Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Eye of the Newt

"I am no beast,
Tearing through wilderness,
I am a newt,
Hiding beneath the leaves,
Trying not to get crushed,
By feet,
Of those destroying my habitat.
But sometimes,
You have to be a beast,
So I am a newt with poisonous skin"
-I am a newt
This post is where land and water clash, leaving a small, rather mystifying creature. In my previous post, Misunderstood "Fire Dwellers", I mentioned salamanders and their contribution to the Enchanted Forest, but for now, I will talk about the Red Spotted Newt (Notophalmus viridescens), another reptilian (actually amphibian) animal that has been viewed as enchanted by many ancient people, particularly associated with witchcraft. But I can assure you, no dark magic can be found in these transforming amphibians. So now, read on to find out about this poisonous, shape-shifting creature's life:
1. A larvae hatches from an egg attached to an aquatic plant. Once it hatches, it is hungry, fully
carnivorous, and will eat its brothers and sisters, as well as a variety of pond insects. It resembles most aquatic salamanders at this stage; large, red feather-like gills, four legs, and a finned tail. Slimy and hardly capable of walking, it behaves almost identically like the larval stages of frogs.
(Below: A Red Eft, found at the Miller Farmstead, Roan Mtn, Tennessee, burrowing in the mud)
2. The larvae soon grows to about an inch, and loses its gills. Its fin-like tail becomes round, and its feet lose their webbing. Now, the newt's whole body turns either a vibrant orange, or a shade of dark vermillion with bright red spots running up and down either of its sides. The larvae emerges from the water, and its skin turns warty and dry, not slimy at all. This stage is called the eft stage, or Red Eft, for this particular species. A hungry eft can ingest more than 2000  springtail insects at a time. Now on land, they can't run fast, bite, sting, or have any means of protecting themselves except one: Poisonous Skin, you guessed it. This poison is not venom found in the fangs of snakes or spiders, but deep inside the eft's skin. So handling one will not harm your health, nor the eft's, unlike the fragile skin of the salamanders. Believe it or not, at this stage the newts prefer to follow mountain springs far upstream from the water they came from (and will someday return). Staying away from the cover of logs, only to burrow in to hunt, the efts wander through mossy Enchanted Forest. After roughly two to ten years of this lifestyle, the newts head back down the mountain, now grown about an inch longer.
(An adult Red Spotted Newt, climbing on an artificial rock in an aquarium, to get a breath)
3. This is where things get bizarre. Now, unlike any other of the newt's salamander relatives, the
salamander feels homesick of its childhood in the pond, so it returns. As the eft swims out to the "sea" of green and brown that it will spend the rest of its five to twelve year lifespan, it is unfamiliar with the dangers of the pond. Hunting dragonfly nymphs, tadpoles, other newts, and minnows, the newt will fight against other top predators of the pond. Waterscorpions, Toe-Biters, Diving Beetles, Fish, Watersnakes, and Bullfrogs all will try to stop the newt's life before it hit the end, and add to their livelihood. Meanwhile, the newt readjusts to its situation. Its tail grows broad and fin-like once again. A mild coating of slime can once more be detected on the newt's skin. The gills never return, forcing the newt to swim to the surface or climb out and bask every once in a while, to keep its heart pumping smoothly. Also it turns green again, though it keeps the spots, giving it its name. Usually, newts live in communities with tons of newts in a pond with minimal or no fish. Now a fierce, cannibalistic, top predator, the newt can dart almost as quickly as a fish. If you want to catch one in this stage, find a "newt pond", first. Newt ponds are high up, usually over 3,000 ft. Next, take about a three ft. length of fishing line with a hook on the end, and troll it along the shallows. Soon, a newt should bite! Pull it up, and likely, the barb won't hold (it never has for me), and let it drop in a bucket, on your hand, or back in the water where it belongs. Now, release your inner child! One more thing, wild newts are illegal to keep as pets. They can be bought for eight to ten dollars at pet shops, though. Happy Trails,             
                                                                                                                       Critter Cade