Red eft

We found this beauty in Shakerag Hollow today during our stream surveys: a red eft, the terrestrial form of a salamander that has no fewer than four life stages. The eggs (stage 1) hatch in lakes, then the larva (stage 2) fattens up in the lake before metamorphosing into an eft (stage 3) that leaves the water and wanders on land for several years before returning to a lake and transforming into an adult red-spotted newt (stage 4).

The eft stage is very unusual; no other salamanders in our region have such a stage. The advantages are clear: the eft can feed on the forest’s abundant small invertebrates and grow to adult size without having to compete with any adults. This is a common strategy among other animals, especially insects whose young specialize on different food sources than the parents (butterflies and caterpillars; maggots and flies; lake-dwelling larvae and flying dragonflies). But why should only the newt adopt such a strategy among salamanders? No-one knows, but I suspect that part of the reason lies in the species’ powerful defensive chemicals. All red-spotted newt life stages have neurotoxins in their skin and are therefore well protected from predators. It was therefore presumably not that hard for evolution to draw the eft out of water onto land. Indeed, unlike all other local salamanders, efts wander the woods in broad daylight. They are seemingly the most fearless of all the woodland creatures, with the possible exception of hornets and yellowjackets. Like these wasps, efts advertise their noxiousness with dramatic colors. This one was about only two or three inches long, but was sighted from several meters away.

“Eft” is from the Old English for “newt” or “small lizard.”

9 thoughts on “Red eft

  1. Chris Van de Ven

    Saw 2 unfortunate efts the squished on Breakfield Rd. yesterday – now I know what they are and will look for more 3-dimensional ones my next time out.

    Reply
  2. Jim Markowich

    I knew when we heard you speak at the Explorers’ Club this spring that you were on our wavelength. Your blog confirms this repeatedly.

    We love red efts, which some years occur in some profusion in our area (northeastern PA). They always seem tolerant of handling; languid about it, as if their aposematic coloring works so successfully that they fear nothing from other creatures.

    Here’s yet another link to a portrait photo of one: http://www.pbase.com/jimbonius/image/132344262

    (Really, I’m trying to restrain myself with these comment links. I actually spared you a link to our spotted salamander video on your previous post!)

    Reply
    1. David George Haskell Post author

      That is a great photo! Much better than my seat-of-the-pants effort in the cove. They are gorgeous creatures.

      Thank you for your kind words about the blog. Keep the links coming! I’m always happy to watch salamander videos…especially from someone like you with a very keen eye and a thoughtful approach.

      Reply
      1. Jim Markowich

        Your seat-of-the-pants eft is lovely. Admittedly not as flashy as our flaming orange puppy, but maybe ours was out for an afternoon on the town, while yours was on his way to work.

        Okay, Mister. Backtracking and comment-linkin to our salamander video…

        Reply

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