day on underwater plants. This may take a while, as she can lay between 200 and 400 eggs. These eggs hatch and start life on their own.
Eastern newts have a unique, three-part life cycle. After hatching from their eggs, the newts have fattened tails, olive green skin and feathery gills, making them aquatic larvae bound to the water. Come mid- to late summer, they transform into the juvenile eft stage. Efts move out of the water for life on dry land. At this stage, they are bright orangish-red, and they have lungs, legs and eyelids. As efts, they can move out across great distances to find new wetlands to call home.
After two or three years, they transform again to aquatic adults that are yellowish-green with spots. Adults are slightly moist with rougher skin than other salamanders. In this final stage, they can live both on land and in water.
In nature, there are always exceptions to the rules. Some newts never lose their larval feathery gills and grow as adults without ever leaving the pond. These adults with larval features are called neotenic newts. Other eastern newts may never transform out of the eft stage. They to grow into adults but will keep their orange appearance permanently and only visit the water come breeding season.
Springtime is magical for many species of animals. While our frogs and birds sing, salamanders choose to dance to get ready to bring the next generation into this world. Keep these aquatic ballrooms safe by keeping trash out of our waterways. Also, be mindful of using herbicides and pesticides in your yard that can run off into our freshwater sources. Lastly, take a peek at local ponds, ditches and even puddles. You never know what kind of life you will find!
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