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Tetrapod Zoology

Tetrapod Zoology

Amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals - living and extinct

33% of the newts of my country

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Male German Palmate newt, image by Christian Fischer, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

I know the newts of my country… but that’s not hard, there are only three (or four if you count the alien one). The Palmate newt Lissotriton helveticus is Britain’s smallest species (reaching 95 mm in total length), though it’s not the smallest of all European newts, being exceeded by the 80 mm Italian newt L. italicus. Actually, though, there are some English Palmate newt populations that consist of genuine dwarfs: individuals that are just 51-60 mm long in total. Beebee & Griffiths (2000) say that adult animals on Jersey are even tinier. There’s a predictable joke here about tiny newts but I can’t remember what it is. [Image above by Christian Fischer.]

NOT a Palmate newt: a male Smooth newt. Note obviously spotted underside and lack of terminal tail filament. Photo by Darren Naish. CC BY.

Anyway, the Palmate newt is endemic to western Europe. Ireland lucks out, as does central and southern Portugal and Spain. Like most or all newts, its diet is basically determined by whatever it can cram down its throat. During its aquatic phase, the Palmate preys extensively on crustaceans while terrestrial individuals mostly eat springtails and soil mites (Beebee & Griffiths 2000).

Breeding male Palmate newts possess a very low, unserrated crest and possess black webbing on the hind feet and a filament at the tail-tip. As is typical for the crested salamandrids, males display to females by fanning and whipping their tails, wafting pheromones over females in the hope that they will follow and accept a spermatophore packet. Ridges that run along the male’s body seemingly help channel the pheromones along his length and it has also been suggested that the peculiar filament at the tail tip helps reduced turbulence during the fanning display: somebody should study this. Female Palmates are often hard to distinguish from female Smooth or common newts L. vulgaris but have a pale bar above the hindlimbs and a pinkish, unspotted throat.

So much more to say, but out of time. Much more on salamanders soon.

For previous Tet Zoo articles on salamanders, see...

Refs - -

Beebee, T. & Griffiths, R. 2000. Amphibians and Reptiles. HarperCollins, London.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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