Eastern Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens)

Description: Small salamanders that live in both aquatic and terrestrial ("eft") forms. The aquatic adult is olive green to greenish brown above, with a yellow, black spotted belly. The tail is flattened. The land-living eft is reddish brown to bright red or orange, with a rounded tail. The skin appears rough, but is soft to the touch. Two subspecies merge in Michigan: the Red-spotted Newt (N. v. viridescens) has two rows of black bordered red spots on the back. The smaller Central Newt (N. v. louisianensis) may lack red spots, or may have red spots that lack black borders. Adult newts are 2.5 to 5.5 inches (6.4 to 14 cm) long.

Eastern Newt
Photo © Jim Harding

Habitat/Habits: Found state-wide, newts prefer small, permanent ponds, but also live in vernal ponds, sloughs, marshes, bogs, swamps and lake shallows. Efts are usually found in nearby woods, under rotting logs, rocks, and other shelters. Adults are active all year under water, but can hibernate on land if the pond dries up. Insects, worms, crustaceans, mollusks, other small invertebrates, and tadpoles are eaten. Their toxic skin secretions cause many fish to avoid eating them.

Breeding: Adults breed in late winter and early spring. Courtship is elaborate, with much nudging, twitching, and "tail fanning" by the male. Females attach up to 300 single eggs to underwater plants or debris in April. In late summer, the gill breathing larvae may transform directly into the aquatic "adult" stage or become "efts" that live on land for a year or two before returning to the water.

Conservation: Newts can be locally common in Michigan, but rarely achieve the high densities seen in some eastern and southern states. Newts disappear when habitats are degraded or polluted. They may benefit from construction of artificial ponds, especially if predatory fish are not introduced.