Young newts

18th March 2008, Tuesday

Pat Bonham is correct that the young newt found on the shingle at Dungeness is a juvenile smooth newt Lissotriton vulgaris. The only other newt found at Dungeness is the great crested newt and the juveniles and adults of this species look very dark on land, with a rougher skin.

 Juvenile smooth newt

The other possibility would be the palmate newt L. helveticus but I have never found it on Dungeness, or Romney Marsh for that matter, although it might occur in ditches on the boundary between the Marsh and the Weald. Our grazing marshes just do not seem to be a suitable habitat for this species. The juveniles of both newt species live on land, and resemble female newts in colour being an pale sandy yellow colour. Adult palmate newts have unspotted throats, where as the throat of a smooth newt is spotty, but this can be difficult to see in young animals. At this stage, though, they can be told apart by a feature that does not show up in Pat’s photo. Juvenile palmate newts have an pale orange coloured stripe down the centre of the back and onto the tail, whereas in the smooth newt this stripe starts just behind the eyes, but peters out before it reaches the forelimbs – this can be seen on the photo above.

My identification then is based on many hours of merry newt counting at Dungeness when I worked for English Nature. The smooth newt is phenomenally common there, and it is not unusual to see juveniles crossing the shingle during the day after spells of wet weather. My best count was 300 animals in the Demonstration Pit, near the RSPB reserve visitor centre, but I suspect in a large water body like Burrows Pit it might be possible to get a torch-light count well in excess of 1000 animals. I have never done this because it is always a huge job surveying great crested newts which are not common in such large pits, but perhaps one day when I have nothing else to do…..