Newt, Striped


Notophthalmus perstriatus


Adults reach a length of 5.4–10.5 cm. Coloration is olive green to black-brown with bright red parallel dorsal stripes and a yellowish underside with black spots. The body is slender and skin comparatively dry. The eft phase rarely occurs, but can be identified by its bright orange color and similar striping.

Family

Salamandridae

Order

Caudata

Class

Amphibia

Range

Georgia (southwestern and eastern Georgia) and Florida (northern peninsula and the eastern panhandle)

Habitat

Flatwoods, hammock ponds and drainage ditches

Life Expectancy

12 – 15 years

Sexual Maturity

8 – 24 months

Diet

In the wild, they eat small invertebrates that they can catch; in the Zoo, they are fed primarily blackworms.

Status

IUCN – Near Threatened

Behaviors

Striped newts are opportunistic feeders taking a wide variety of prey, including frog eggs, worms, snails, fairy shrimp, spiders, and insects (larvae and adults). Striped newts migrate to breeding ponds in fall, winter, and/or spring, depending on weather conditions. Most substantial migrations take place from November–March, although immigration and emigration can take place during nearly any month, except during hot, dry periods. Migrations do not appear to follow corridors or topography, at least in the few studies that have examined travel routes. Once at a pond, adults appear to spend several weeks fattening themselves in preparation for breeding; adults entering the pond often are thin and in poor body condition. Breeding occurs in shallow temporary ponds associated with well-drained sands (sandhills [“high pine”], scrubby flatwoods, and scrub communities). In the high forests, ponds may or may not contain uniformly distributed emergent vegetation, although striped newts seem to prefer ponds with substantial amounts of vegetation, particularly grasses (Panicum spp.), surrounding the pond margins and Eleocharis spp. in the water. Floating mats of Sphagnum occur at some sites. Overstory trees (cypress [Taxodium sp.] and black gum [Nyssa sp.]) may or may not be evenly spaced throughout the pond. Breeding also has been recorded in a few human-created temporary wetlands, such as borrow pits and drainage ditches. Although striped newts are found most often in temporary ponds, they occur in at least one permanent, isolated pond in Ocala National Forest. They do not occur in ponds with predatory fishes. Eggs are deposited singly in vegetation, presumably in the shallow water margins of ponds. Although they are deposited one at a time, they may occur in clumps of 2–5 eggs. The female uses her back legs to wrap protective vegetation around the egg.

Adaptions

Because of toxic skin secretions, probably few predators molest adult striped newts. The toxins are produced in skin glands. The toxin produced is a potent neurotoxin called tarichatoxin. These toxins may function not only in defense against predators, but also against external parasites.

Special Interests

The eastern newt, Notophthalmus viridescens, is one of only a few species in the Family Salamandridae native to North America. This newt ranges throughout most of eastern North America, from the Canadian Maritime Provinces west to the Great Lakes and south to Texas, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. There are four recognized subspecies: the red-spotted newt (N. v. viridescens) of the eastern and northeastern U.S. and Canada, the central newt (N. v. louisianensis) of the central states and the Deep South, the broken-striped newt (N. v. dorsalis) of the Carolina coastal plains, and the peninsula newt (N. v. piaropicola) of peninsular Florida. Eastern newts are important predators of small invertebrates in the freshwater ecosystems of eastern North America. Leeches appear to be a major source of adult mortality. Adults will generally flee the water and begin biting or scratching themselves in an attempt to rid their bodies of these ectoparasites, however they’re not always successful.

Folklore

Paracelsus suggested that the salamander was the elemental of fire. These “fire salamander” myths likely originate in Europe from the fire salamander, Salamandra salamandra, which hibernates in and under rotting logs. When wood was brought indoors and put on the fire, the creatures mysteriously appeared from the flames. Because of this connection with fire, salamanders have often been associated with dragons. Leonardo da Vinci wrote the following on the salamander: “This has no digestive organs, and gets no food but from the fire, in which it constantly renews its scaly skin. The salamander, which renews its scaly skin in the fire, for virtue.” Early travelers to China were shown garments supposedly woven from salamander wool; the cloth was completely unharmed by fire. The garments had actually been woven from asbestos. They are also tied to activities of witches, as noted in the Shakespeare reference to “eye of newt” being used as an ingredient by the three witches in Macbeth. Truly mythical salamanders have six legs and are highly valued by witches. “Lizards leg” is the hind left leg of one of these mythical beasts. The mythical salamander resembles the real salamander somewhat in appearance, but has six legs and makes its home in fires, the hotter the better. (Similarly, the salamander in heraldry is shown in flames, but is otherwise depicted as a generic lizard.)

Conservation

Although striped newts are not protected by Federal statutes, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is concerned about their biological status and considers the species as Under Review. Striped newts are listed as Rare in Georgia because of the small number of known localities within the state (Jensen, 1999b). The Florida Natural Areas Inventory considers striped newts as Imperiled in Florida, and the Florida Committee on Rare and Endangered Plants and Animals lists the species as Rare. Striped newts have declined substantially throughout their range because of direct habitat loss and habitat degradation (e.g., fire suppression, silvicultural practices, pond drainage, and fish introductions; Dodd and LaClaire, 1995; Franz and Smith, 1995; S.A.J., unpublished data). Presently, they persist at about 15 isolated locations throughout their range, and the majority of these locations are on public property. Johnson (2001), Dodd and LaClaire (1995), Means (2001), Christman and Means (1992), and Means and Means (in press) provided suggestions for conserving striped newts. In general, the most effective conservation and management plan is one that will closely mimic historical conditions, and therefore facilitate striped newt metapopulation function on a landscape scale (Means and Means, in press). Breeding ponds must be protected, and a large area of suitable upland core habitat should be protected and managed around the ponds, thus maintaining connectivity among the breeding sites. The best upland habitats are longleaf pine forest with native groundcover. Silvicultural forests of slash, loblolly, and sand pines are not suitable (Means and Means, in press). Prescribed fire is essential to proper management of uplands and wetlands. Furthermore, mechanical disturbance to native ground cover and soils, which is associated with most silvicultural practices, must be avoided. Do not stock ephemeral ponds with predatory fish such as bass, catfish, and sunfish. Striped newts should be regularly monitored at sites where they persist and surveys should be conducted in an attempt to locate additional breeding ponds. Sites on private property should be acquired by state or federal agencies or private conservation organizations, or protected through conservation easements that guarantee permission to manage the sites for striped newts (i.e., conduct prescribed burning).

Jacksonville Zoo History

The near threatened striped newt has been part of the Jacksonville Zoo animal collection since 2007 and has successfully bred here.

Exhibit

Amphibian Conservation Center