Getting to Know UK Wildlife: The Great Crested Newt


As ecologists working in the United Kingdom, a species we often work with is the protected great crested newt (Triturus cristatus). It is one of the three newt species native to the UK, along with smooth (Lissotriton vulgaris) and palmate (Lissotriton helveticus) newts. As a kiwi, I had not encountered newts until I first saw them in the UK, and it was definitely love at first sight. When you see the pictures below, you’ll understand why.

As a side-note for those interested in newts in New Zealand, we don’t have any native species. In recent years, however, newts have become increasingly common in captivity as pets. There are even cases of newts becoming established in the wild, something which could endanger our native frogs. As an example, read the Bay of Plenty newspaper article at the end of this post that talks about an attempt to eradicate a population of exotic European alpine newts.


In our photos, you will notice that we have caught the newts in ‘bottle-traps’. This survey technique is an effective way of detecting and assessing how many newts are living in a pond, especially if the pond is very weedy and difficult to see into. As you are disturbing the newts whilst using this technique, you have to have a license to use it.

What is a newt?

Newts are amphibians, just like frogs and toads.  Amphibians use their skin as a secondary respiratory surface which is why their skin has to be kept moist. Newts are semi-aquatic: they are dependant on water for breeding, but can also spend much of their life on land. They are members of the scientific order, Salamandridae. However, not all salamanders are newts. Newts are part of the subfamily known as Pleurodelinae.

Great Crested Newt Tray
One male (with crest) and four female (without crests) great crested newts that were caught in a bottle-trap

What does a great crested newt look like?

Great crested newts can grow to around 16cm in length. The adults of great crested newts are larger than the adults of smooth and palmate newts which are between 8-10cm. Great crested newts have rough, black skin. Often the bumps or ‘warts’ are white-tipped. Their bellies are their most striking feature, being bright orange with irregular black blotches.

GCN Bottle Trapping
A bottle-trap with great crested newts

During the breeding season, male great crested newts have a jagged crest running from the head, along the back, with a break at the base of the tail. This is a notable feature as smooth male newts also have a crest along the back, but without the break at the tail-base.  Females of all three species lack a crest.

Triturus cristatus [GREAT CRESTED NEWT MALE] England #1
A male great crested newt
Triturus cristatus [GREAT CRESTED NEWT FEMALE] England #1
A female great crested newt

The tail’s of great crested newts also have a conspicuous white flash, as pictured below.



Why are great crested newts protected?

Like is the story with so many species, the great crested newt has suffered at the hands of habitat modification, primarily in the form of agricultural intensification.  Due to this, their populations declined markedly during the latter part of the twentieth century. And, although they are currently widespread, there is cause for concern because populations are still being lost or damaged.

Enormous declines in not only their numbers, but also in their range in the last century, mean that the great crested newt is now strictly protected by British and European law. It is an offence to: kill, injure, capture or disturb them; damage or destroy their habitat; and to possess, sell or trade. This law refers to all great crested newt life stages, including eggs.

Triturus cristatus [GREAT CRESTED NEWT MALE] England #5

What can I do to help?

Like other amphibians, great crested newts need suitable ponds surrounded by good quality land. Ponds suitable for great crested newts can be restored, and new ones can be created. The land in between these ponds can be managed in newt-friendly ways. Together, these things help to create a network of water-bodies enabling the connectivity of newt populations.

GCN Pond
No fish, plenty of vegetation… just the kind of pond great crested newts like!

There is a great booklet published by Froglife called, ‘Just Add Water – How to Build a Wildlife Pond.’ You can view and download the PDF version by clicking here. In the booklet, it details in a step-by-step guide how to make the perfect pond for UK wildlife, and how to manage it.

Have fun newt-spotting, everyone! #30DaysWild




References and Further Reading

Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust (ARC) Website – Great Crested Newt –
(Retrieved 3 June, 2017)

Arkive Website – Great Crested Newt –
(Retrieved 31 May, 2017)

Bay of Plenty Times – The War on Waihi Newts –
(Retrieved 3 June, 2017)

Froglife Website – Great Crested Newt –
(Retrieved 31 May, 2017)

Froglife Website – Great Crested Newt Conservation Handbook –
(Retrieved 31 May, 2017)

NZ Frogs Website – Other Amphibians –
(Retrieved 3 June, 2017)

UK Government Website – Great crested newts: protection and licences –
(Retrieved 31 May, 2017)

Wikipedia Website – Newt –
(Retrieved 31 May, 2017)

Wikipedia Website – Northern Crested Newt –
(Retrieved 31 May, 2017)

UK Legislation – Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 –
(Retrieved 3 June, 2017)

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Pete Hillman says:

    Fabulous blog post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Pete! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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