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Smooth newt (Lissotriton vulgaris)
Smooth newt (Lissotriton vulgaris)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Superclass: Tetrapoda
Class: Amphibia
Subclass: Lissamphibia
Order: Caudata
Family: Salamandridae
Subfamily: Pleurodelinae

A newt is an amphibian of the Salamandridae family, although not all aquatic salamanders are considered newts. Newts are classified in the subfamily Pleurodelinae of the family Salamandridae, and are found in North America, Europe and Asia. Newts metamorphose through three distinct developmental life stages: aquatic larva, terrestrial juvenile (called an eft[1]), and adult. Adult newts have lizard-like bodies and may be either fully aquatic, living permanently in the water, or semi-aquatic, living terrestrially but returning to the water each year to breed.


File:Notophthalmus viridescensPCCA20040816-3983A.jpg

A red-spotted newt (eft stage) showing bright aposematic colouration to warn predators of its highly toxic skin.

Like all members of the order Caudata, newts are characterised by a frog-like body with four equal sized limbs and a distinct tail. Aquatic larvae have true teeth on both upper and lower jaws, and external gills.[2] They have the ability to regenerate limbs, eyes, spinal cords, hearts, intestines, and upper and lower jaws. The cells at the site of the injury have the ability to de-differentiate, reproduce rapidly, and differentiate again to create a new limb or organ. One theory is that the de-differentiated cells are related to tumour cells since chemicals which produce tumours in other animals will produce additional limbs in newts.[3]


File:Smooth Newt larva (aka).jpg

Newt larva (species not identified) part-way though metamorphosis.

The main breeding season for newts is between the months of June and July. After courtship rituals of varying complexity, which take place in ponds or slow moving streams, the male newt transfers a spermatophore which is taken up by the female. Fertilised eggs are laid singly and are usually attached to aquatic plants. This distinguishes them from the free-floating eggs of frogs or toads, that are laid in clumps or in strings. Plant leaves are usually folded over and adhered to the eggs to protect them. The tadpoles, which resemble fish fry but are distinguished by their feathery external gills, hatch out in about three weeks. After hatching they eat algae, small invertebrates or other tadpoles.

During the next few months the tadpoles undergo metamorphosis, during which they develop legs, and the gills are absorbed and replaced by air-breathing lungs.[4] Some species, such as the North American newts, also become more brightly coloured during this phase. Once fully metamorphosised they leave the water and live a terrestrial life, when they are known as "efts".[5] Only when the eft reaches adulthood will the North American species return to live in water, rarely venturing back onto the land. Conversely, most European species live their adult lives on land and only visit water to breed.[6]


Many newts produce toxins in their skin secretions as a defense mechanism against predators. Taricha newts of western North America are particularly toxic. The Rough-skinned newt Taricha granulosa of the Pacific Northwest produces more than enough tetrodotoxin to kill an adult human, and some Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest used the toxin to poison their enemies.[7] More recently, a 29-year-old man in Coos Bay, Oregon, who had been drinking heavily, swallowed a rough-skin newt for a dare; he died later that day despite hospital treatment.[7]

Most newts can be safely handled, provided that the toxins they produce are not ingested or allowed to come in contact with mucous membranes, or breaks in the skin.[7] After handling, proper hand-washing techniques should be followed due to the risk from the toxins they produce and bacteria they carry, such as salmonella.[8][9] It is, however, illegal to handle or disturb Great Crested Newts in the UK without a licence.[10]


About two thirds of all species of the family Salamandridae are commonly called "newts", compromising the following genera:

  • Calotriton, Spanish brook newts
  • Cynops, firebelly newts
  • Echinotriton, spiny newts
  • Lissotriton, small bodied newts
  • Mesotriton, Alpine newts
  • Neurergus, spotted newts
  • Notophthalmus, Eastern newts
  • Ommatotriton, banded newts
  • Pachytriton, paddle-tail newts
  • Paramesotriton, warty newts
  • Pleurodeles, ribbed newts
  • Taricha, Pacific newts
  • Triturus, crested newts
  • Tylototriton, crocodile newts

The term "newt" has traditionally been seen as an exclusively functional term for salamanders living in water, and not a systematic unit. The relationship between the genera has been uncertain, although it has been suggested that they constitute a natural systematic unit and newer molecular analyses tend to support this position.[11][12][13] Newts only appear in one subfamily of salamanders, the Pleurodelinae (of the family Salamandridae),[14] however, Salamandrina and Euproctus, which are sometimes listed as Pleurodelinae, are not newts. Whether these are basal to the subfamily (and thus the sister group of the newt group) or derived, making the newts an evolutionary grade (an "incomplete" systematic unit, where not all branches of the family tree belong to the group) is currently not known.[13][15]


The three common European genera are the crested newts (Triturus spp.), the smooth and palmate newts (Lissotriton spp.) and the banded Newts (Ommatotriton spp.). Other species present in Europe are the Iberian ribbed newt (Plurodeles waltl), which is the largest of the European newts,[16] the pyrenean brook newt (Calotriton sp.); the European brook newt (Euproctus sp.) and the Alpine newt (Mesotriton alpestris).[12][17]

In North America, there are the Eastern newts (Notophthalmus spp.), of which the red-spotted newt (Notophthalmus viridescens) is the most abundant species, but it is limited to the area east of the Rocky Mountains. The three species of coastal or Western newts are the red-bellied newt, the California newt, and the rough-skinned newt, all of which belong to the genus Taricha, which is confined to the area west of the Rockies.[citation needed]

In Southeast Asia and Japan, species commonly encountered in the pet trade include the fire belly newts (Cynops spp.), the paddletail newts (Pachytriton spp.), the crocodile newts (Tylototriton spp.), and the warty newts (Paramesotriton spp.). In the Middle East there are the spotted newts (Neurergus spp.).[18]

Conservation status

Newt populations have fallen across the world because of pollution or destruction of their breeding sites and terrestrial habitats, and countries such as the USA and the UK have taken steps to halt their decline.[19][20] In the UK, they are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Habitat Regulations Act 1994. It is illegal to catch, possess or handle Great Crested Newts without a licence, and it is also illegal to cause them harm or death, or to disturb their habitat in any way. The IUCN Red List categorises the species as ‘lower risk’[10][21] Although the other UK species, the smooth newt and palmate newt are not listed, the sale of either species is prohibited under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981.[22]

In Europe, nine newts are listed as "strictly protected fauna species" under appendix II of the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats:[23]

  • Euproctus asper
  • Euproctus montanus
  • Euproctus platycephalus
  • Triturus carnifex
  • Triturus cristatus
  • Triturus dobrogicus
  • Triturus italicus
  • Triturus karelinii
  • Triturus montandoni

The remaining European species are listed as "protected fauna species" under appendix III.[24]


The etymology for this term has gone through a complex twist of old Middle English variations. The oldest form of the name is eft, which is still used for newly metamorphosed specimens, but according to the Oxford English Dictionary it changed for unknown reasons first to euft and then to ewt. For some time it remained as an ewt, but the "n" from the indefinite article an shifted to form a newt. The sexually mature stage was also called an ewte, with similar etymology roots linking an ewte, newt, "euft", and eft: "small lizard-like animal," [3].

See also



  1. Brockes, J. & A. Kumar. 2005. Newts. Current Biology. 15(2):R4244)
  2. Heying, H. 2003. "Caudata" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. [1] Accessed 2007-12-05
  3.; Odelberg, S. Accessed 2007-01-24
  4. Accessed 2007-12-01
  5. Accessed 2008-03-06
  6. Factfile 478 Accessed 2007-11-30
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 see Accessed 2007-11-28
  8. Salmonellosis - Reptiles and Amphibians Accessed 2007-11-28
  9. CDC MMWR: Reptile-Associated Salmonellosis: Selected States, 1998-2002 Accessed 2007-11-28
  10. 10.0 10.1 Factfile 479 Accessed 2007-11-28
  11. Titus, T. A. & A. Larson (1995):. A molecular phylogenetic perspective on the evolutionary radiation of the salamander family Salamandridae. Systematic Biology 44, pp 125-151.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Steinfartz, S., S. Vicario, J. W. Arntzen, & A. Caccone (2006): A Bayesian approach on molecules and behavior: reconsidering phylogenetic and evolutionary patterns of the Salamandridae with emphasis on Triturus newts. Journal of Experimental Zoology Part B: Molecular and Developmental Evolution
  13. 13.0 13.1 Weisrock, D. W., Papenfuss, T. J., Macey, J. R., Litvinchuk, S. N., Polymeni, R., Ugurtas, I. H., Zhao, E., Jowkar, H., & A. Larson (2006): A molecular assessment of phylogenetic relationships and lineage accumulation rates within the family Salamandridae (Amphibia, Caudata). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolutio 41, pp 368-383.
  14. Larson, A, Wake, D., & Devitt, T. (2007): Salamandridae, Newts and "True Salamanders". Tree of Life on-line project [2]
  15. Montori, A. and P. Herrero (2004): Caudata. In Amphibia, Lissamphibia. García-París, M., Montori, A., and P. Herrero. Fauna Ibérica, vol. 24. Ramos M. A. et al. (eds.). Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales. CSIC. Madrid: pp 43-275
  16.; California Academy of Sciences Accessed 2007-12-05
  17. Carranza, S. & Amat, F. (2005) Taxonomy, biogeography and evolution of Euproctus (Amphibia: Salamandridae), with the resurrection of the genus Calotriton and the description of a new endemic species from the Iberian Peninsula Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 145 (4), 555–582.
  18.; Amphibian Order:caudata ; Accessed 2007-02-05
  19. USGS Amphibian Research Monitoring Initiative (Pacific Northwest Region) Accessed 2007-11-30
  20. UK Biodiversity Action Plan Accessed 2007-11-30
  21. Factfile 478 Accessed 2007-11-28
  22. Accessed 2007-11-30
  23. Annexe II: Strictly protected fauna species Retrieved on 15 September 2008
  24. Annexe III: Protected fauna species Retrieved on 15 September 2008

External links

Look up newt, eft in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

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