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Great crested newt

Male and female great crested newts (Alamy; photography by Paul R. Sterry, Nature Photographers Ltd)

Did you know..?

Male great crested newts ‘dance’ to attract females, standing on their front legs, arching their back and waving their tail around.

Look closer at the image of the great crested newts

  • What three words would students use to describe a great crested newt?
  • What differences can they see between the male and female?
  • Some people think the males’ crest makes them look like a mini dinosaur. Do students agree? Why/why not?

What kind of animal is a great crested newt?

Newts are amphibians which means they are cold blooded and have a backbone. Like most amphibians, the great crested newt lives both in water and on land. Unlike reptiles, who have dry, scaly skin, their skin is moist. The great crested newt is also known as a warty newt because its skin is covered in bumps.

Although they are called ‘great crested’ newts, it is only the male who develops the wavy crest on his body and tail. He grows this in the spring, and uses it to attract a female for mating.

Where do great crested newts live?

Adult great crested newts live in ponds during the spring and summer (especially when they are mating). They are very choosy and will travel up to a whole kilometre to find just the right pond – this makes them good indicators of healthy ponds with clean water. They also like damp hedgerows and boggy grass where they can find food and rest without being disturbed.

What do great crested newts eat?

Great crested newts are carnivores, which means they eat other animals. They eat a wide variety of different prey on land and in the water, including worms, snails, spiders, leeches, freshwater shrimps, frog tadpoles and frogspawn. They will even eat smaller newts.

How are great crested newts adapted to their habitats?

Adult great crested newts can ‘breathe’ under water by absorbing oxygen through their skin – but they do still need to come to the surface every so often to take a good gulp of air into their lungs. Their skin also protects them from predators by secreting a toxic substance.

One of their most extraordinary features of the great crested newt is the ability to regrow an entire limb if it is eaten by a predator. They can regrow other body parts too, including parts of their eyes!

Are great crested newts endangered?

Since the 1940s, the number of great crested newts in the UK has seriously declined. Like many other creatures, this is mainly due to loss of their habitat, particularly drainage of ponds for agriculture and to develop land for homes, transport and industry.

Another factor is the introduction of fish into ponds. This is particularly bad for great crested newts as they lay their eggs in open water, rather than hidden in reeds.

The great crested newt is strictly protected at all stages of its life – newt-spawn, tadpole, juvenile and adult. This means they cannot be disturbed or captured.

Local links

Although small in numbers, great crested newts have been found in the south of Hartlepool, the west of Stockton and through many parts of Darlington. If you’re lucky, you may spot one at Margrove Ponds.

A new scheme from Natural England is being trialled in Darlington, and across the North East. Developers wanting to build on local land will now pay for new habitats to be created for great crested newts by expert organisations such as the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust. The greater the risk of their building project to these newts, the higher the fee.

How can we help great crested newts and other pond wildlife?

  • Creating a pond in your school grounds will help attract all kinds of wildlife, including, if you’re very lucky, great crested newts. The RSPB has this great guide to making ponds of all sizes, from mini-ponds made with washing up bowls, to much larger-scale projects.
  • Pond dipping is a popular activity – but what if you are lucky enough to encounter a great crested newt? Remind students that it is against the law to disturb or capture great crested newts at any stage in their life cycle. These guides from the Amphibian and Reptile trust will help them know what to look out for, and make sure they can tell the difference between frog spawn and newt spawn!
  • Students could make an underwater viewer, like this one, to view pondlife without disturbing it.
  • The Natural History Museum has this guide to creating a wildlife-friendly garden.

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