When you think of amphibians your mind naturally turns to frogs and toads. These are the most recognisable, but not the only, amphibians. Here in the UK there are seven native species of amphibian and almost half of them are newts.
At this time of year, if you are lucky, you may see a newt in your garden – even if you don’t have a pond. Smooth newts (also known as common newts, because they are the ones you are most likely to come across) spend a good deal of time out of the water. In fact, they only live in the water over spring and the early summer.
Now, if you know anything about amphibians then you’ll know that they are prone to drying out. So, how can smooth newts live outside a pond? Firstly, they avoid the sun and only venture out when it’s dark. The nights are cooler and usually quite damp with either rain or dew lying on the ground. During the day smooth newts hide in dark, damp places like compost heaps or the underside of logs. So, if you are turning over your compost pile, or moving some deadwood, then keep an eye out for sleeping smoothies!
Smooth newts are friends to us gardeners. They are voracious predators and help keep the number of slugs and snails under control. They are not only hunters though – they’re also hunted! A smooth newt makes a tasty meal for many types of bird.
Come the autumn, smooth newts go into hibernation to escape the freezing weather. Whereabouts? In those dark, moist and warm places they’ve been hiding during the hot days. The heat generated by compost heaps is ideal, so do try to leave your pile untouched over the colder months – just in case.
In spring it’s time for smooth newts to wake up. In March they make their way back to a pond where they mate until May. Each female lays up to 400 eggs which become tadpoles – themselves a valuable source of food for aquatic predators like dragonfly nymphs. Those few tadpoles which survive into adulthood leave the pond in July to begin the yearly cycle once more.
So now you know that not all amphibians are frogs and toads, and not all amphibians spend their lives in water. If you’d like to find out more about Britain’s amphibians you could read this article which helps you to identify them. And to learn more about our newts then take a look at Wild About Gardens. It’s a great website which can help you make your garden friendlier to all sorts of wildlife – including the smooth newt.