TRR photo by Ed Wesely
I photographed this little salamander, called a “red eft,” as it crossed a forest trail on May 9. Unlike many salamanders, which absorb oxygen through the skin (which must be kept moist), red efts possess functional lungs. (Click for larger version)

Red-spotted newts. It was easier to photograph this four-inch salamander than to explain why it’s called a “newt.”

A main difference is that other members of the salamander family have sets of grooves on the underside. Newts lack these furrows, called “costal” grooves, and unlike other salamanders have dry skins.

The skins of red spotted newts also secrete strong poisons, which protect the species against predators. And rather than evolve dark colors that act as camouflage in the forest leaf litter, young adults, called “red efts,” display gaudy orange skin trimmed with red dots.

“Beware of my orange color,” they warn. “Orange means I taste bad.”

Another unique adaptation is that red eft adults live entirely on land—mainly in the woods— for three to seven years, until maturing into greenish brown adults, which return to water to breed and remain for good. These mature, pond dwelling adults retain their dots, but develop broad swimming tails.

It’s plausible that a land-dwelling, red eft stage evolved in response to periods of extreme drought, when forest pools dried up.

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