I don’t usually think of newts as having decorations beyond colourful patterns — fun crests and horns are, in my mind, reserved for lizards, not amphibians. But this assumption is wrong, and insulting to amphibians. After all, why can’t newts have just as complex and beautiful ornamentations as lizards?

Crested newts belong to the genus Triturus, which they share with another group of pretty amphibians, the marbled newts. There are six species of crested newt, which range from Great Britain to the Caspian Sea. Like all amphibians, crested amphibians need to be near water. They spend the breeding season in ponds, and move to dry land for the rest of the year, but always stick close to their breeding sites.

Newts are cute! Image by Benny Trapp, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Crested newts grow to be 12 to 16 cm in length, which is fairly large for newts. Females tend to be bigger than males, and newts that live in colder areas grow larger. For most of the year, crested newts are fairly mundane looking, being brown with some black and white markings. It is during the breeding season that crested newts really show off their beauty. I guess this makes sense — you only really need to pretty when you’re trying to attract a mate.

During the breeding season crested newts develop their namesake crests, with the appendages being particularly pronounced in males. As I mentioned earlier, newts require ponds for breeding, and usually pick ponds that are high in vegetation, and low in fish (fish think newt eggs are super tasty!). The breeding season varies based on location, but starts when temperatures are consistently above four to five degrees Celsius.

Courtship in crested newts is a fairly complicated affair. A male newt will find a nice clear patch of pond to display in, and once a female has come into his view he will position himself in front of her and start to display. The display can involve a number of different postures, including handstands, tail whips, and body sways. If he is successful, the newt will lay a spermatophore on the ground, and then guide the female over it so she can gather it up with her cloaca.

A young crested newt. Image by Piet Spaans, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

The female lays the eggs on the underside of leaves, and closes the leaves around the eggs to help protect them. Different species lay various amounts of eggs, but clutch size is usually around 200 eggs. This large amount is necessary, as 50% of the eggs will die before hatching, thanks to a genetic anomaly unique to the Triturus genus. Young newts spend the first part of their lives in the water, metamorphosing into juveniles after about two to four months.

Though half their eggs die before hatching, crested newts are doing reasonably well. They are affected by habitat loss, but so far are not threatened. All species are protected, so hopefully they will stay around!

Cover image by Benny Trapp, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons