NATURE NOTES - New newts and small frogs

THE 2012 newting season is now done and dusted – thank the Lord!

No more nights spent chest deep in murky water slipping and sliding around in mud that sticks like super glue and bramble canes just waiting to leg you up!

We have had lots of smooth newt or as it’s also known as the common newt. Females and non-breeding males are pale brown or olive green, often with two darker stripes on the back. Both sexes have an orange belly, although it is paler in females, which is covered in rounded black spots. They also have a pale throat with conspicuous spots.

This helps to distinguish them from palmate newts that have pale unspotted throats, and with which they are often confused. When on land they have velvety skin. During the breeding season, male smooth newts develop a continuous wavy (rather than jagged) crest that runs from their head to their tail, and their spotted markings become more apparent. They are also distinguishable from females by their fringed toes.

They emerge from hibernation in February or March, when the temperature is above 0 degrees Celsius and conditions are moist, and head for the breeding ponds.

They return to land in late July being one of the most terrestrial of the newts in Europe.

As they grow, smooth newts shed their skin once a week. When on land smooth newts tend to feed on insects, worms and slugs by projecting their tongues to catch prey.

But they do not use their tongues to catch prey in water, relying instead on their tiny teeth to grab onto prey such as shrimps, water lice, insect larvae, water snails and frog tadpoles. They are free-swimming and tend to hunt for prey near the surface of the water.

Three of the ponds we have been surveying this year were absolutely packed with frog and toad tadpoles. I’m talking literally tens of thousands of the little black critters.

Out of around 2,000 eggs, on average only five will survive to make it to adulthood and breed.

The rest become a good food source for fish, newts, birds, water beetles, and even other tadpoles. The metamorphosis from tadpole to adult not only includes the visible changes in body structure, but also a change in feeding habits from vegetarian to ferociously carnivorous.

However, some tadpoles never complete the change. This permanent “hormonal teenager” phase is associated with too low a water temperature.

That would explain a lot – I know a few ‘people’ who must shower in cold water every morning.

The frog’s diet consist mainly of insects, small animals like earthworms, small fish and spiders. Frogs have a sticky tongue.

To catch an insect, the frog flips out its tongue rapidly, gets the insect and then pulls in its tongue with the insect stuck on.

Frogs will swallow their prey whole because they only have teeth in the upper jaw. Doesn’t do much for chewing!

Frogs hunt mostly at night.