Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus)
Great Crested Newts are the biggest newt species in the UK and have been around for approximately 40 million years.
They are widely distributed throughout Britain but this distribution is extremely patchy; they’re absent from Ireland and have disappeared from many sites across Europe. They are the largest of our native newt species. During the breeding season males develop a jagged crest which has a break at the base of the tail and females take on a ‘bulky’ appearance.
|Identification||Adults up to 15 cm in length. Skin is black or dark brown and has a rough, ‘warty’ appearance. Underside is bright orange with irregular black blotches. Males have a crest along their backs which is more pronounced during the breeding season. Males have a white flash on the tail and females a yellow/orange one.
‘Warts’ along the side of the body may have white tips.
Largest newt species in the UK.
|Distribution||Native to the UK. Widespread but patchy distribution in the UK. Absent from Ireland. Found throughout northern and central Europe. Populations have disappeared from many sites across Europe due to habitat loss and intensification of farming practises.|
|Ecology||Favour large ponds with abundant weeds and no fish. Active at night, spending the day at the bottom of ponds or in vegetation. Feed mainly on invertebrates and tadpoles. White with light yellow centre eggs surrounded by a jelly capsule around 4.5-6 mm across. Single eggs are folded inside leaves of aquatic plants. Larvae have a filament at the tail tip and black blotches over the body, tail and crest. Larger than all other newt species encountered in the UK, reaching a length of 50 – 90mm before metamorphosis. May be hard to tell apart from other newt species when they are less than 20 mm in length.|
|Predators and other threats||Eaten by foxes, badgers, rats, hedgehogs and birds. Threatened by habitat loss and the intensification of farming practises.|
A year in the life…Spring
Adult newts emerge from their overwintering sites in spring (March/April) and head to a pond to breed. Males perform an elaborate courtship dance before the eggs are laid. Females lay individual eggs on plant leaves and carefully wrap them up to protect them. Depending on local weather conditions, two to four weeks later larvae (sometimes called newt tadpoles) will hatch out. The larvae have feathery gills around the head, distinguishing them from frog and toad tadpoles; they have a mottled appearance and a tiny filament at the end of the tail. A couple of months after they hatch the larvae start to grow their front legs (again, different from frogs and toads), followed by the back legs. At this time of year adult newts will hang around in and around the pond and will hunt frog tadpoles.
When the larvae have fully absorbed their gills they leave the water as newtlets (or efts), around August.
Autumn is spent preparing for winter. Newts feed on various invertebrates.
Great Crested Newts spend the winter sheltering under rocks, in compost heaps or buried down in mud. They don’t hibernate as such, and may take advantage of milder patches of weather to come out and forage.
N.B. Great Crested Newts 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. This applies to all life-stages.
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