Species in the spotlight - The Great Crested Newt

Spring is now well underway; birds are singing impressive melodies, more insects are on the wing with beautiful butterflies fluttering and bees busy foraging, whilst baby animals are arriving as fluffy and innocent as ever.

Some species, however, may go more unnoticed as you are less likely to see them given the habitats they live in, take for example aquatic species. These species are just as busy attracting mates, feeding and producing young, but they are beneath the surface or most active during the night. If you’ve got a pond in your garden, you may have more of an inkling of what aquatic animals you may expect to see in Essex, but they can be quite tricky to spot in the wild. A fantastic amphibian you may have been lucky enough to see already is the Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus), the UK’s largest newt. Together with Smooth and Palmate Newts, all can be found inhabiting ponds in Essex.

Great Crested Newts are almost black in colour but they have a striking orange underbelly with black spots unique to each newt. Males have an impressive wavy crest along their back which dips at the base of the tail, this is more prominent during breeding season. Where females have an orange strip that runs the length of their tails, males have a white one, which makes them easy to spot when they scuttle away.

Great Crested Newt

Photo: Philip Precey

You can find Great Crested Newts in ponds during spring, when they head there from their overwintering sites to breed. After the males have wooed the females with a fancy courtship display and mated, the females lay individual eggs on aquatic plant leaves, carefully wrapping and securing the leaf around the egg to protect it. From newly hatched newt tadpoles (which you can distinguish from other tadpoles by the presence of feathery gills) to fully formed adults, newts undergo some fascinating metamorphic stages of growth. The young, which are now called Newtlets, will leave the water around August when they have fully absorbed their gills. After summer, newts spend their time preparing for winter by feeding on invertebrates. They hibernate during the winter, sheltering underground, under rocks or in compost heaps.

Great Crested Newts have seen dramatic population declines across the UK due to habitat loss and intensification of farming practices. They have full legal protection under UK law making it an offence to kill, injure, capture, disturb or sell them, or to damage or destroy their habitats. If you know of a pond that might have Great Crested Newts in it, you can contact the Trust to ensure it is recorded and protected.

You can help aquatic life by making your garden into a wildlife haven, why not introduce a well-designed pond or other useful habitats such as log piles and long grass. Wildlife will soon make it their home!

Great Crested Newt

Photo: John Bridges