Eastern Newt Notophthalmus viridescens

Adult male N. v. viridescens from northern Georgia

Identification

Adult Eastern Newts have an unusual and variable life history and a correspondingly variable morphology. Aquatic adults are typically olive-green or brown dorsally with a yellow venter. The side of the body is often marked with 3-7 red spots; these are encircled in black pigment in N. v. viridescens, but not in N. v. louisianensis. Eastern Newts have two longitudinal cranial crests on the head, and aquatic males have tall dorsal and ventral fins on the tail. During the breeding season, males also develop thick keratinous regions on the feet and hind limbs. If their pond dries, adults can leave the water and live terrestrially. These individuals usually show a reduced tail fin and more granular skin. Directly after metamorphosis, many newts enter a unique life-history phase called the "eft", which is characterized by its small size and bright red or orange, granular skin (see Natural History for more information). Eastern Newts can grow to 2-2.5 inches SVL, and most efts are approximately 1-2 inches in total length.

N. v. viridescens eft from Brown County
Axanthic adult male N. v. viridescens from Switzerland County
N. v. viridescens larva from Jennings County

Easter Newt eggs are laid singly and attached to aquatic vegetation or detritus. They are rarely seen. Larvae look superficially similar to Ambystoma but have a more pointed snout. A dark bar through the eye can be a good distinguishing feature. As they mature, larvae display coloring and patterning similar to that of adults.

Eastern Newts are easily distinguished from other species of salamanders in Indiana. An eft could be confused with a Red Salamander (Pseudotriton ruber) or Cave Salamander (Eurycea lucifuga), but both of these species have much smoother and wetter skin.

Ecology and Conservation

Aquatic adult Eastern Newts are found in a variety of mostly permanent ponds, but they can also be found in ephemeral wetlands. When these bodies of water dry, the adults can often be found huddled underneath logs within the former pond margins. Efts are fully terrestrial and can wander many miles from breeding ponds. They can occasionally be found underneath logs on forested hillsides and often emerge en masse after summer rains. Unlike most salamanders, it is not entirely unusual to see an eft crawling on leaf litter during daylight hours. Efts may wander the forested landscape for up to ten years before returning to the breeding pond to reproduce. Aquatic adults can be found in permanent ponds year-round, and efts are often common after summer and fall rains. Adult Eastern Newts eat a variety of aquatic invertebrates and become seasonally important predators of other amphibians' eggs. Efts eat a variety of terrestrial invertebrates.

Shallow marsh from Wayne County
Vernal pool from Switzerland County

Males court females and lead them to a spermatophore deposited on the pond bottom. Often, this involves grabbing the female around the neck with his hind limbs--an embrace that can last many hours. In fact, eager males in the breeding season will occasionally confuse a herpetologist's finger with an unresponsive female and clasp on tightly! Eggs are fertilized internally and then laid singly in aquatic vegetation and detritus. Minton (2001) reports witnessing breeding activity between mid-January and mid-March near Bloomington, and our observations are consistent with his.

Eastern Newts have multi-stage life histories, often relying on both terrestrial and aquatic habitats, which makes the preservation of forested land surrounding breeding ponds is important. Where they occur, Eastern Newts are often abundant in Indiana.

Distribution

Eastern Newts are one of the most widely-distributed salamanders in the country and can be found across most of the eastern United States. They have been documented statewide in Indiana but appear to be relatively spotty. Indiana represents a contact zone between the Central Newt (N. v. louisianensis) and the Red-Spotted Newt (N. v. viridescens), with the former occurring in the western part of the state and the latter in the eastern. Many of the newts in Indiana may be intergrades.

Taxonomy

Several subspecies of the Eastern Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens). Most of Indiana's populations are assignable to the Red-Spotted Newt (N. v. viridescens), but some populations belong to the Central Newt (N. v. louisianensis). These salamanders are members of the family Salamandridae, which is most diverse in Europe and Asia.

Is it dangerous?

Many newts are poisonous, meaning they are dangerous if eaten or ingested. However, they are not venomous, meaning they don't bite and inject a toxin.

Literature Cited

Brodman, R. 2003. Amphibians and Reptiles from Twenty-three Counties of Indiana. Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science 112:43-54.

Kinney, V. C., N. J. Engbrecht, J. L. Heemeyer, and M. J. Lannoo. 2010. New County Records for Amphibians and Reptiles in Southwestern Indiana. Herpetological Review 41:387

Klueh-Mundy, S and J. Mirtl. 2014. Notophthalmus viridescens. Eastern Newt. Geographic distribution (Sullivan County). Herpetological Review 45:457.

Minton, S. A. Jr. 2001. Amphibians and Reptiles of Indiana. Indiana Academy of Science, Indianapolis, IN .

Petranka, J. W. 1998. Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institute Press, Washington D.C.

Distribution Map
Distribution map of Eastern Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens)
Photographs