TRITURUS CRISTATUS GROUP: THE CRESTED NEWTS
Male Triturus cristatus. Photo by R. Griffiths.
Female Triturus cristatus. Photo by R. Griffiths.
Male Triturus carnifex.
Male Triturus karelinii.
Mating behaviour of all four species: male shown in black, female in white. From Arntzen & Sparreboom (1989).
The crested newts are the largest (to 18cm) and most heavily built newts of the genus Triturus. They have a warty skin, quite unlike the smooth or granular skin of the smaller species. The back is dark brown or black, and there may be white stippling along the flanks. The belly is usually yellow or orange, with large black blotches or spots. The males develop a high, toothed, black crest during the breeding season, and a white band along each side of the tail.
The group was originally considered as a single species, T. cristatus, but this is now considered a 'superspecies' consisting of up to six distinct species.
The Eastern Balkan crested newts have recently (Themudo et al, 2009) been described as a species in their own right, previously being regarded as a subspecies of T. karelinii.
Triturus carnifex: The Italian Crested
The Italian crested newt has a distribution centred around Italy and the former Yugoslavia. Females and juveniles may exhibit a yellow dorsal stripe, which is usually absent in the other species, and there is little white stippling on the flanks. The throat is yellow and black with white stippling. .
Triturus cristatus: The Northern Crested
The northern crested newt is widely distributed across northern Europe. The wide distribution of this species leads to some variation in appearance, though white stippling is almost always present on the flanks, and the throat is dark with similar stippling.
Triturus dobrogicus: The Danube Crested
Formerly also known as T. cristatus danubialis, the Danube crested newt has a restricted distribution around the Danube flood plains. This species is the smallest and least bulkily built of the cristatus group. Males have a particularly high crest, which may extend onto the head.
The distribution of this species is not well known. It has a small range, and, apart from a small part of the Black Sea coast, its distribution is bordered by the ranges of other crested newt species. This leads to hybrid zones where the ranges meet, making it difficult to establish the exact distribution of the pure species (Arntzen et al, 1997). Two subspecies are currently recognised: T. d. macrosoma (also known as T. d. macrosomus) occurs in the western part of the range (above the 'Iron Gate' of the Danube), with T. d. dobrogicus occuring to the east.
Triturus karelinii: The Southern or
Turkish Crested Newt
The southern crested newt occurs in the far south-east of Europe. This is the largest species of the group. Belly colouration usually extends onto the throat.
The crested newts found in the West of the Balkans have recently (Arntzen et al, 2007) been described as a species in their own right, previously being regarded as a subspecies of T. carnifex.
These species are all very closely related, and hybrids have been succesfully bred from most combinations of the four species. This group of species, together with the marbled newt, exhibit a chromosomal anomaly leading to a 50% mortality of all eggs produced.
Arntzen, J. W., Bugter, R. J. F., Cogalniceanu, D., & Wallis, G. P., 1997. The distribution and conservation status of the Danube crested newt, Triturus dobrogicus. Amphibia-Reptilia 18: 133-142. [ABSTRACT]
Arntzen, J. W. & Sparreboom, M., 1989. A phylogeny for the Old World newts, genus Triturus: biochemical and behavioural data. J. Zool., Lond. 219: 645-664. [ABSTRACT]
Arntzen, J. W., Themudo, G. E., & Wielstra, B., 2007. The phylogeny of crested newts (Triturus cristatus superspecies): nuclear and mitochondrial genetic characters suggest a hard polytomy, in line with the paleogeography of the centre of origin. Contributions to Zoology 76: 261-278. [HTML]
Themudo, G. R., Wielstra, B., . & Arntzen, J. W., 2009. Multiple nuclear and mitochondrial genes resolve the branching order of a rapid radiation of crested newts (Triturus, Salamandridae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 52:321-328. [PDF]