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Identification

Frogs and Toads

Newts

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Newts

Three species of newts are found in Somerset. They are most conspicuous during spring and early summer when they collect in ponds to breed. By mid summer breeding is ending and many of the newts start to leave the ponds, although larvae can still be seen up until September, or sometimes later.

The Smooth newt and the Palmate newt may take a little practice to tell apart, while the Great Crested newt is very distinctive.

Smooth Newt

Smooth Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris)

The Smooth newt grows to about 10cm. They have a broad orange or yellow, stripe along the belly, peppered with dark spots. During the breeding season sexes can be distinguished by the long undulating crest along the back and tail of the male.

SNewtM

Male

The crest is a single entity from the back of the head to the tip of the tail, whereas in the crested newt there is one crest along the back and a separate one along the tail, with a gap between the two.

SNewt

Male (top) Female (bottom)

Male smooth newts have large black spots along the flanks and tail and often have a blue flash on the tail during the breeding season.

Female smooth newts lack a crest and their flanks are usually a uniform olive green to brown colour, lacking the bold spotting seen in the males.

They are difficult to distinguish from female Palmate newts, although the throat of Smooth newts is usually white with dark spots while that of Palmate newts is usually pink, or almost translucent, without any spots.

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Palmate Newt (Lissotriton helveticus)

Usually slightly smaller than Smooth newts, Palmates reach up to approximately 9cm. The ground colour of both sexes is usually a dull olive green to pale brown.

During the breeding season males develop a weak ridge along their back rather than the obvious crest of the other two species.

Male Palmate

Male

Often a reliable diagnostic feature is the conspicuous heavy, dark webbing that the males develop between the toes of the back feet during the breeding season.

Male

Along with the small hair like filament that grows from the tip of the tail.

PNewtF

Female

Females lack these features and can be difficult to distinguish from female smooth newts, although the throat of Smooth newts is usually white with dark spots while that of Palmate newts is usually pink, or almost translucent, without any spots.

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Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus)

Adults of this species are much larger than the other two species, reaching up to 16cm. The ground colour is black with striking orange and black patterns on the belly, and the skin is granular, rather than smooth.

GCNTop

GCNBelly

Female (top) Male (bottom)

During the breeding season the males develop a high ragged crest along the back and tail. Unlike the crest of the Smooth newt, that of the Great Crested Newt has a clearly defined gap above the base of the tail, dividing it into a dorsal crest along the back and a caudal crest along the tail. The tail of the breeding male also has a conspicuous white stripe down either side.

Females lack the crest and the white stripe on the tail, but are difficult to confuse with other species, based upon their size and black colouration.

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Spawn and Larvae

Unlike frogs and toads, newts do not produce all their eggs in one spawning event. Instead they lay each egg individually. They lay the egg on a submerged leaf and use the back legs to fold the leaf, wrapping the egg for protection. With practice it becomes easy to recognise those leaves that contain an egg. Great crested newts will use proportionately larger leaves than the two smaller species and consequently these are the most conspicuous.

NewtEgg

Great Crested Newt (left) Smooth/Palmate Newt (right)

Once unwrapped, the eggs of Great crested newts are white, while those of both Smooth and Palmate newts are grey.

The larvae of Smooth and Palmate newts are indistinguishable. They both grow to approximately 3cm before metamorphosing, and they are both a pale yellow-brown colour with little pattern. They also spend most of their time hiding among submerged vegetation.

By contrast the larvae of Great Crested newts spend most of their time swimming in the water column, so are much more conspicuous. They grow up to 5cm before metamorphosing and have curiously long, thin toes and black blotches on their tails, characteristics absent in both other species.

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