While thrashing a pond full of newts on my work experience with Matt, we found an adult Palmate Newt hiding in the pondweeds nearby some common frogs. It is the smallest newt in Britain, 6 or 7cm smaller than the enormous Great Crested Newt, is common throughout West Europe, although it is actually extremely rare in Belgium and Holland. Palmate Newts are normally brown or pink in colour, with a slightly darker banded stripe across their eyes. They can have dark spots on their backs, but never as many as a Smooth Newt, and not as dark as those of a Great Crested Newt. Males possess webbed back feet, as well as a slight, smooth crest that will develop during mating season, which is around April.
These newts will eat most invertebrates smaller than them, crustaceans like freshwater shrimp, water fleas, frog or toad tadpoles, and occasionally, they will eat each other, making them the only cannibalistic newt in the UK. Palmate Newts only hunt at night, when the air is full of water, or the ground is particularly damp, spending the day and unsuitable nights underwater or beneath moist logs and stones. During the breeding season, the newts will also become active during the day, since they need to attract a mate and hunt.
The newt Matt and I found was a young female, and in relatively good health. We noted that Palmate Newts were present in the pond, and then moved away from where we found her, so that we wouldn’t disturb her and the other newts in the area again.
While thrashing an amphibian infested pond with Matt on my work experience, we found a large colony of rare great crested newts living by a bank of water mint. Of the three species of newt that live in Britain, the others being the Common and Palmate Newts, the Great Crested Newt is be far the largest and the rarest, measuring at around 15cm long, over 5cm longer than other British newts. The GC Newt, or Triturus Cristatus, can be recognised by the dark blotches on it’s body, which are unique to each individual, and the yellow or orange underbelly. Males also possess a silver or grey stripe that runs down their sides. During mating season, males will develop a large jagged crest, leading from the base of their head to the start of their tail, and a smoother crest along the whole of their tail. This crest is used to attract females to mate with.
Great Crested Newts mate during February and early March, and lay a couple of eggs every day from March to June, until roughly 250 eggs are produced. Eggs are normally placed on the leaves and branches of aquatic plants, such as the water mint in the pond Matt and I thrashed, and wrap the gently so as to protect them. The eggs hatch after about three weeks, creating a new batch of newt poles. The young are vulnerable to larger predators, such as fish or leaches, and so the adult newts normally lay in relatively safe ponds, avoiding rivers or lakes. After four months, the newt poles are able to leave the water and breath air, and after 2 or 3 years, they are ready to breed. A Great Crested Newt will live for about 10-15 years in the wild, but one newt has survived 28 years in captivity before dying.
Throughout Europe and in the UK in particular, the are numerous restrictions on what you can and can’t do with these newts. They are heavily protected, making it illegal to harm, keep, disturb or move one of these newts without the correct licence and the permission of the National or Wildlife Trust. Luckily, Matt and about 2000 others in the UK possess this licence, so we were able to carefully go about our work in the pond without harming the newts.