Great Crested Newt Triturus cristatus  a UK BAP species.

Newts belong to the family Salamandridae in the Order, Caudata/Urodela.

The adult form is aquatic or semi aquatic. In some species the larvae leave the water as  a brightly coloured terrestrial form called an eft, returning to the water when mature and changing into adult colours.

Many newts produce toxins on their skin, these secretions are a defence against predators. thus it is advisable to wash your hands after handling newts.

The three species that occur in Britain are the great Crested, Smooth and Palmate newt. however it is the largest of these three which is under review. 

Description of the Great Crested Newt

It is large and impressive and the only British species with a warty skin. The body is of a dark brownish colour but black spots and pale tipped warts are usually visible. terrestrial animals often appear to be much darker than those found in water. In both sexes the belly is orange with relatively dark black spots. breeding males acquire a jagged dorsal crest from which the species takes its common name and the species name cristatus.

The feet are large but not webbed. The adult is 15 cm {6 inches} long It is the most aquatic of our newts. 

One year old male, note the warty skin and crest

Photograph courtesy of Piet Spaans CC BY-SA 3.0 License.

Lifestyle of the great crested newt.

Great crested newts are nocturnal, hiding on land during the day in burrows or under logs and stones. When on land the diet of the newt may vary to include a range of invertebrate such as small slugs, worms and beetles. 

Newts themselves fall prey to predators. In their larval stages they eaten by insect predators such as the dragonfly nymph and larvae and adults are taken by the Great Diving Beetle, a ferocious predator in ponds. Both larval and adult forms are taken by water birds such as Moorhens and Herons while others are taken by large fish. Thus it is not surprising that studies have revealed that the larger populations of great crested newt are found in ponds where larger fish are absent.

Although they are terrestrial  for parts of their life they still require damp situations when on land to prevent water loss through the skin.


With a great percentage of ponds being lost to the countryside, especially on arable land,ideal habitat for the great crested newt has greatly diminished over the last 50 years. Many of the ponds that remain are unsuitable because of lack of vegetation or by the presence of predatory fish and other complex factors.

Studies have revealed that ideal ponds for the species is one between 10-20 meters across and with water more than 2 meters deep in the middle.it is also essential that the ponds hold water through out the year. Larval newts may take several months before they reach the stage of the change to adulthood. they cannot survive out of water until this occurs.

Although some ponds that hold great crested newts have little vegetation the majority of them do , females attach their eggs singly on to the foliage of aquatic plants. The time when the eggs hatch into newt " tadpoles" varies and is depended on the water temperature. The larval newts rely on the external gills during this stage of their lives. However, these gills are lost during the process of metamorphis.  The newts feed on smaller tadpoles,insects and their larvae. 


At this stage of their lives the young newts rely on these feathery external gills.

Photograph courtesy of Piet Spaans. CC BY-SA 3.0 License.

Conservation of the Great Crested Newt.

The great crested newt is protected by Schedules 5-9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981[amended]

Under Annexe 11a and 1Va of the European Habitats Directive.

Appendix 11 of the Berne Convention {S1} 1994 No 2716

this includes the breeding ponds which are also protected under the Acts.

Great crested newts are an Internationally important species of conservation concern. Since the 1940s great crested newt populations have experienced dramatic declines throughout much of Europe although populations are still found throughout our country.

These losses and the threat of future losses. These due to fragmentation and unsuitable aquatic and terrestrial habitat due to natural succession and development, recreational use,land drainage, water abstraction, and the filling in of ponds and ditches as a result of changes in agricultural practises.

The introduction of predators such as stock fish and wildfowl, decline in water quality due to agricultural and chemical run off  along with inappropriate management has led to the species being placed on the Red list of conservation concern in the UK. Thus they are classed as a priority species, as such they are subject to a Species Action Plan {SAP} which has been formulated and is currently under implementation across the UK. The plan is aimed at halting the decline and to eventually reverse it.


In September of this year {2011} Natural England released   this news article---


Natural England released the results of a study, the most comprehensive investigation into the population status and distribution of the great crested newts in Britain. The one year study commissioned by Natural England and carried out by the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, sheds new light on the status of great crested newts, but conservationists are concerned by some of the results.

Although wide spread over much of lowland England they are now uncommon. Despite protection under the previously mentioned UK and European wildlife law, numbers are still declining overall, and deterioration of habitat remains their biggest threat.

Conservation of this species has previously been difficult due to patchy and inconsistent data. The latest research provides the most comprehensive picture of where newts can be found, but shows that many of the ponds that newts call home are in fact poor quality and unlikely to sustain them, or other species, in the coming years. The results from the study, which used innovative computer modelling techniques and the Habitat Suitability Index will help better protect the newts and focus future conservation efforts.

Andrew Wood, Natural England's Director for Science and Evidence said: " this survey shows that although great crested newts remain quite widespread, they are still in decline and their long term future remains uncertain. The comprehensive picture this survey provides will be essential for informing future efforts to help conserve this charismatic, but vulnerable native species"

Dr. John Wilkinson of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation said: " we very much hope that this report will lead to bigger, better and more joined up conservation approaches for UK crested newts-this will deliver real benefits for the species and its habitat."

Historical research has shown that a century ago  there were around one million ponds in our country side. that has shrunk to around 478,000 ponds now, with only a quarter of the ponds  occupied by newts in good condition. However, not all is lost and projects such as The Million Ponds Project led by Pond Conservation and supported by Natural England aim to put back quality ponds in  to the countryside. Click on" Introducing the ARGSL" banner on the right hand side of this page to get more information on the Million Ponds Project.

Pond with aquatic vegetation suit the newts

Did you know ?

That newts can live up to 17 years  and may reach the length of 18cm.

They can travel up to 1 km overland.

The orange belly has black spots or markings which are unique to that particular newt. Individuals can be told from these markings in the same manner finger prints differentiate us.

Newts have developed an intense under water sense of smell which  helps them to locate edible food.

It normally takes about three months for a tadpole newt to change into the adult form. they change colour and loose their feathery gills during this process which enables them to breathe on land.  If eggs hatch late in the season the larval newt has the ability to remain in the pond in its current form for another year.

Despite the worrying declines England supports a significant number of breeding sites and populations that are of importance on a European scale. Thus under wildlife laws {See Above] it is an offence to kill, injure or disturb them or to damage their habitat. 

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