Shakespeare’s mention of the newt as a part of an incantation was likely based on the ancient belief that salamanders had magical powers. This belief probably stemmed from the fact that when old logs were burned, salamanders were frequently seen to run out from under them, fostering the belief that salamanders were born in fire.
Species: Central newt
Scientific name: Notophthalmus viridescens louisianensis
Claim to fame: Thanks to Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” (and a countless number of movies, cartoons and comedy skits about witchcraft), most of us know that “eye of newt” is linked to mystical potions. However, many people don’t know what a newt is. The central newt has no magical powers, but this amphibian is an interesting member of Missouri’s outdoors world.
Species status: The central newt can be found over most of the state with the exception of the northwest corner. In Missouri, the central newt’s population seems to be relatively stable. However, because of its dependence on fishless ponds, sloughs and swamps – all of which must contain clean water – this creature’s status is always somewhat precarious.
First discovered: The first scientific description of the central newt was written in the early 20th century, but newts were known to humans long before this. Shakespeare’s mention of the newt as a part of an incantation was likely based on the ancient belief that salamanders had magical powers. This belief probably stemmed from the fact that when old logs were burned, salamanders were frequently seen to run out from under them, fostering the belief that salamanders were born in fire.
Family matters: The central newt belongs to the amphibian family Salamandridae, a group of species commonly referred to as the newts. Newts are a type of salamander, but show some differences between other salamanders. The most noticeable difference is that newts generally have rough skin while salamanders have smooth skin. The central newt is a sub-species of the eastern newt (Notophthalmus viridescens).
Length: Two to four inches
Diet: The food of adult newts consists of small aquatic invertebrates such as worms, mollusks, insects, crayfish, tadpoles and larvae of other salamanders.
Weight: Three to five grams
Distinguishing characteristics: Central newts have olive-brown backs and a bright orange-yellow belly. A number of very small red spots ringed with black may be present along the back on both sides of the spine. They can be found out of water during their pre-adult (eft) stage, but other than that, they are mainly aquatic creatures. Newts remain active throughout the year and have been observed swimming under ice. Adult newts have few predators because they produce a toxic skin secretion that makes them taste bad.
Life span: It’s suspected they can live up to 10 years.
Habitat: Central newts live in woodland ponds, swamps and occasionally water-filled ditches.
Life cycle: Courtship and breeding takes place from late March through early May. The female lays eggs singly on aquatic plants. Between 200 and 400 eggs may be laid by a single female. The eggs hatch three to five weeks later. The gilled larvae average seven to nine millimeters in length at hatching and remain in the water until late July or early August. They then metamorphose into an eft; a pre-adult stage in which the larvae becomes small, yellowish-orange, land-dwelling, rough-skinned salamanders with lungs. These efts live two to three years on land, hiding under logs, leaf litter or rotten stumps. After the eft stage, the young newt returns to a pond or swamp to live out its adult life mostly in water.