How do I tell the difference between newts and lizards?
Lizards are scaly and very quick – if you can catch it, it’s a newt!
Many people confuse newts (on land) with lizards as they can be a similar size and colour. Newts have smooth skin (which can look velvety) or skin with a ‘warty’ texture, whereas lizards have scaly skin.
Palmate Newt (photo: Dave Kilbey)
Lizards are much more likely to scurry away very quickly when disturbed, whereas newts will make slower, lumbering movements.
Lizards do occasionally swim but if you’ve seen the animal in water then it’s much more likely to be a newt.
If you have a chance for a closer look you could count the number of toes on the front pair of legs – newts have four toes and lizards have five.
What species of newt have I seen?
There are three native newt species in the UK; Smooth Newts are the most common. Look at the size and skin type to help with identification.
Of the three native newt species, Smooth Newts are the most commonly seen, though Palmate Newts look very similar. Great Crested Newts are rare but local populations can be strong.
- Up to 10cm long.
- Brown (usually) upper body sometimes with visible black spots.
- Pale orange belly with small black spots.
- Males develop a continuous wavy crest, running from the head to then end of the tail, during the spring.
- (Photo: Matt Wilson)
- Very similar to smooth newt but a maximum of around 8-9cm.
- Throat is usually pink and unspotted.
- Males develop webbed back feet, a ridge running along the back and a thin filament at the end of the tail during the breeding season.
- (Photo: Matt Wilson)
- Up to 16cm long.
- Rough, black skin often with white-tipped ‘warts’.
- Bright orange belly with irregular black blotches.
- During the breeding season males have a jagged crest running from the head, along the back, with a break at the base of the tail; the tail also has a conspicuous white flash.
I’ve found an unusually coloured newt, is it ill or an exotic species?
Odd-coloured amphibians usually turn out to be healthy, native species that have unusual colouring.
The UK’s amphibians are much more variable in their colouration than is often thought. This can sometimes make identification difficult but does mean that whatever you’ve seen is likely to be a healthy, native species rather than anything that’s ill or exotic.
Smooth Newts, for example, can appear orange, cream or pale green; these are natural genetic variations in the population.
Unless the newt seems otherwise unhealthy, it’s unlikely to be anything to worry about. If you’re concerned the newt is ill or suffering, please contact a local vet or wildlife hospital.
I think I have great crested newts in my pond, what do I do?
Report your sightings to local groups and make sure you have the right information before carrying out any work.
First, be sure to properly identify which species of newt you have seen. Newts can be tricky to identify and can have features (like a breeding crest) that occur in more than one species.
Great Crested Newts are strictly protected in the UK. If you do have great crested newts in your pond you will need to be aware of how this law affects your management of the pond. Please talk to Natural England, Countryside Council for Wales or Scottish Natural Heritage for further information.
After receiving information from the relevant statutory agency you should inform your local Amphibian and Reptile Group (ARG) and the local Biological Record Centre of the sighting. These records help these groups understand the distribution of this species locally and will be important for providing planners and developers with the correct information.
You may wish to download or order a copy of the Great Crested Newt Conservation Handbook.
I’ve seen a large newt the pond that still has gills, what’s going on?
This is what’s known as neoteny – the newt has grown up but kept its larval characteristics.
Occasionally we hear reports of neotenous newts. These are individuals that have grown to adult size but still have their larval characteristics – the frill of gills on either side of the head. This is a natural phenomenon seen in many species of newt and salamander. The newt will probably never fully develop and will spend its whole life underwater.
More common is to find newt larvae (or frog tadpoles) that are still in the water after the summer. This is unlikely to be neoteny, these individuals have just experienced a delay in development and will complete their metamorphosis the following spring (if they survive the winter).