This week we will mostly be looking at Lissotriton vulgaris, a lizard-shaped animal with a cute face, a jagged crest, a black and orange belly and lives in ponds – you may know it as the Smooth Newt.
There are only 3 newt species in the UK and the Smoothy is by far the commonest – it is also the least famous and lives in the shadow of its much rarer, larger, prettier cousin the much-drooled over Great-crested Newt. The Smoothy is not perhaps given the applause it deserves for being so successful and adaptable; being common is not boring – it just means you are really good at surviving, which is cool.
The Smoothy is also the one that every kid that ever went pond-dipping got to catch and hold in their grubby palm, they have inspired unknown numbers of young naturalists and grossed out an awful lot of girls. I was one of those kids, I have held many newts over the years and the excitement and awe has not dwindled one bit. I found a large number of these newts just the other day in some ponds at a local park, I managed to catch both a female and male. The female was light brown, with no crest or spots, and was also swollen with eggs. The male was gorgeous; he had that floppy crest all down his back and tail and had bold black spots along his underside which was flushed with pale orange.
- Newts spend most of the non-breeding year out of water, they are difficult to find as they hide in logs, long grass or under rocks, in cold weather they may go torpid.
- They eat small insects, crustaceans (like waterfleas), worms and slugs, they hunt by sight and smell and react to movement with lightning speed.
- They reach sexual maturity after 3 years and can live for roughly 6, females can lay up to 300 eggs in a season.
- Eggs are lain individually, wrapped in the leaves of water plants and hatch into efts which leave the water after 10 weeks.
- Like most amphibians newts can breathe through their skin and mouth lining as it is thin and very porous, in winter their skin thickens and becomes velvet-like.
- The Smooth Newt is the only newt species found in Ireland.
- They have an elaborate courtship where the male waves his tail and follows the female, they swim side-by-side and eventually the male deposits a spermatophore on the silt which the female takes up into her cloaca.