The genera Triturus, Lissotriton, Ichthyosaura, and Ommatotriton contains the familiar newts of Europe- small amphibians that have long tails and elongated bodies, and move by walking rather than hopping. Newts are most commonly encountered in ponds or streams, but in fact, most species spend a great deal of time on land, returning to the water to breed each spring. Newts are mostly nocturnal, and are very secretive when on land, so are rarely seen when in this phase of the life. In addition, like all amphibians, their skin is not watertight, and so they must stay in damp places in order to conserve their body water. They are thus extremely unlikely to be seen in very dry conditions.
Newts will eat anything that moves that is small enough to fit in their mouth, although distasteful objects may be spat out again. When in the water, newts are voracious feeders, and will snap at any small passing creature with lunging body movements. On land, they take rather more time over capturing their prey, and may sniff it carefully before eating it. The small tongue is sometimes flipped out to catch prey on land, but this has a very small range, unlike that of some toads and frogs.
Newts appear to locate prey by both smell and vision. Some newts can be trained to accept non-moving prey, but a moving object will be snapped at much more rapidly.
Newts are soft-bodied creatures, and are very vulnerable to attack by predators. Their main defence is secretions from skin glands which are present in the skin. Crested newts in particular are known to have distasteful and toxic skin secretions. Most species have brightly coloured bellies which may serve as warning colours to predators. Some species will display the 'unken reflex' if molested in their terrestrial phase- they bend up their head and tail to display their coloured belly.
Newts that have been injured by predators can also regenerate some parts of their bodies, and whole limbs may be regrown.
Major predators of newts include waterfowl and wading birds, which may prey on adults and larvae, and may also accidentally ingest eggs while feeding on vegetation, and fish, which may eat vast numbers of larvae.
All European newts belong to the family Salamandridae, which also contains several other genera. Some of these have members which are similar in behaviour and appearance to these newts. These include the American genera Taricha and Notophthalmus, and the Asian genera Neurergus, Paramesotriton, Cynops, and Pachytriton.
Of these genera, Cynops, Neurergus and Pachytriton exhibit a courtship dance similar to that found in these newts, but the others have more physical contact, including amplexus, during reproduction.
Some general references for further reading relating to the genus Triturus are listed below. In addition, references relating to particular topics have been placed on the appropriate pages.
Griffiths, R. A., 1996. Newts and Salamanders
of Europe. Poyser Natural History, London.
The latest and most up to date study of the European urodeles. Comprehensively referenced, and including photos of all the species.
Ballasina, D., 1984. Amphibians of Europe. David & Charles, Newton Abbot.
Corbett, K., 1989. Conservation of European Reptiles and Amphibians. Helm, Bromley.
Arnold, E.N., 2002. A Field Guide to the
Reptiles and Amphibians of Britain and Europe. Collins, London.
Second edition of the guide (previously Arnold, E. N., & Burton, J. A., 1978. A Field Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Europe). The standard guide to the identification of European reptiles and amphibians in the field.
Frazer, D., 1983. Reptiles and Amphibians in Britain. Collins, London.
Wisniewski, P. J., 1989. Newts of the British Isles. Shire, Aylesbury.
Macgregor, H. C., Sessions, S. K.,
& Arntzen, J. W., 1990. An integrative analysis of
phylogenetic relationships among newts of the genus Triturus
(family Salamandridae), using comparative biochemistry,
cytogenetics and reproductive interactions. Journal of Evolutionary Biology
An extensively referenced study of the relationships between the Triturus species, including details of distributions, hybrids, and chromosomal biology.
Arntzen, J. W. & Sparreboom, M.,
1989. A phylogeny for the Old World newts, genus Triturus:
biochemical and behavioural data. Journal of Zoology 219:
Contains details of the reproductive behaviour of all Triturus species.