From egg to eft: the life of a newt | Marine biology

Of the two eastern North Carolina newt subspecies, we have the photogenic red-spotted newt. Residents of the far southeastern counties of the state have only the least endearing broken-striped newt. How sad for them.

It is important to understand that newts are salamanders, not lizards, and that newts are gill-breathing, aquatic-stage amphibians.

Other differences include that salamanders have no ear holes or claws and are moist with smooth skin. Salamanders need water to live, while lizards prefer dry, terrestrial environments.

Newts go through three life cycles: the aquatic larva, a terrestrial or juvenile stage called eft, and the aquatic adult stage.

Newts are cold-blooded vertebrates like frogs, toads and other salamanders. In the adult aquatic stage, both male and female newts engage in underwater sex.

After attracting the female, the male newt sweeps away her pheromones with his tail and then deposits his encapsulated sperm nearby.

The female newt collects this mass of sperm allowing fertilization in her body. Over time, she lays individual eggs and attaches each to an underwater plant.

Once hatched, each larva will be a submarine-like gill creature targeting aquatic insects, crustaceans and fish eggs for food.

Before moving from its larval basin to its red-spotted terrestrial stage, the newt develops lungs. His skin becomes less porous and the eft lives under the logs and leaves of the forest. Although only 1-3 inches long, the creature is a poisonous-skinned warrior that hunts insects, spiders, snails, and worms.

During its 3- to 4-year-old eft stage, a newt’s poisonous and unpleasant skin provides protection against most terrestrial predators.

When it returns to the pond for its adult stage, the color of the animal darkens and it becomes sexually mature and develops a caudal fin.

According to the UGA Herpetology Program, adult newts are three to four inches long and have smooth skin, olive green or yellow-brown backs with two rows of black-edged orange-brown spots, and belly yellow. They eat mosquito larvae, tadpoles and amphibian eggs from other salamanders.

However, as prey, newts are often attacked by raccoons, minks, weasels, and other mammals which sometimes strip the poisonous skin from newts and roll them in grass to make them less obnoxious. Snakes and birds also sometimes eat newts.

Newts are pond creatures. When hiking in the Pisgah National Forest, do not turn over rocks in streams looking for them, as this will endanger the hell-bending salamanders.

Richard Schram is a Brevard resident who realized his interest in nature writing too late but is trying to make up for lost time.

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