The delightful red-spotted or Eastern newt, Notophthalmus viridescens, is present throughout eastern North America and can be spotted in various stages of its distinctive life cycle.
Adult greenish-brown newts lay their eggs in fresh water where they will develop into larvae and, after about 3 months, transform into the juvenile eft phase. These young will move onto land before eventually shifting back to the water as grown newts. This variation in the amphibious life-cycle is different from most others as it includes the juvenile terrestrial phase. The Eastern newt’s red-eft stage is notable for its intense colouring and distinct spots along the back, which vary in number depending on the sub-species. The flashy orange- red hue is a clear warning, as they are 20 times more toxic to potential predators than during their aquatic stages!
Eastern newts stay in this terrestrial phase for several years and you may find them burrowing or hibernating under rocks, logs and damp leaf litter where they can maintain needed moisture for their delicate skin. Most will then continue to metamorphose into grown newts, though some individuals stay in this terrestrial phase, only returning to pools to breed but not to live. Carnivores in each cycle, they rely on the presence of other small creatures such as fish, worms, snails and insects for their diet. For more information about Eastern newt biology, visit The Smithsonian's National Zoo (si.edu).
Newts are members of the lizard-like Salamander Order of Amphibians whose existence has been woven into a rich tapestry of myth and story related to their unique appearance, characteristics and cycles. Though they are amphibians, the name Salamander comes from the ancient Greek for “fire lizard”. This evocative name could stem from their multiple phases and ability to inhabit different environments- in reality: water and earth, in myth: earth and fire.
According to some legends, salamanders come from fire while in others they actually make fire and are thought to have taught this skill to humans. In many myths they are described as immune to fire and in the Talmud it is even suggested that anyone smeared with salamander blood will become fireproof themselves.
These legends reach across cultures and centuries - below is a drawing of a fire salamander creature from the 1500s!