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Newts


by Richard Jones

There is something much more primordial about a newt than, say, a frog or a toad. Perhaps it's the dragging crocodilian gait, or the slightly frilled backbone.


Close-up of a newt in the palm of a handAfter the wet and dismal weekend, I take a tentative stroll in the garden on a clear and bright Tuesday morning, and discover the first newt of the year sitting motionless at the bottom of the pond. I know it has been down there all winter, but the combination of dry day (getting me out), clear water and the slanting rays of the sun, have all conspired to make this an exciting event.

There is something much more primordial about a newt than, say, a frog or a toad. Perhaps it’s the dragging crocodilian gait, or the slightly frilled backbone. I always feel a quiver of delight when I see these secretive and beautiful creatures.

Ours are just the common or smooth newt, Lissotriton vulgaris. They may be ‘common’ compared to other species, but I’m still pretty impressed they managed to colonize our pool; they had to climb up the sides of the three railway sleepers that make the wall of the pond.

Now what I’d really like to find in there would be great crested newts. I have to be honest, though, not much chance of that here in East Dulwich. I have a particularly soft spot for the great crested - monsters by comparison - I used to keep them as pets.

We used to find them in the dew ponds dotted across the South Downs behind my parents’ house and take them home in the empty Tupperware, after ham and cheese sandwiches were scoffed. They were easy to catch in the gently slanting shallows of the saucer-shaped ponds, either using a small pond-dipping net, or sometimes with our bare hands. Very occasionally there was also a grass snake, enjoying the newts in a rather more biological way.

To a 10-year-old the great crested newts seemed like miniature dinosaurs and, quite literally, a handful. I kept them in my bedroom, in an old fish-tank half full of water and rocks and fed them on cubes of luncheon meat or the occasional tiny slug. Eventually they would get tipped into the garden ponds, two ceramic butler sinks sunk into the soil, and they lived there for several years.

As far as I know the newts still breed in those old dew ponds on the Downs. I wonder if that grass-snake is still eating them?



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Gardeners' World Web User 19/01/2011 at 16:40

I had great crested newts in our ponds, at home, when i was young and also many at my last horticultural job, amongst the containers etc, in the greenhouses!! They help to make the garden live xx

Gardeners' World Web User 19/01/2011 at 23:46

Now I'm really worried! - I have Newts in my small garden pond and because the pond was in need of a serious tidy up I went to great lengths to find the right time for doing this job. Researching on the appropriate web sites the general consensus was, that the Newts leave the pond to hibernate under stones and logs at the end of August to September. They spend the the winter there and then emerge once again in February - March for the breeding season in April - May. Hope I haven't destroyed my little Newt colony :(

Gardeners' World Web User 20/01/2011 at 19:49

i have newts in my pond to [palmate newts],there have been coming to my pond now for about 5yrs or so,although not yet breed.....many years ago [before my house was built] there were great crested newts in the local pond so i have been praying each year that 1 day they will be back [sadly i dont think so],the nearest great crested newts in my area are about 12/15miles away so i guess to far for them to walk.

Gardeners' World Web User 21/01/2011 at 16:16

hi, we got newts in are pond i see them evry year we moved in 6 years ago it was so nice to see them in the pond

Gardeners' World Web User 22/01/2011 at 16:03

HELLO I AM LUCKY TO HAVE TWO PONDS AND ALTHOUGH I HAVE FISH IN BOTH OF THEM I ALSO GET NEWTS FROGS AND SOME TIMES THE GRASS SNAKES COME FOR A SWIM AND A BITE TO EAT .THEY ALSO COME WHEN THEY SHED THERE SKINS .

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