The palmate newt is the smallest British amphian. Their lenght is around 7-11 cm, but in some populations the adults only reach 6.5 cm. Both sexes have smooth skin, with olive green or brownish coloured upperparts and a yellow belly featuring a scattering of small black spots. The throat is not spotted, unlike the smooth newts (Triturus vulgaris), and is pinkish in colour.
Males have two ridges that pass along the back. They also develop a very low, smooth crest during the breeding season, which extends along the back to the tail, where it forms a tail filament (4-7mm).
The lifecycle of the palmate newt is very similar to that of the smooth newt. Palmate newts come out of hibernation in February/March and migrate over land to breeding sites. Males perform a mating display by swimming and dropping a spermatophore (packet of sperm) in front of females. Females then pick up the spermatophore in her cloaca to perform the fertilization.
Between February and May, the females lay individual eggs and attach them to aquatic plant leaves at the rate of 3-7 eggs a day. After 2-3 weeks, the eggs hatch and the tadpole larvae usually undergo a metamorphosis to become air-breathing juveniles after 6-9 weeks. Palmate newts become sexually mature in their second year.
The palmate newts hibernate from November to February/March. They usually stay beneath stones or compost heaps, although young adults may hibernate in the mud of pond beds. During the breeding season, from February/March to June/July, palmate newts are active both the night and day. They spend a few months on the land between July and before entering hibernation. At that time, we can generally see them on rainy or humid nights.
On land, palmate newts feed on insects and worms. They sometimes flick out their tongue like a lizard to catch prey. Crustaceans, insect larvae, water snails and frog tadpoles form their diet in the water.
They breed in a range of still and occasionally running water, including ponds, puddles, woodland and heath pools and even mountain lake edges. They show a marked preference for shallow soft-water pools on acid soils. Palmate newts seem able to withstand dryer conditions than the smooth newt and are often found further from water during their terrestrial phase.
In Britain, these newts are protected by law under Section 9(5) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. This prohibits sale, barter, exchange, transporting for sale and advertising to sell or to buy. It is thought to be extremely rare to endangered in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg and vulnerable in Germany, but common elsewhere.
Erik Paterson, CARG Secretary