Palmate newt

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Palmate newt
Lissotriton helveticus (18501796441).jpg
Two breeding males
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Amphibia
Order: Urodela
Family: Salamandridae
Genus: Lissotriton
L. helveticus
Binomial name
Lissotriton helveticus
(Razoumovsky, 1789[2]: 111 )
Triturus helveticus dis.png

33 synonyms,[3] including:

  • Lacerta helvetica Razoumovsky, 1789
  • Lacerta paradoxa Razoumovsky, 1789
  • Molge palmata Merrem, 1820
  • Triton palmatus Millet de la Turtaudière, 1828
  • Lissotriton palmipes Bell, 1839
  • Triturus helveticus Dunn, 1918

The palmate newt (Lissotriton helveticus) is a species of newt found in Western Europe, from Great Britain to the northern Iberian peninsula. It is 5–9.5 cm (2.0–3.7 in) long and olive or brown with some dark spots. The underside is yellow to orange, and the throat, unlike in the similar smooth newt, always unspotted. A dark stripe runs along the head and through the eyes. Breeding males develop a distinct filament on the end of their tail, strongly webbed hind feet, and a low, smooth crest on their back.

Habitats include forests, marshes, pastures or gardens. While on land, the newts are mainly nocturnal. After emerging from hibernation in spring, they move to stagnant, fish-free water bodies for breeding. After a courtship display, the male deposits a spermatophore that is picked up by the female. Larvae develop over after 1.5–3.5 months before metamorphosing into land-dwelling juveniles (efts). Sexual maturity is reached after two to three years, and the newts can reach a total age of up to 12 years in the wild. The species is overall common and has been assessed as Least Concern by the IUCN.


The palmate newt was first described scientifically in 1789, by Russian naturalist Grigory Razumovsky. He placed it in the genus of the green lizards and named it Lacerta helvetica, with "helvetica" referring to the Swiss type locality in the canton of Vaud.[2]: 111  He also gave Lacerta paradoxa as alternative name, which is today regarded as a junior synonym.[3]: 111 [2] Several names published over time, in different genera, are also now treated as synonyms for the palmate newt.[3] Most recently, the species was included in the genus Triturus, along with most European newts.[4]: 221  This genus however was found to be polyphyletic, containing several unrelated lineages,[5][6][7] and the small-bodied newts, including the palmate newt, were therefore split off as separate genus in 2004 by García-París and colleagues.[8]: 233  They used the genus name Lissotriton, introduced by the English zoologist Thomas Bell in 1839.[9]: 132  Two distinct subspecies, L. h. alonsoi and L. h. punctillatus, were described from the Iberian peninsula, but have not been retained by Raffaëlli[10] and Sparreboom.[4]: 225 


Brown, rouhg-skinned newt on leave litter
Male during land phase, with dry, velvety skin
Newt held between two fingers, exposing its yellow underside
The underside is yellow to orange, and the throat always unspotted.
Newt under water, holding on to plant
Breeding male with angular body, low smooth crest, tail filament and webbed hind feet
Newt under water seen from side
Breeding female with orange strip on tail but without tail filament

Palmate newts grow to about 5–8.5 cm (2.0–3.3 in) total length in males, while females are somewhat larger and can reach 9.5 cm (3.7 in). The tail is slightly shorter than the snout–vent distance. The head is longer than wide, with three longitudinal grooves on the snout. Both sexes have an olive or brown base colour, and males and some females have dark spotting on their backs. In females, the spots can sometimes form two irregular lines, and they can have a red stripe running along the back while living on land. In both sexes, a dark stripe runs along the head through the eyes. The underside is yellow or light orange and more whitish on the sides; the belly can have some dark spots, while the throat is always unspotted. While the newts live on land, the skin is dry and velvety, but it becomes smooth when they migrate into water.[11][4]: 224–225 

Males can be distinguished from females by the larger and darker-coloured cloaca.[11] During the aquatic breeding season, the cloaca swells, and other sexual differences develop: Males grow a low, smooth skin seam (a crest) on their back, which is higher on the tail. Their tail has a blunt end with a distinct, 4–7 mm long filament. They also have ridges (dorso-lateral ridges) running along their sides, giving them an angular, square shape in cross-section, and their hind feet have well-developed, dark webbing. The lower half of the tail is blue in breeding males and orange in females. Development of the crest, tail filament, ridges, and webbing can be suppressed in the presence of the newts' natural predators. When exposed to predatory goldfish, newts do not express these traits, as large sexual ornaments would make them more conspicuous prey.[12] Females do not develop a crest, tail filament or webbed feet.[11][4]: 224 

Sometimes confused with the smooth newt (Lissotriton vulgaris) which is found in much of the same area, the palmate newt can be distinguished by its unspotted throat.[11] It also resembles Boscá's newt (L. boscai) from the Iberian peninsula, which has only a single groove on the snout and no dark eye strip.[4]: 222 

Distribution and habitats[edit]

Shady pond in forest
Forest pond, breeding site for the palmate and the alpine newt

The palmate newt occurs in Western Europe, from Great Britain (up to Scotland) to northern Portugal and Spain. In the east, it ranges to the Elbe river in Germany and the Czech Republic and the lower and mid Alps in Switzerland. It is most common from 500–1,500 m (1,600–4,900 ft) elevation, but can be found from sea level up to 2,500 m (8,200 ft) (in the Pyrenees).[11][4]: 224  Genetic analyses by Recuero and García-París suggest that the species was confined to the Iberian peninsula during the Last Glacial Maximum and then expanded its range north of the Pyrenees.[13]

Common over most of its range, the palmate newt is found in a variety of habitats, including forest, marshes and pasture.[11][4]: 224–225  It is less abundant in cultivated areas, but can adapt to gardens.[1][10] For reproduction, the newts accept different types of stagnant water bodies, preferably fish-free; acidic ponds are well tolerated.[11][4]: 224–225  The smooth newt occurs over much of the same area, but in France appears to prefer ponds in open land, while the palmate newt prefers forest ponds; hybrids between the two species are rare.[4]

Lifecycle and reproduction[edit]

Larva with fore- and hind legs seen from above, next to a British penny
Larva with fore- and hind legs developed, with a British penny (20.3 mm) for scale
Small brown newt with orange stripe on back, on moss
Juvenile (eft) after the transition to land

The reproductive period usually extends from February to May, but can start earlier or last longer in the southern range on the Iberian Peninsula, depending on elevation.[11] The newts can use magnetoreception over larger distances and the calls of frogs over shorter distances to find their breeding ponds.[14] Once in the water, they are active during day and night.[11] Breeding involves a ritualised courtship display as in other closely related newts: The male attempts to attract a female by swimming in front of her and sniffing her cloaca. He then vibrates his tail against his body, sometimes lashing it (but less violently than in the smooth newt), thereby fanning pheromones towards her. In the final phase, its a packet of sperm (a spermatophore). He then guides her over the spermatophore so she picks it up with her cloaca.[4]: 225 

The females lays 150–440 eggs individually on water plants. These are 1.3–1.8 mm in diameter (2.2–3 mm with capsule) and very similar to those of the smooth newt. Larvae hatch after 8–21 days, depending on temperature, at a size of 8–14 mm. The young larvae are yellow–brown, with two black stripes, and have two appendages (balancers) on the sides of the head, which are later resorbed. The colour then becomes more cryptic, and the larvae grow to 3–4 cm (1.2–1.6 in). As they grow, their characteristics are affected by their environment. Specifically, in response to chemical cues from predatory dragonfly larvae, larval newts develop larger heads and tails, and develop darker tail pigmentation. Additionally, dragonflies were more likely to prey on newts without such changes, which may be because a larger tail size facilitates newt predator escape behavior.[15] They metamorphose into land-dwelling juveniles (efts) after 1.5–3.5 months, but some larvae instead overwinter in water. Paedomorphism, where adults keep their gills and stay aquatic, is also known.[11][4]: 224–225 

The young efts live on land until maturity, which is reached in the second or third year. Activity on land occurs mainly during humid nights. The palmate newt usually hibernates on land but sometimes in the water, and in the Iberian peninsula, it is often active year-round. Larvae, efts and adults mainly feed on various invertebrates, but cannibalism also occurs, mainly by larvae preying on eggs. An age of up to 12 years can be reached in the wild.[11][4]: 224–225 

Threats and conservation[edit]

Palmate newt populations are not in decline overall, and the species has been assessed as Least Concern by the IUCN.[1] In France, it is the most common newt species,[10] but it is rare in Belgium and the Netherlands,[4]: 225  and populations are fragmented on the Iberian peninsula.[1] It is included in some national and regional red lists.[1] Drainage and pollution of breeding sites, the introduction of fish and crayfish, as well as desertification (in the southern range), have been cited as threats.[1][11] Like all amphibians, it is listed as protected species in the Berne Convention (Appendix III),[16] and it is legally protected by law in the countries it occurs in.[11]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Arntzen, Jan Willem; Beebee, Trevor; Jehle, Robert; et al. (2009). "Lissotriton helveticus: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species": e.T59475A11948264. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2009.RLTS.T59475A11948264.en. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  2. ^ a b c Razumovskii, Grigorii (1789). "Histoire Naturelle du Jorat et de ses Environs; et Celle de Trois Lacs de Neuchâtel, Morat et Bienne". 1. Lausanne: Jean Mourer. doi:10.5962/bhl.title.37043. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. ^ a b c Frost, Darrel R. (2020). "Lissotriton helveticus (Razoumovsky, 1789). Amphibian Species of the World: an Online Reference. Version 6.1". New York, USA: American Museum of Natural History. doi:10.5531/db.vz.0001. Retrieved 2020-12-22. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Sparreboom, M. (2014). Salamanders of the Old World: The Salamanders of Europe, Asia and Northern Africa. Zeist, The Netherlands: KNNV Publishing. doi:10.1163/9789004285620. ISBN 9789004285620.
  5. ^ Titus, T.A.; Larson, A. (1995). "A molecular phylogenetic perspective on the evolutionary radiation of the salamander family Salamandridae". Systematic Biology. 44 (2): 125–151. doi:10.1093/sysbio/44.2.125. ISSN 1063-5157.
  6. ^ Weisrock, D.W.; Papenfuss, T.J.; Macey, J.R.; et al. (2006). "A molecular assessment of phylogenetic relationships and lineage accumulation rates within the family Salamandridae (Amphibia, Caudata)". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 41 (2): 368–383. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2006.05.008. ISSN 1055-7903. PMID 16815049.
  7. ^ Steinfartz, S.; Vicario, S.; Arntzen, J.W.; Caccone, A. (2007). "A Bayesian approach on molecules and behavior: reconsidering phylogenetic and evolutionary patterns of the Salamandridae with emphasis on Triturus newts". Journal of Experimental Zoology Part B: Molecular and Developmental Evolution. 308B (2): 139–162. doi:10.1002/jez.b.21119. ISSN 1552-5007. PMID 16969762.
  8. ^ García-París, M.; Montori, A.; Herrero, P. (2004). Amphibia: Lissamphibia. Fauna Iberica. Vol. 24. Madrid: Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas. ISBN 8400082923.
  9. ^ Bell, Thomas (1839). "A History of British Reptiles". London: John van Voorst. doi:10.5962/bhl.title.5498. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  10. ^ a b c Raffaëlli, Jean (2007–2014). "Lissotriton helveticus: Palmate newt – Raffaëlli account" (in French). University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved 2020-12-22.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m van der Meijden, Arie; Cavagnaro, John (2000–2012). "Lissotriton helveticus: Palmate newt". University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved 2020-12-22.
  12. ^ Winandy, L.; Denoël, M. (May 2015). "Expression of sexual ornaments in a polymorphic species: phenotypic variation in response to environmental risk". Journal of Evolutionary Biology. 28 (5): 1049–1056. doi:10.1111/jeb.12636. PMID 25847588. S2CID 18564451.
  13. ^ Recuero, Ernesto; García-París, Mario (2011). "Evolutionary history of Lissotriton helveticus: Multilocus assessment of ancestral vs. recent colonization of the Iberian Peninsula". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 60 (1): 170–182. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2011.04.006. ISSN 1055-7903. PMID 21530664.
  14. ^ Diego-Rasilla, Francisco J.; Luengo, Rosa M.; Phillips, John B. (2008). "Use of a Magnetic Compass for Nocturnal Homing Orientation in the Palmate Newt, Lissotriton helveticus". Ethology. 114 (8): 808–815. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0310.2008.01532.x. ISSN 0179-1613. S2CID 85983472.
  15. ^ Van Buskirk, Josh; Schmidt, Benedikt R. (2000). "Predator-Induced Phenotypic Plasticity in Larval Newts: Trade-Offs, Selection, and Variation in Nature". Ecology. 81 (11): 3009–3028. doi:10.2307/177397. ISSN 0012-9658. JSTOR 177397.
  16. ^ "Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats". Bern: Council of Europe. 1979. Retrieved 2020-11-01.