Don’t Tread on Me: The Eastern Newt
It’s that time again. The trillium are blooming, mayapple are opening like umbrellas and the mountain laurel are dropping tiny teacups onto the trail. If you look down among the mud and rocks, especially on the morning after a warm spring rain, you’ll see these little guys splashing around. They’re about the color and size of carrot shavings in the early spring and by summer they’re as big as your thumb. Don’t step on him! And don’t eat him, either. He’s the red eft, and he (or she) is in the middle of a very interesting life cycle. Check out what they do:
The Cutest Little Larva
This is a baby photo of our little orange friend. He hatched from an egg and grew up in a pond. See those furry things on his neck? Those are his gills. He’ll spend the spring time swimming and breathing water, just like a fish. Gradually, he’ll turn from olive drab to the color of a cheeto and use his tiny little legs to waddle out onto land.
The Red Eft
Down south, they start to hit the trail around May 1st. I saw one in North Carolina just the other day barely the size of my pinky. Look at their little feet; they bounce around like scale models of tiny dinosaurs, smashing invisible cities. They’re clumsy and ugly, and yet somehow cute. Don’t eat him! His bright red color and slow stumble let predators know they’re poisonous. (Not to be confused with venomous, which means you’re in trouble if it bites you. They’re not, and they won’t.) By the end of summer they will be out all over the AT.
They’ll spend the entire summer getting bigger, and oranger, and their spots will get larger as well. In fact, they’ll stay that way for a few years, anywhere between three and twelve depending on the sub-species. They will eventually find their way to water and become harder to find as they age and grow. They know where they are and navigate back to their original spawning grounds, finding their way by an unusual sensitivity to magnetic fields. By the time they go back into the water, the red eft will be almost six inches long, dark red and have giant black circles all over his back.
The Adult Eastern Newt
Good luck finding one of these guys in the wild. You will if you go looking for them, but you won’t exactly stumble upon them like you do when they’re orange. In this, the third and final stage of its life, the newt appears almost frog-like. He’ll spend his final days mating and soon fertile eggs will hatch from the same pond, repeating the cycle.
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