The development lifecycle of Newts in our ponds
Newts in Spring:
Smooth Newts return to the pond as mating adults at around 3 years old and are about 3″ long. They are looking for still, neutral to slightly alkaline water with no fish in the pond and space to perform their mating routine which generally occurs at dawn and dusk.
Males ready for mating can be distinguished by their orange markings on both tail and underbelly. These newts (below) can be identified as Smooth newts not Palmate newts as their back feet are not webbed.
The male tries to attract the female with his bright tummy and fans his brightly edged tail to waft his glandular secretions (pheromones) to her, encouraging her to swim and follow him. When she touches his tail with her nose he releases his spermatophore onto the leaf of a plant that she will swim over so it will stick to her underbelly.
She looks duller in colour and plumper on the hips at this stage of the season as she has a bellyful of eggs waiting to be fertilized. She can store the sperm of more than one male in her body for a few days until she fertilizes the eggs just before laying. (photograph above 22 February 2014)
Great Crested Newts:
Great crested newts are blacker in colour and larger than Smooth or Palmate newts – about 5-6″ long. The male has a silver stripe the length of his tail when he is of mating age and a very pronounced crest when swimming in the water. It is against the law to handle, disturb or disrupt the pond area associated with Great Crested Newts. (Image above courtesy of Jim Grundy)
Rafting pond plants for newt egg laying:
Any species of female newt will lay her eggs between March and June (approx) in the leaves of rafting plants so these are good pond plants to have to encourage any of the 3 Native species of newts to breed successfully in your pond.(Great Crested, Smooth and Palmate Newts).
Native species of rafting plants – Mentha aquatica, Veronica beccabunga and Myosotis scorpioides raft horizontally across the water with some leaves submerged under the waters surface. Oxygenators like Water Cress (Rorippa nasturtium aquaticum) also have small submerged leaves that are useful to newts.
The female newt finds a suitable leaf and then lays her eggs on that and folds the leaf over her eggs with her back feet. (Photos taken 14 April 2016). She lays and wraps each egg individually folding the leaf over the egg and securing it by sealing the fold with a secretion.
The photo shows the folded leaves of Myosotis scorpioides (Myosotis palustris) that have been used by the female newt to wrap her eggs in for safety from infection and predators.
One female will lay several eggs a day over many weeks of a season and can lay between 150 – 300 eggs in a season that will take between 10-20 days to hatch dependent on temperature (but only 1% of eggs laid will reach adulthood).
Newts in Summer:
Newt larvae or tadpoles develop from the eggs and swim in the pond hiding in the oxygenating weed using their gills to breathe and feeding on aquatic insects. They have no legs at this stage and as each batch of eggs develops you can see a range of sizes of newt larvae within one pond – here they range from 1cm to 3cm.
In June when they have grown and developed legs they begin to leave the water as efts to look for food in the surrounding undergrowth. Ideally you will supply an area of plants next to the pond for this foraging and for protection from predators such as blackbirds that are quick to pick on the young newts as they emerge from the water if they have nowhere to hide.
Newts in Winter:
Smooth Newts have a dull brown skin colouring as camouflage as they overwinter in log piles, compost heaps or under sheds – anywhere frost free and safe from predators like cats or birds. Make sure you supply plenty of these areas of Winter protection for them near your pond.
They do not hibernate but stay dormant so in a spell of warmer weather – above 5C at night they may emerge and look for food – earthworms, slugs or insects. They are nocturnal and will begin to travel to their ponds for breeding as it warms but find shelter again if it turns cold.
You might like plants for newts to lay and wrap their eggs in: