Eastern Newt

Look, but don't touch!

By Sharon Tregaskis

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"Look, but don't touch," warns the brightly colored skin of the juvenile Eastern newt (Notophthalmus viridescens). The adolescent of the species--known during that 3-to-7-year phase as an eft--glows brilliant red. The cautionary color telegraphs a hazard that spans the amphibian's life: Its skin secretes a poison similar to that of the pufferfish. While larvae and adults reside in freshwater ponds, the nocturnal eft roams terra firma. At sexual maturity, its color dulls to olive and the Eastern newt returns to the water; black-ringed red spots hark back to its youthful brilliance.

The three species of newts native to North America--Texas black spotted, striped, and Eastern--are voracious predators, eating the larvae of mosquitoes and other insects and even their own young. Breeding occurs in late winter. Larval newts that survive parental predations for the 2 to 5 months it takes to become an eft develop saclike lungs, lose their gills, and add a third chamber to their hearts for their sojourn on land.

Adults, which grow to 5 inches in length, stick close to home. They migrate only between breeding ponds and those in which they reside during the rest of the year. The eft, however, will cover up to 10 square miles in its search for food. Thanks to that noxious skin, predation isn't a significant hazard to these creatures, common from maritime Canada to the Great Lakes and as far south as Texas and Florida. Humans are another story: The effects of deforestation, habitat fragmentation, and pollution are significant threats to newt populations.

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