Of North Carolina’s two eastern-newt subspecies, we have the photogenic red-spotted newt. Residents in the state’s far southeastern counties only have the least endearing broken-striped newt. How sad for them.
It is important to understand newts are salamanders, not lizards, and newts are amphibians with an aquatic, gill-breathing stage.
Other differences include the facts that salamanders have neither ear holes nor claws and are moist with smooth skin. Salamanders need water to live, while lizards prefer dry, terrestrial environments.
Newts go through three life cycles: 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 their adult aquatic stage, male and female newts engage in underwater sex.
After attracting the female, the male newt wafts his pheromones about with his tail then deposits his encapsulated spermatozoa nearby.
The female newt collects that sperm cluster enabling fertilization in her body. In time, she lays individual eggs and attaches each to an underwater plant.
When hatched, each larva will be a gilled, submarine-like creature targeting aquatic insects, crustaceans and fish eggs for food.
Before morphing from its larval pond to its red-spotted terrestrial stage, the newt develops lungs. Its skin becomes less porous and the eft lives under forest logs and leaves. Although only 1 to 3 inches long, the creature is a toxic-skinned warrior hunting insects, spiders, snails and worms.
During its 3-to-4-year eft stage a newt’s toxic, distasteful skin provides protection against most terrestrial predators.
When it returns to the pond for its adult stage, the animal’s color darkens and it becomes sexually mature and grows a tail fin.
According to the UGA Herpetology Program, adult newts are three to four inches long and are smooth-skinned, sport olive green or yellow-brown backs with two rows of orange-brown, black-bordered spots and have yellow bellies. They eat mosquito larvae, tadpoles and the amphibian eggs of other salamanders.
As prey however, newts are often set upon by raccoons, minks, weasels and other mammals which sometimes peel off the newts’ toxic skin and roll them in the grass to make them less distasteful. Snakes and birds also sometimes eat newts.
Newts are pond creatures. When hiking in Pisgah National Forest, don’t turn over rocks in streams looking for them as that will endanger the hellbender salamanders.
Richard Schram is a Brevard resident who realized too late his interest in nature writing but is trying to make up for lost time.