World of Wonder: Red-Spotted Newt -The Toast

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Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s previous World of Wonder columns for The Butter can be found here.

Oh, you Butter-y dears! I’ve been on the road so I’m just now catching up on all the great soundtracks for various animals you posted in the comments of last week’s Superb Bird of Paradise. Love them all, and major props to the folks who posted and tweeted the awesome cartoon gif of the SBP—that just might be my favorite gif of all time. All time!

This week, I thought I’d turn to a more grounded animal. In fact, it’s so grounded, it spends years wandering the forest floor before it decides which pond to finally call home. So now, let me present one of the most common but colorful salamanders on the East coast: the red-spotted (Eastern) newt of New York!

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After a goodly amount of warm rain–like what’s been going on in western NY these last weeks—these little red “teenagers” start making their way around the ground to search for home. In this red-spotted condition, the newt is called an “eft,” and the rust-red skin is rough and dry, unlike the smooth and soggy skin of the adult counterparts. Years later, when it reaches the full-grown adult stage, all that gorgeous color turns to an olive green, with only the scarcest pops of orange left in some spots scattered on its now shiny-wet back:

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And when the eft grows up, the newt is basically pond-green and lives almost entirely underwater. It camouflages beautifully so that when one lays her four-hundred or so eggs on some aquatic leaf litter, ideally nothing will disturb her. But the witches of Macbeth knew what they were talking about—a newt is certainly poisonous—poisonous enough to kill a mouse if one dares to take a nibble of newt, and also quite hardy: sometimes even if a pond has frozen over, you can sometimes catch them feeding under the surface of the ice. After a winter like we had, I barely want to even imagine snow and winter again; not yet, anyway. But I’d like to think if I saw one skitter under the ice—catch a glimpse of those orange tail-light spots—I might be able to hold onto the promise that a thaw does in fact draw near, and summer and BBQs and starlight isn’t too far away.

And now back to you, Dear Readers—what other moments serve as a “tell” for you that spring/summer is close by? Is it the first crocus that pops out of the mulch, reminding you that there will be a time when you won’t need 543 layers of clothes? Or do you not even breathe easy till you spy the first robin strolling down your lane? Share below which animal or plant signals the end of winter for you!

Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of three books of poetry, most recently Lucky Fish. She is a professor of English and teaches poetry and environmental lit at a small college in Western New York. She is obsessed with peacocks, jellyfish, and school supplies. Follow her on Twitter: @aimeenez.

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