Great crested newt eft c.WikiCommons

The secret life of the great crested newt…revealed

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015

The great crested newt is a member of the Salamander family. They are found across Europe and parts of Asia, and all over the UK, with the highest populations occurring in England and South Wales.

From contactless sex, to carnivorous larvae, and living to a ripe old age, there’s more to the great crest newt than most people imagine! Female great crested newts are about 1cm larger than males, measuring 16cm. Both have dark grey-brown backs and flanks and are covered with darker-coloured spots, so they appear almost black. Their undersides are either yellow or orange-coloured and are covered in large, black blotches, and each individual has a unique pattern.

Males can be distinguished from females by their jagged crest during the breeding season. The crest runs along their backs, and a separate crest runs above and below their tails. A silver-grey stripe runs along the tail. Females don’t have a crest, but have a yellow-orange stripe along the lower edge of their tails and often a marked orange stripe along the top of their lower backs and tails.

Great crested newts generally live on land, only using ponds for breeding, and are largely nocturnal. In early spring, after performing a courtship display, the male deposits a spermatophore (a small packet of sperm) in the path of the female. He then moves sideways in front of her to move her into a position where the spermatophore will be picked up by her cloaca (reproductive receptacle) — so ‘mating’ takes place without direct contact. The female lays two or three eggs a day between March and mid-July, until she’s laid around 200 to 300 eggs. She will carefully wraps each egg in a leaf and lay it on submerged aquatic plants. You can see the process in action on this BBC video – Flamboyant Fathers.

After about three weeks, the larvae hatch and then live in the pond as aquatic predators. They are vulnerable to being eaten by fish so great crested newts tend to avoid water bodies containing fish. This means you are unlikely to find them in running water, larger lakes, or in many garden ponds. They become air-breathing juveniles after around four months, and live on land for two or three years, until they are old enough to find a pond in which to breed.

From October to March, great crested newts live in terrestrial habitats with dense cover, such as scrub, rough grass, and woodland, usually within about 200m of the breeding pond. They hibernate under logs and stones or in the mud at the bottom of their breeding ponds. They normally return to the same breeding site each year, and may live as long as 27 years, although up to about 10 years is more usual.

The GCN survey period is NOW! Our ecologists survey for GCN between early March and late June.

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