Male Great Crested Newt © Phyl King
The Great Crested Newt is our largest species of newt reaching a maximum adult length of 170mm. Females tend to be larger than males.
The upper body is dark brownish/black with a warty skin texture. The belly is yellowish/orange in colour with black blotches. The crest continues down the back and is interrupted at the base of the tail. The male has a white/grey stripe running from the tail tip towards the centre of the tail, fading as it approaches the abdomen. Female cresteds lack the male's crest and white tail stripe, but have a yellow/orange stripe along the bottom of the tail.
The Great Crested Newt is protected by law (Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981) and a licence is required to disturb or handle them. Their decline is partly attributed to pond drainage and habitat loss. Many large ponds have been turned into commercial fisheries containing large numbers of carp, which predate on the newt larvae. The distribution of Great Crested Newts within Herefordshire is good, one of the better Counties. There are even ponds here with all three species present.
It is found throughout Europe and into Asia, where there are five different subspecies. Britain appears to be a stronghold for Triturus cristatus.
On land, Great Crested newts prey on invertebrates, slugs, earthworms and soft bodied insects. In the water they feed on other amphibian larvae, insects, dragonfly larvae and also the other two species of newt.
Adults return to their breeding ponds in February after hibernation during winter. They can remain there until late July/August. They lay their eggs under the leaves of water plants and overhanging leaves at the water's edge. Only one egg is laid under a leaf, which is folded over by the female to protect the egg. To do this she uses her back legs. A mature female can lay over 200 eggs per season. The emergent larvae are highly predatory and also cannibalistic. About 18 weeks after hatching, the newts are ready to leave the pond and hibernate on land. They tend to hibernate in old walls, amongst piles of vegetation and brash, log piles and mammal burrows.
Reports from people of finding colonies of lizards in old walls and buildings usually turn out to be Great Crested Newts in hibernation or during their terrestrial period. These newts can move great distances over land, up to 1000 metres away from a breeding pond, and they have been known to colonise a new pond 300 metres away from an existing pond in its first year.
Great Crested Newts can survive up to 25 years.
Smooth Newt male in breeding condition © Phyl King
Smaller than the Great Crested Newt, about 100mm maximum. The male Smooth Newt has a crest, but it is wavy, not jagged, and continues over the top of the tailbone. The males have a spotted appearance on the upper surface, the spots usually black or dull green. The belly is bright orange with large black spots. The overall body colour is greenish brown. The crest disappears after the breeding season and when the male newt is terrestrial. The female Smooth Newt is very similar to the female Palmate Newt, usually having a brown body colouration with a light belly. The female Palmate Newt lacks the spots under the chin found on the female Smooth Newt.
Found throughout Europe and the British Isles. This is the only newt found in Ireland. It appears to be relatively common within Herefordshire, occurring in ponds with the Great Crested and Palmate Newts.
The Smooth Newt moves to breeding ponds in late February, mating in the water like the Great Crested, preceded by an elaborate courtship dance. This can be observed in clear shallow areas within a pond, the male following the female around and flicking his tail in her direction. This sends secretions from his hedonic gland in her direction, spurring her interest. The male eventually deposits a spermatophore on the bottom of the pond, which the female transfers to her cloaca, fertilising her eggs. The eggs are laid on water plants in the same way as the Great Crested Newt. Both the young and adults leave the water in June or July, and by October, are hibernating under logs and rocks as the weather cools.
The young return to the pond to breed when 3 years old. Smooth Newts have been known to survive up to 20 years.
They feed on invertebrates and frog larvae.
Predators include fish, especially Sticklebacks, birds including the Kingfisher and Heron, Water Shrews and Grass Snakes.
Male Palmate Newt © Phyl King
This is our smallest newt species, with males 70-90mm and females up to 100mm. It has a smooth skin texture with fine granulations. The male upper side is olive/brown with dark green markings. During the breeding season the male has a short filament at the tail tip, a fairly low dorsal crest and webbed hind feet. A dark band of colour runs from the snout tip through the eye. The female is brown in colour with a pale belly and has no spotting on the throat. The belly of both sexes is cream or pale orange.
The Palmate Newt is found throughout Europe and is widespread in England, Scotland and Wales. It used to be considered a mountain species as it could be found at altitudes of 1000m in the north of its range, however it is able to tolerate a variety of climates and habitat conditions. It is common throughout Herefordshire.
It feeds on small aquatic insects, worms, slugs and spiders. It is predated on by fish, birds, grass snakes and large aquatic invertebrates such as dragonflies and water beetles.
This species will overwinter in ponds. In February/March it performs a similar courtship dance to the Smooth Newt, with the female laying eggs over a 3-4 week period. The larvae metamorphose by July/August and can overwinter to complete metamorphosis.