Our Guide to Newts found in the UK
We’ve trawled the web to bring you all the information we can on the UKs Newts in one handy place. This article includes their food, mating and hibernation habits as well as their protected status.
The Smooth Newt (Triturus vulgaris)
Protected Species (see further info below)**
Picture by our member Anna Holder
If you listen carefully there is a characteristic popping sound that often accompanies a smooth newt rising for air. There are Nine subspecies in the UK but the most commonly found one is the T.v vulgaris. They have an average lifespan of 6 years, however they can live up to 20 years
The males are always slightly larger than the females. Body length from head to tip of tail can be anything from 7-11cm.
Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus)
Heavily Protected Species (see further info below)**
Picture by our member Mark Gash (licensed to hold & capture for recording purposes)
The great crested newt is also known as the warty newt or the GCN.
The great crested newt is one of Europe’s most impressive amphibians. This newt is widely distributed throughout most of England, but is rare in Cornwall, Devon and parts of Wales and Scotland. It is the largest of the British newts. The Great Crested Newt is widespread in Europe but is threatened and in decline throughout much of its range. Britain has probably Europe’s largest population and is, therefore, very important to the continuing survival of the Great Crested Newt.
Palmate newt (Triturus helveticus)
Picture by our member Mark Gash (licensed to hold & capture for recording purposes)
The smallest British amphibian, the palmate newt earns its English name from the strongly webbed hind feet that males develop during the breeding season (Palmate newts look very similar to smooth newts but they have more of a preference for shallow ponds on acidic soils. They’re patchily distributed and found on heathland in the south and west and on moorland and bogs in the north; they’re quite common in Scotland, Wales and southern England but absent from much of central England. Palmate newts can tolerate drier conditions than smooth newts and so can be found further from water.
Smooth newt Females and non-breeding males are pale brown or olive green, They will almost always have two darker stripes on the back. Both male and female will have an orange belly, However it is always paler in females, which is covered in rounded black spots. They also have a pale throat with visible spots. This can help to differentiate them from palmate newts that have pale throats but without the spots, as the two of them are often confused. If you find one out of water and touch it you will feel velvet like skin. When they are in the breeding season, male smooth newts will develop a continuous wavy (quite jagged) crest that runs from their head to their tail, their spotted markings become more apparent. They are also distinguishable from females by their fringed toes. The smooth newt will shed its skin once a week as it grows.
They are one of the most common amphibians in Europe, but are absent from Iberia, southern France, southern Italy and most Mediterranean islands. They are also found in Russia and western Asia.
Both sexes of the Great Crested Newt grow to about 15cm long. The dorsal skin is dark brown to black, with darker spots, a granular texture, and very fine white spots on the flanks. In contrast the underside is strikingly marked with orange/yellow and black.
It is said that the name ‘palmate’ is derived from of the appearance of the newt’s feet, the skin between its toes looking like the palm of a hand. Both sexes have smooth skin, with olive green or brownish coloured upper-parts and a yellow belly featuring a scattering of small black spots. The throat is not spotted and is pinkish in colour. Males are slightly smaller than females and have a ‘boxy’ appearance as a result of two ridges that pass along the back. In addition to the webbed feet, they also develop a very low, smooth crest during the breeding season, which extends along the back to the tail, where it forms a deep ‘fin’. The tail has an orange central line passing along its length, bordered by two rows of dark blotches. Female palmate newts are easily confused with those of smooth newts, but the unspotted pink throat is a good distinguishing feature. The larvae of smooth and palmate newts are extremely difficult to tell apart from each other.
Smooth newts when not breeding can be found in a variety of habitats such as deciduous woodland, wet heathland, bogs, marshes, gardens, parks and farmland. When breeding their general preference is standing water with plenty of weeds, such as lake margins, ponds and ditches, in which they will breed.
The great crested newt like to over winter on land, normally hibernating underground and emerge soon after the first frost-free days in January or February to begin the migration to breeding ponds. Movement on land occurs almost exclusively at night and their progress is dependent on factors such as evening temperatures and rainfall, favouring wet or damp conditions with temperatures above 5 oc.
Out of breeding and hibernation seasons their preference would be to live somewhere with plenty of ground cover for foraging, sheltering and hibernation. This usually takes the form of undisturbed rough grassland, scrub or woodland.
The palmate newts inhabit lakes, ponds, marshes, canals, forests and agricultural lands. They are sometimes found in moorlands and coastal areas. This species spend their mating season in water. But they can tolerate dry conditions and are found away from their watery habitat during their terrestrial phase.
All of the newts require suitable refuges to use in extreme weather and during daytimes, such as large pieces of rotting deadwood, rubble piles or disused mammal burrows.
When on land Smooth Newts tend to feed on insects, worms and slugs by projecting their tongues to catch prey. When they are in water they do not use their tongues to catch prey, instead they use their minute teeth to grab onto the prey such as Shrimps, water lice, insect larvae, water snails and frog tadpoles. They are free-swimming and tend to hunt near the surface of the water. Newt larvae feed on aquatic invertebrates and crustaceans.
Great Crested Newts feed on a range of aquatic invertebrates, but occasionally tackle large prey items such as adult smooth newts and large dragonflies .They are mainly active at night, spending the day at the bottom of ponds or hidden in vegetation.
The diet of the Palmate Newt consists of various invertebrates, planktonic animals, small crustaceans and frog tadpoles. They are known to display occasional cannibalistic behaviour.
Behaviour (pretty much the same for both smooth and crested)
What should newts be doing in WINTER?
As the weather turns colder, newts start to look for somewhere to overwinter. This could be in a compost heap, under some paving slabs or in the muddy banks of a pond – somewhere that keeps free of frost. Like all our native amphibians, they don’t hibernate as such and may take advantage of milder patches of weather to come out and forage. For this reason, if you accidentally disturb a newt during the winter it shouldn’t be harmed.
What should newts be doing in SPRING?
Spring is the time when amphibians head towards a pond to breed. Newts breed a little later in the year than frogs and toads. The best way to look for newts is to shine a torch in your pond on mild evenings. Male newts perform a courtship dance and the female lays individual eggs which she carefully wraps in the leaves of pond plants to protect them. Adult newts may spend longer in the pond than other amphibians as they feed on frogspawn and tadpoles.
What should newts be doing in SUMMER?
Depending on when the eggs were laid, tiny baby newts will leave the pond sometime during the summer. Once the larvae have absorbed their feathery gills they’ll take their first steps on land as terrestrial efts. At this time of year adults will spend much of their time away from the pond, though are still likely to be found in damp habitats, especially if it’s very hot.
What should newts be doing in AUTUMN?
Autumn is a fairly quiet time for amphibians. All juvenile newts should have left the pond by now so you may not see any around the water at all. As the weather gradually turns colder newts will be feeding up on insects, slugs and spiders in preparation for winter. If you still notice newt larvae in the water late in the season then they could be suffering from delayed development. This is nothing to worry about they will stay in the pond over the winter and develop next spring, Towards the end of the autumn amphibians look for places to spend the winter, such as log piles, compost heaps and rockeries.
Newts become sexually mature at 3 years of age.
The Smooth Newt male during courtship ‘displays’ for his prospective mate by vibrating his tail in front of the female and waft glandular secretions towards her by fanning his tail in her direction. This then invites the female to approach him. The male then deposits a sperm-containing capsule, known as a spermatophore, in front of his mate, who manoeuvres herself into a position whereby she can pick up the capsule with her cloaca – fertilization then begins inside the female. After a few days, the female begins to lay eggs individually, usually under aquatic plant leaves at a rate of 7 to 12 eggs per day. Altogether a total of 400 eggs may be produced over the season.
After 2 to 3 weeks (depending on water temperature) the eggs hatch to a larval form – a tadpole. For a few days the tadpoles live off the food reserves contained within their yolk sacs (left over from the egg stage). After this they start to eat freshwater plankton, and later insect larvae and mollusks. Unlike frog tadpoles, newts are carnivorous throughout their life. The larvae have external gills, which absorb oxygen directly from the water. About 10 weeks later they have metamorphosed into air-breathing juveniles. They are known as ‘efts’ at this time and some may leave the water.
Great crested newts require quite specific pond conditions for breeding. Ponds ideally need to have neutral to alkaline water (pH 6 or above) with areas of open water and well vegetated margins. Breeding ponds tend to be nutrient rich, not too shaded, free of fish with not too many waterfowl present. Males use open water to perform a complicated courtship dance which involves a male standing on his front legs in front of a female with an arched back while he waves his tail around. The males also develop prominent dorsal crests and have silvery tail stripes. Females then lay the fertilised eggs individually on the leaves of submerged plants. Larvae hatch about April time onwards and stay in the pond to feed and complete metamorphosis from aquatic larvae to land-adapted juveniles. Adults usually leave the ponds before juveniles but the emergence is normally quite staggered and can last several months.
They hibernate from November to late February/March, usually beneath stones or compost heaps, although young adults may hibernate in the mud of pond beds. On coming out of hibernation they migrate over land to breeding sites. The 8mm-long larvae hatch within two to three weeks and metamorphose to become air-breathing juveniles after six weeks.
Conservation status / Protected Status**
Newts are protected in Europe due to their decline in numbers. They are vulnerable to urbanisation, agricultural change and pollution of their habitat. There are laws prohibiting the killing, destruction and the selling of newts. While the species is by no means endangered, IUCN lists insufficient data to make an assessment for two of the subspecies.
In the UK, the Common Newt is protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) with respect to sale only. It is therefore illegal to sell individuals of the species, but their destruction or capture is still permitted. They are also listed under Annex III of the Bern Convention. The Common newt is the only newt native to Ireland and it is protected in Ireland under the Wildlife Acts [1976 and 2000]. It is an offence to capture or kill a newt in Ireland without a licence.
As the Great Crested Newt is becoming less common in Britain, it is recognised as a priority for conservation action. It is protected under British and European law. A national Species Action Plan (SAP), endorsed by the UK Government, is being implemented in order to maintain the range, distribution and viability of existing populations.
When do we need a license to interact with these species?
For further information please CLICK HERE
What are the Predators of the Newts;
Various large fish and Grass Snakes are considered to be the main predators for newt species. Other predators include Kingfishers, Ducks and Great Crested Newts. Water Beetles, Large Fish, Dragonfly Nymphs and larger Newts feed on the larvae.
Picture by our member S.Olwyn
How can I help or create the right habitat for the newts?
You can help conserve the newt population by:
- making new ponds with plenty of aquatic vegetation, this provides egg laying sites and NO fish this prevents predation on both the adult newts and their tadpoles.
- restoring degraded ponds,
- managing terrestrial habitat for newts,
- Recording details for conservation prurposes
Where might we find them in the garden?
During the breeding season the pond is the obvious place. Look for leaves that appear to have been folded over, as this is the technique newts use to protect their eggs. The best time to look is at night. Shine a torch on the water in the early spring and you may observe courtship displays, particularly impressive in great crested newts. In summer and early autumn newts may roam the garden at night, looking for food. During the winter be careful if disturbing logs, leaf piles, compost heaps, etc as these may be hiding hibernating newts.
Is there any benefit of having them in the garden?
All three species feed mostly on invertebrates, either aquatic or terrestrial. They can be effective at keeping down populations of pest species such as slugs and snails. Great crested newts can take larger prey, occasionally even feeding on the tadpoles and adults of frogs and the other newt species. Newts are also a good food source for many species such as grass snakes and birds. The tadpoles provide food for larger aquatic invertebrates, and other amphibian species.
I have disturbed a newt that was hibernation, will it be ok?
Amphibians lie dormant during the coldest months but take advantage of milder patches of weather to come out and forage. For this reason if you do disturb an animal in winter, it should be unharmed if covered up and left undisturbed. If you are unable to put the animal back where you found it, place it somewhere that offers protection from frost and predators like cats and birds, for example log piles, under a shed or within your compost heap; it should not be somewhere ‘warm’, just a place that keeps free of frost.
I’ve found an injured newt, what can I do?
If the injury appears slight and the animal is active and able to move freely, then it’s best to just move the newt to a sheltered part of the garden, away from the view of predators (such as cats and birds) and extreme weather where it can recover by itself; for example amongst trees, bushes or hedging even dead wood. Make sure it has the option to move to another part of the garden, If it wants to.
Injuries such as skin abrasions should heal fairly quickly, so moving the animal to a quiet place, where it can recover and forage easily, will increase its chances of survival. If you think that an animal is seriously injured contact your local vet – though unfortunately they’re often unable to help with treating injured amphibians unless they specialise or have an interest in this field. Most vets treat wild animals for free but ring to check first. Wildlife hospitals are more likely to be able to offer assistance – the RSPCA may be able to help locate your nearest wildlife hospital.
Please remember that amphibians are small, vulnerable creatures and it is unlikely that a severely damaged animal will be treated successfully.
Helpline and Rescue Organisation numbers;
RSPCA helpline 0300 1234 999
Amphibian and Reptile Conservation 01202 391319