Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus)

Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus) photo by Rainer Theuer http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kammmolchmaennchen.jpg public domain 20/11/2013
Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus) photo by Rainer Theuer

The Great Crested Newt, Northern Crested Newt or Warty Newt (Triturus cristatus) is a newt in the family Salamandridae, found across Europe and parts of Asia.

Description

Great Crested Newts have dark grey-brown backs and flanks, and are covered with darker coloured spots so that they appear almost black in colour. Their undersides are either yellow or orange-coloured and are covered in large black blotches, which have a unique pattern in each individual. Males can be distinguished from females by the presence of a jagged crest during the breeding season. This runs along their backs, then a separate smoother-edged crest runs above and below the tail (in some other species of newts the crest along the back is continuous with the tail crest). They also have a silver-grey stripe that runs along the tail. Females lack a crest, but have a yellow-orange stripe along the lower edge of their tail and often a marked orange stripe along the top of the lower back and tail.

Distribution

The range of the Great Crested Newt extends from Great Britain and Brittany in the west across much of Europe north of the Alps and the Black Sea. Since the 1940s populations of Great Crested Newt have declined in most of Europe due to loss of habitat. It is the biggest and least common of the three newts found in the British Isles and is one of only three amphibians which are protected by the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

Several closely related species were formerly considered to be subspecies of the Great Crested Newt: the Italian crested newt (Triturus carnifex), the Danube crested newt (Triturus dobrogicus) and the southern crested newt (Triturus karelinii).

Conservation status

It is a protected species under schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which covers England, Wales and Scotland, and under equivalent legislation in Northern Ireland. It is also a European Protected Species and as such it has additional protection in the UK under Regulation 39 of the Conservation (Natural Habitats etc.) Regulations 1994 (the Habitats Regulations), as amended by the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &,c.) (Amendment) Regulations 2007. It is an offence to:

Larval Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus) by Piet Spaans http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:LarveKamsalamander.JPG. GNU Free Documentation License 28/02/2008
Larval Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus) photo by Piet Spaans
  • Intentionally kill, injure or take a Great Crested Newt.
  • Possess or control any live or dead specimen or anything derived from a Great Crested Newt.
  • Intentionally or recklessly damage, destroy or obstruct access to any structure or place used for shelter or protection by a Great Crested Newt (in practice this means both its breeding sites, and its terrestrial habitat).
  • Intentionally or recklessly disturb a Great Crested Newt while it is occupying a structure or place which it uses for that purpose.

Other EU countries have similar legislation, implementing the Habitats Directive. In the United Kingdom, habitat of the Great Crested Newt has diminished due to land development pressure from population growth and agricultural expansion; for example, it is considered eliminated from its prior range at the Portlethen Moss Nature Reserve in Scotland.

Where development activities may interfere with Great Crested Newt populations, exclusion systems such as newt fencing may be put in place to prevent Great Crested Newts from entering a development site. Newt fencing may also be used to create a receptor site or 'newt safe' area where Great Crested Newts can be translocated to, from an area where they are under threat.

Within the UK guidance on development in relation to Great Crested Newts can be found within Natural England's Great Crested Newt Mitigation Guidelines which should be followed developers.

Behaviour

Great Crested Newts normally live on land but breed in ponds and pools. Breeding is similar to that of other newts. After performing a courtship display, the male deposits a spermataphore (a small packet of sperm) from his cloaca (reproductive and excretory opening) in the path of the female. He then moves sideways in front of her to gently encourage her into a position where the spermataphore will be pressed against and picked up by her cloaca - so "mating" is done without direct contact. The female lays two or three eggs a day between March and mid July, until 200 to 300 eggs have been laid. The eggs are laid on submerged aquatic plants, each carefully wrapped in a leaf. The larvae (or efts) hatch after about 3 weeks and then live in the pond as aquatic predators. They are vulnerable to fish predation, and water bodies containing fish are rarely used for breeding (this means that they do not usually use running water, larger lakes nor many garden ponds). After metamorphosis into air-breathing juveniles at about four months old, they live a terrestrial life until old enough to breed, which is at about two or three years of age. They may disperse at this age as far as 800 metres (about half a mile).


Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus)


Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus)

Both the juvenile newts and the adults (outside the breeding season) live in terrestrial habitats with dense cover, such as scrub, rough grass and woodland, usually within about 200 metres of the breeding pond. They hunt small animals at night, such as insects, worms, woodlice, slugs and snails, and rest during the day beneath rocks, logs or other shelter. During the winter months they hibernate under logs and stones or in the mud at the bottom of their breeding ponds. The newts normally return to the same breeding site each year, and can live as much as twenty-seven years, although up to about ten years is more usual.