“Newt-est” Encounter This Winter – Ontario’s Own Eastern Newt

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Matt “The Salamander Man” and long-time supporter of Adopt-A-Pond, is at it again searching for salamanders in the cold Canadian winter. His “newt-est” encounter has been the unique sighting of Ontario’s own Eastern Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens), just chilling out under the ice.

This unique salamander has truly found the fountain of youth! Starting out as a typical looking salamander larva, the Eastern Newt transforms into a terrestrial teenager that moves from his spring nursery pool up into the forest in search of food. After some time on land, these little guys transform, for a second time, taking on a more youthful aquatic appearance; creating an semi-aquatic creature that looks like a half larva and half adult salamander. Although these guys are far from curing laugh lines and wisdom winkles, their metamorphic journey is something truly unique to see in the animal world! Continue reading below for Matt’s winter adventure finding the Eastern Newt and his renditions on these fascinating creatures.

Matt’s story:*

For individuals who like to observe, watch, or record reptiles and amphibians in the wild, the winter can often be a long and dismal season.

Fortunately for me, my favourite group of amphibians is the salamanders, and these can actually be found year round, if you know where to look. In a previous piece, I wrote about my excursions to observe mudpuppies (large aquatic salamanders). However, the mudpuppy is not the only salamander species that can be seen in the winter. The Eastern Newt is yet another type of “winter salamander.”

Eastern newts (subspecies Central and Red Spotted Newts) are semi-aquatic salamanders belonging to the Salamandridae family. Most people who encounter this species do so when the newt is in its Eft stage (a terrestrial juvenile). At this point in its life, the newt is a vibrant orange colour with red spots, and aptly referred to as a Red eft. After several years in its terrestrial stage, the newt becomes an adult and its colour changes to an olive green, with a bright yellow/orange belly that is often mottled with spots. The tail also flattens vertically and becomes more paddle-like. It then returns to the water to reproduce completing its life cycle as an adult.

Unlike the Red eft stage, adult newts are not frequently seen due to their more aquatic life styles, especially since the newts blend well in aquatic vegetation. However, under special circumstances, these animals will congregate and provide a unique viewing experience!

In the beginning of February 2015, I was very lucky to observe one of these newt gatherings in person. I travelled nearly two hours from my home to reach a pond to see the newts. A small ice-free section, only a few meters across, allowed for viewing. Here around 60-100 newts were seen! Some could be seen resting on the bottom, while others would periodically swim for short bursts.

What a wonderful experience to see so many salamanders in the middle of winter!

However, despite the numerous observations of these newts, they are impacted by many of the same issues that cause declines in other amphibian species, such as habitat loss, road mortality and pollution.

Many newts and other salamanders are killed every spring on roads when they migrate to breeding sites. If you sees a newt on the road, and it is safe to do so, please stop (wet the hands if possible), scoop up the newt and gently take it across in the direction it was headed! If you know a hotspot where salamanders are crossing roads drive slowly, keep a look out for amphibians and inform others in your community to do the same. Most amphibians move when it is cool and wet out such as, at dusk or dawn, and during or after a rainstorm. A good clue is to listen for Spring Peeper frogs and Wood frogs, which can indicate amphibian breeding pools in the area.

Like all amphibians, Eastern Newts have porous skin that can absorb chemicals from their environment. Habitat degradation due to siltation, pollutants, and agricultural runoff can quickly impact the aquatic homes of amphibians. Runoff of silt and clay can also fill in important depressions under rocks and sunken debris, inhibiting the use of these areas for cover, egg deposition, and foraging. Landowners can help by allowing buffers of tall grasses, trees, shrubs and other native plants to grow around the edges of ponds and wetlands. These buffers will help protect against erosion and chemical runoff.

By taking some simple actions individuals can help ensure that Eastern Newts, and our other amphibian friends, stay numerous!

*Matt’s story has been edited for length and content.

To learn more about the Eastern Newt and other salamanders, please visit Adopt-A-Pond salamander species guides   

If you know of a hotspot on a road where amphibians are crossing in abundance report you sightings to Adopt-A-Pond!

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