these newts are made for walkin’

REMEMBER IN APRIL, when I inadvertently fished an Eastern Spotted Salamander out of one garden pool while cleaning it? He/she hasn’t been heard from since, but a smaller cousin, the Red-Spotted Newt, is here. My Pal Sal. Who knew that this red phase is actually just one stage of his little but longish life?

The Red-Spotted Newt starts his life in the water, hatched from one of 300-400 eggs his mother lays, becoming a tadpole-like larvae, gills and all. After several months he sheds them and becomes terrestrial, and is called an eft (the term for the red juvenile stage). This stage lasts a couple of years or up to seven, according to some references, before the next metamorphosis in the salamander’s life occurs and he once again changes colors…and habitats…returning to the water. Now I know why some of the salamanders swimming in my garden ponds are slightly different from others: some are tadpoles, some adults back from their years on land.  The University of Michigan says these creatures can live 12-15 years!

Of course as with everything in nature, there are exceptions: populations that skip the red eft stage (in some coastal areas) and others that never undergo the second metamorphosis back into the water. I think my pals are cut from the classic mold, but I am not a scientist.

In all this reading since Sally and I crossed paths this week, I also learned why he and his kin are not afraid to swim with the fishes (and I mean that literally, not in the Mafia-movie manner): Unlike other salamanders, the Red-Spotted Newt secretes a very untasty, toxic substance from its skin that differentiates them from a good meal. Who knew?

Are you ready, newts? Start walkin’.

  1. vertie says:

    What a beautiful color! I wonder why it changes color like that. I would think it would need to be less, not more, conspicuous as an unseasoned youth.

  2. margaret says:

    @Vertie: Isn’t that the question?…and nowhere do I find an answer. I did read another great article, from University of Michigan, which says the lifespan of these creatures can be 12-15 years (though mortality at larval stage is high). I just added this to the post, thanks to the extra-credit homework your comment got me doing. Amazing stuff.

  3. margaret says:

    @Linda: According to the zoology museum at UMich, there technically are red newts in Georgia, Alabama, Texas, Florida, apparently near forest habitat and probably more to the east, but who knows where? I think you probably beat us on wild things, however, with lizards and crocodiles and geckos and other salamanders and various snakes I could really live without. Or so the museum at UTexas at Austin tells me. Any of those in the garden?

  4. Deborah says:

    I don’t know if you read comments on old posts, but I just found this page, and had to chime in. We see a lot of these red efts in our woods in the summer, just after or during a rain, and very occasionally I come across one striding across a field. I love them; they’re so tiny and beautiful. I sometimes pick one up to carry it out of a path or out of the reach of dogs.

    I have read that red and orange in nature are colors that warn other animals that the potential “lunch” might be poisonous. Efts, ladybugs, milkweed bugs and granular poison frogs are bright red or orange, indicating they are toxic to predators. I just googled this and found there’s actually a cool word for it: Aposematism. This refers to anti-predator adaptations that provide a warning signal indicating the unsuitable nature of a prey item to potential predators. Some harmless species mimic this for protection, which is called Batesian mimicry. And then there’s Mullerian mimicry, where aposematic species come to resemble one another. Who knew?

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