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Old 6th August 2008   #1
Wes von Papinešu
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Default NH Press: Newts love this wet weather

HERALD NEWS (Portsmouth, New Hampshire) 06 August 08 Newts love this wet weather (Sue Pike)
Mosquitoes aren't the only local animals taking advantage of our daily rain showers and deluges.
The amphibians are also out in record numbers, hopping across roads, moving from puddle to puddle, luxuriating in the overall wetness.
One of my favorite amphibians is out and about: the red eft, the juvenile stage of the Eastern newt (a.k.a. red-spotted newt), with its bright orange color and perky manner so cute and easy to love.
Salamanders are a group of amphibians that have tails, looking like a cross between a frog and a lizard. Because salamanders lack the thick scales of reptiles, they need to spend a lot of time in the water to keep their skin wet. Unlike lizards, many salamanders are slimy, a result of mucous-secreting glands that help keep their skin moist.
Newts are a particular group of salamanders, distinguished in general (there are always exceptions) by their bumpy, rough, less slimy skin.
That little red eft you are bound to see scampering around any moist woodland floor is just one stage in a long and complicated life cycle. Eastern newts breed and lay eggs in ponds, their olive-green colored larvae hatch out and spend at least a few months in the water. At some point, they metamorphose into the terrestrial red eft and spend the next two to seven years roaming the woods at night and on rainy days, hibernating under logs and debris. When sexually mature, the efts take on their original drab olive-green colors and return to the water for the remainder of their lives, which can be quite long; 15-year-old adults have been found in the wild.
The bright red color of the eft is a terrific defense against predators. Those tiny bumps just visible on their backs contain tetrodotoxin, a deadly neurotoxin. This use of bright warning colors to scare off predators is known as aposematism. One Pacific Coast salamander has enough toxin in its skin to kill an adult human ó but only if one were to eat it. Surprisingly, there are a number of recorded poisonings of people (typically men who had been drinking) who swallowed newts on a dare. Numerous scientific studies have documented predator aversion to dining on newts, in one such study brook trout were force-fed newts (evidently, the trout knew better than to voluntarily eat them) and died within hours. The toxin in the eft stage can be 10 times more concentrated than in adults ó hence, the bright warning colors.
Because the toxin is located on the back, most animals that do prey upon salamanders have learned to eat only the heads and bellies. As they become sexually mature and transform into the aquatic adults, efts lose their bright colors and some of their toxicity, resorting to camouflage as their best means of avoiding predation.
Newts, along with most of their amphibian cousins, are vital parts of our forested ecosystem. They are opportunistic feeders, eating almost anything they can catch: snails, spiders, mites, frog eggs and tadpoles, insects and their larvae, in particular mosquito larvae. Like most other amphibians, newts are particularly vulnerable to their environment, absorbing pollutants through their skin and losing critical habitat to development.
I first succumbed to the allure of red efts as a 5-year-old climbing Mount Kearsarge with my dad and am always filled with nostalgic delight when I happen upon a red eft moving through the woods. Let's hope they will still be around for our children's' children to discover in the years to come.

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eft, love, newts, press, tetrodotoxin, weather, wet

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