Family: Salamandridae - Old World Salamanders
Order: Caudata - Salamanders
Phylum: Chordata - Vertebrates
Red List status: Least Concern
From Russia and Ukraine in the east to Ireland in the west. The species occurs throughout mainland Europe, north into Great Britain and Scandinavia, but is absent from the Iberian Peninsula. It is absent from southern France and many Mediterranean islands, and is replaced in southern Italy by the Italian newt (Lissotriton italicus).
Other common names: Common newt, spotted newt
Adult: A 'typical' newt, with relatively short hindlimbs and well-developed tail fins that end in a sharp point. The upper body is dull brown or olive. There is a paler ventral surface, with a flush of red, orange or green running down the midline of the belly. The throat is paler than the belly. There is a pattern of round black spots across both the upper and lower surfaces (larger and more prominent in males than females), with those on the upper body extending down the length of the body and tail in two or five rows and a more irregular pattern ventrally. A stripe passes from the snout through the eye. Three grooves are
present on the top of the head. Females are typically shorter, more robust, and duller in colouration than males, with two rather than five rows of spots (sometimes coalescing into a pair of parallel lines). Members of both sexes are duller when encountered away from water. Males have a low ridge running along the back outside the breeding season. Juveniles resemble females in patterning and colouration.
When in breeding condition, males develop flaps on their toes and, most prominently, an undulating crest up to 10 mm tall running down the length of the back and tail. The lower part of the tail is translucent orange at its base, often with a blue tint above.
Larvae: Newt larvae can be recognised by the feathery gills they develop, and by the
development of the forelimbs earlier than the hindlimbs in development (the reverse is true
of frog larvae). Newt larvae are translucent brown in colour, and may be lightly speckled with black.
Eggs: Eggs are laid singly, characteristically in the leaves of aquatic plants which the mother folds over to wrap the egg in a distinctive parcel. The eggs themselves are cream in colour and measure around 1.5 mm in diameter.
Similar species: The smooth newt is similar in size, colouration and patterning to the palmate newt (Lissotriton helveticus). It can most reliably be distinguished from this species by the fact that the palmate newt never has a spotted throat, while the smooth newt almost invariably does. The throat of the palmate newt is also more pinkish in colour, while the smooth newt has a whitish throat. Typically, female palmate newts have a paler, straw-coloured belly, but this is not universal. Two small white tubercles are present on the hind feet of female palmate newts, but not smooth newts. Males in breeding condition can readily be distinguished by the absence of a crest in the palmate newt and its possession of a tail filament extending beyond the blunt tips of the tail fins, and by the characteristic webbing that develops between the hind toes of male palmates. The snout of the smooth newt is concave, creating a shallow hollow between the eye and the nostril; this feature is absent in the palmate newt.
Larvae of the two species are indistinguishable.
Smooth newt with typical spotted throat.
The Italian newt has a throat that is darker than the belly, is smaller and lighter in colour, and males in breeding condition can be easily distinguished by their lack of crests. The alpine and Montandon's newts both have bellies that are entirely yellow or red, and generally lack large spots (although small spots may be present in the latter). Alpine and Italian newts have only a single groove on the top of the head. Montandon's and Italian newts lack stripes on the side of the head.
Confusion is less likely with the great crested newt (Triturus cristatus), which is larger (up to twice as long in some cases), darker, less distinctly pattered and without a sharply pointed tail. Male great crested newts in breeding condition have a tall, jagged crest that has a 'toothed' appearance, while the smooth newt's crest is more even. Great crested newt larvae are larger, possess prominent black blotches on the body and tail, and a tail filament.
Widespread in both modified and natural landscapes; probably most commonly encountered in garden ponds. It may exhibit a preference for woodland habitat with abundant shelter sites; however, it is also frequently recorded from meadows, marshland and other damp habitats. Animals spend over half the year on land, and generally hibernate beneath the surface of bare soil, avoiding vegetated areas and cover objects.
Reproductive habitat: The smooth newt is mostly associated with shallow still waters, with good vegetation cover and a high pH.
Elevation: 0 - 2,150 m.
A nocturnal species that is principally terrestrial outside the breeding season, although adults rarely stray far from their breeding habitat. Animals typically emerge to feed at dusk, actively hunting either on land or in the water. Animals aestivate to survive hot, dry periods, and generally overwinter in a dormant state sheltering in animal burrows, beneath leaf litter or in shelter sites. Smooth newts appear to tolerate temperatures as low as 0°C while remaining active, and may therefore emerge periodically to forage during winter months. Animals travel to their breeding pools as soon as they emerge from winter dormancy; in northern Europe, this may be as early as February or March.
Courtship and reproductive behaviour: Breeding begins in late spring and continues through May. Although males display in the water (sometimes during the day), mating itself takes place on land. Courtship is elaborate, with males using arm-waving and 'tail whip' motions to attract a female's attention and waft pheromones towards her. The extra surface area provided by the male's crest increases oxygen uptake, allowing males with large crests to display for longer without surfacing for air, increasing their chances of a successful mating. On the pond bottom, the male will trail a female and touch her flanks before depositing a packet of sperm on the ground, which the female collects by placing her cloaca over it. When eggs are laid, females use their hind legs to wrap each individually-deposited egg in a curled leaf.
Diet: Smooth newts are opportunistic predators that will take most terrestrial invertebrates. Occasionally larger animals may take juvenile slow worms or other small vertebrates. When adults return to the water during the breeding season, they feed largely on frog and newt eggs and larvae (potentially including their own), small crustaceans and insect larvae. In contrast to great crested newts, smooth newts typically feed in midwater, a behaviour which can assist in identifying species seen in ponds at night.
Life cycle: Eggs are laid between May and June, with an individual female laying 200-400 individual eggs over the course of the season. The egg stage lasts for 2-3 weeks, with larvae taking a further nine to twelve weeks to reach metamorphosis. Metamorphs leave the water at this stage, and remain on land until reproductively mature in the following breeding season.
Lifespan: Up to 28 years in captivity. Wild animals are thought to live no more than 7 years.
In view of its large range and the existence of a number of recognised subspecies, the smooth newt may represent a species complex. The name Triturus vulgaris is found in many, mostly older, sources concerning this species (e.g. Arnold & Ovenden, 2004; ARKive).
The smooth newt is covered under Appendix III (Protected Fauna) of the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats 1979, and also benefits from protected status under national legislation in several states within its range.
Arnold, N. and Ovenden, D. (2004) Collins Field Guide: Reptiles and Amphibians of Britain and Europe HarperCollins, London: 288pp
Arntzen, J.W., Kuzmin, S., Beebee, T., Papenfuss, T., Sparreboom, M., Ugurtas, I., Anderson, S., Anthony, B., Andreone, F., Tarkhnishvili, T., Ishchenko, V., Ananjeva, N., Orlov, N., Tuniyev, B., Benedik (2006). Lissotriton vulgaris. In: IUCN 2008. 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Jarvis, L. Advanced British Amphibians Field Studies Council course.
Langton, T.E.S., Beckett, C.L. and Foster, J.P. (2001) Great Crested Newt Conservation Handbook Froglife, Halesworth: 55pp
Wareham, D.C. (2008) The Reptiles and Amphibians of Dorset British Herpetological Society: 120pp
Silhouette of a smooth newt male in captivity. Epping Forest, Essex, United Kingdom.