red-spotted newt

(Notophthalmus viridescens viridescens)


There are three distinct life stages: 1) aquatic larvae (tadpole), 2) terrestrial adult (red eft), 3) aquatic adult (newt). The aquatic adult has a olive green to yellow brown dorsum, and pale to yellow belly covered with black dots. There are as many as 21 red dots, bordered with black, present throughout all life stages. Sometimes these are arranged roughly in two rows down the back. The smooth skin secretes a noxious substance when injured. The red eft is brick red to orange red in color, with many black dots, and a dorsolateral row of black edged red spots. Color may range from yellow- or red-brown immediately after transforming from larval stage, to very dark brown right before transforming into an adult. It measures 1 3/8 – 3 3/8 in. (3.5 – 8.6 cm). It stays in the red eft stage from 1-3 years. In some areas it metamorphoses directly into the aquatic adult form. The tadpole is brown green. During the winter the male, aquatic newt undergoes morphological changes in preparation to mate. Metamorphosis occurs in approximately 3 months. In the coastal plain, this species often does not enter the terrestrial stage, but remains aquatic.


This species occurs statewide in Virginia. Adults live in ponds, lakes, and pools near streams. Efts inhabit moist, forested areas. They continue to be active through the winter, and occasionally are seen moving about under the ice. Terrestrial efts avoid direct sunlight but are very bold, moving about singly or in large numbers on the forest floor during the daytime.


Natural food includes insects, leeches, worms, tiny mollusks and crustaceans, young amphibians, and frogs’ eggs. Captive aquatic adults will eat small pieces of meat, but crumbs of canned dog food make a better balanced diet. Efts respond most readily to live insects.