Newts – What do they eat?
What do newts eat? George Pilkington of Nurturing Nature explains, ” It depends on where they are! On land or in a pond”. I was asked this question the other day by one of my neighbours who found an adult newt in his garden a few weeks ago. The answer quite simply is, it depends on where they are living at the time! The question prompted memories of me and my friends walking several miles carrying our fishing nets to Sefton Park, in Liverpool and trawling the numerous ponds found there for newts, frogs and toads, the latter being much easier to spot and therefore catch. Many people are aware of newts and perhaps that they live in and around ponds. Other than that they know very little. Like adult frogs and toads, though, they really only use ponds during the breeding season for courtship, laying their eggs and off they go, leaving their young to fend for themselves in the pond for the next few months.
Being nocturnal, newts are not easily found during the daylight. When on land they usually hide under stones, logs, rocks, compost heaps and areas that are dark and damp. When in ponds they hide in dense weeds and vegetation patches underwater.
They have two strategies when foraging for prey; active and passive. Active predation means hunting by seeking out or searching for their prey. The passive ‘sit and wait’ predation, is a classic ambush style. Although another ‘strategy’ it could be argued would be, if it moves, eat it! The adults will eat any prey they can swallow and are pathetically bad at judging the size of the meal in question!! They have been seen with large earthworms, much larger than themselves, wrestling and struggling with them in their mouths, before they realise, “Hey this is just a little larger than I thought!” and ‘eject’ them from their mouths sometimes with great difficulty. I have seen toads and frogs doing the same and struggling in their attempts to ‘wipe’ large slugs, with their front legs out of their mouths! Classic cases of “eyes bigger than your belly! ”
Newts ‘on land’ menu
As adults, depending upon species, they live on the land for about two thirds of their lives. As the larger they grow, the larger prey they can consume. They are more active on warm damp evenings. Like frogs and toads, they use their sticky tongue to catch such tasty morsels as slugs, snails, crane flies, mites, springtails,worms, spiders and other invertebrates that stick to the tongue and they reel the prey in like a fisherman reeling in a catch, only much faster! They are rather nonselective and will prey upon anything that is easily available, for example great crested newts will take smooth newts!
Newts pond menu
When living in ponds, i.e. during the breeding season, they feed where they breed (!) hunting both day and night. They have to use a different method for catching their prey. Using their sticky tongues in the water would simply not be effective. Although they don’t have teeth as we know teeth to be, they do have plates in their jaws with projections which they use in a teeth-like fashion to grab their prey. As they swallow their prey whole, they do not need sharp teeth for chewing, tearing or cutting up the prey. These ‘teeth’ are known as vomerine teeth, are not sharp and used retain the prey whilst the newt swallows it whole. Researchers have seen newts grabbing the soft body of pond snails and great ramshorns, before rapidly shaking their heads to remove them out of their shells. Similar to a terrier dog violently shaking a rat to death it has caught, if you have ever seen this act of killing rats! Newts do the same with smaller fish and even other newts. Water lice, water shrimps, water fleas (Daphnia) worms, lesser water boatmen, small crustaceans, mayfly nymphs, seed shrimps, freshwater shrimps, leeches and other water dwelling invertebrates. They will also take prey items that fall into the pond such as mosquitoes, beetles, millipedes, bees wasps, ants and sawflies. You may be surprised or even shocked, to know they also eat other tadpoles….. watch them doing so here. http://bit.ly/bVbh8H Although smooth and palmate newts do not consume toad tadpoles.
Newts are on the menu!
Adult newts in turn may be preyed upon themselves by foxes, badgers, rats, hedgehogs and even shrews have been found to feed on smooth newts. Large ground beetles can predate upon juvenile crested newts in pitfall traps. 19 bird species including kestrels, storks, buzzards, fish eagles, bitterns and even herons. Even though great crested newts have a warty skin, like toads, that produces poisons, it certainly did n’t stop this heron from having a newt meal! I am told that this juvenile heron was one of many juveniles that took newts from a pond, usually in Spring. The adults much preferred taking the frogs from another pond nearby. Perhaps they chased off the juveniles to feed upon the distasteful great crested newts leaving the richer, tastier frog pickings for themselves?
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Refs: Beside my own experiences and observations:
Beebee,T. (1992), “Pond Life” Whittet Books Ltd, London
Beebee,T. (1985) “Frogs and toads”, Whittet Books Ltd, London
Langton, T., Beckett, C., Foster, J. (2001) “Great Crested Newt Conservation Handbook” Froglife, Halesworth, Suffolk.
Jehle, R., Thiesmeier, R., Foster, J. (2011) “The Crested Newt”, BHS, Angus.
For details about buying the above book and help the British Herpetological Society with their work download The Crested Newt book flyer
Pers. comm. Dr. R Jehle, Lecturer in Wildlife & Organismal Behaviour, Salford University
Pers. comm. Prof .T. Beebee, Prof of Molecular Ecology, University of Sussex
Photo of heron with kind permission from Roy and Marie Battel, who have comprised a lovely wildlife web site at….. http://www.moorhen.me.uk/
For more information about the British Herpetological Society and their work with reptiles and amphibians
Also try…info from frog life…. great crested newts