Posted: Tuesday 26 March 2013
by Richard Jones
Three weeks ago I excitedly tweeted a photo of this year’s first newt. Despite the reflections of sky, me and my phone, she is quite clearly visible in the pondweed.
Three weeks ago I excitedly tweeted a photo of this year’s first newt. Despite the reflections of sky, me and my phone, she is quite clearly visible in the pondweed. I’d seen her several times in the few days beforehand, but this was the first time she hadn't dashed off into the depths. Today, though, when I nip out into the cold wilderness of my garden to have a little look around, I find there is a thin layer of ice on the pond.
The rational part of me suspects that even though our pond is very small, less than two square metres in area, and only about three-quarters of a metre deep, the temperature at the very bottom is probably survivable. For this, I have to thank vague memories from 'A' level chemistry, when we looked at temperature transfer coefficients, thermal insulance and heat conductivity. And, of course, newts and other pond critters survive much worse weather than is thrown at them in South London.
Part of me, however, feels very sorry for the poor beast (perhaps several of them actually), which presumably climbed back into the water after a dry, under-log hibernation, during that brief sunny spell at the beginning of the month.
The seasonal cycling of weather, day length, and temperature, may seem pretty extreme to modern humans sitting in their centrally heated kitchens, but since it is part of the natural order, wildlife ought to be expected to cope with it each year. However, it is the false start, which is perhaps the most dangerous weather phenomenon. The biological clock, ticking away in the hibernating animal, is triggered at some point by a combination of temperature or day length or counted heart beats. But a simple on/off switch would be inflexibly dangerous in our fickle climate.
Adaptability is the evolutionary key to success, so I’m sure Mrs newt will just drift back into muddy torpor. The real sun will be along soon, I hope. I’ll look out for her again then.