Wednesday Vignette: Vulnerable


This little eastern newt (Notophthalmus viridescens) eft — only an inch long, all told, the smallest one I’ve ever seen — was motoring along a local sidewalk two days ago, heading into the road. I scooped the small creature up with a stick onto a library book I was returning and ferried him or her across the street to a damp nature trail, hoping that’s what was wanted. It’s been 34 or 35F for the last week or so at night, with high temps in the upper 50Fs. I assume this one is looking for a place to overwinter.

These little amphibians are born in ponds, marshes, and vernal pools, in larval form. After about 2-5 months, they bid farewell to their aquatic way of life to become terrestrial efts, the name for their juvenile form, spending one to three years on land — in lakeshore and woodland habitats, eating snails, springtails, mites, and other invertebrates, and overwintering deep under logs, leaf litter, and rocks — before they return to the water to breed and live the rest of their lives. Adults, about 3 to 5 inches long and olive green with blue and red spots (see below), can be active all winter on pond bottoms and in streams. If they make it through the dangerous egg and larva stage, eastern newts can carry on for 12-15 years. But they are still very vulnerable, despite the toxicity of the eft’s red skin:

Their skin is “incredibly porous and they are sensitive to many environmental hazards and can even be harmed by lotions or insect repellent on the hands of well-meaning humans.  If you see a newt on the move try not to touch it unless you are sure your hands are free from chemicals.  Road crossings are also treacherous for newts; their slow pace combined with the heat and sun of the roadway can make the crossing dangerous even without a passing car.  Chemical herbicides often used on roadsides add another hazard for wandering newts.” (source)

Here’s a photo of an adult eastern newt, taken locally this spring.




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  1. Fascinating! I didn’t know about either their various stages or that they can live that long. That’s impressive for such a small creature. Glad you were able to carry it to safety! Great photos, too!

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