Over the weekend I was out with Flo my dog and walking back through the garden, I stopped by the pond and made a mental note that I should keep an eye on it over next few weeks to see when the first Great Crested Newts arrive.
March is the month that we would expect to see both males and females in the breeding ponds. They will then stay and feed in the pond, only leaving to find another pond close by once competition for breeding becomes too much. Toad and Frog tadpoles are early season prey but any other fresh water invertebrates such as water lice, fresh water shrimps, fly larvae etc make a meal for a Great Crested Newt.
The female then heads off to lay her eggs singly. She finds an area of soft aquatic vegetation. Submerged water mint or water forget-me-not are preferred but any soft leaf plant under the surface will do. Using her back legs, she grips the vegetation and secrets sticky mucus from a gland that holds the leaves together to create an envelope in which she lays the single egg. A female will lay up to 250 eggs in one season and up to 10 a night. The leaf envelope protects the egg from disturbance and predation by other newts and predator beetles. Later in the breeding season, depending on the health of the pond and the amount of suitable vegetation for egg laying, the females may start to lay eggs on old leaf litter or on other plant material and you may be able to see the small white eggs on stems and other leaves close to the surface of your garden ponds if you look carefully.
Hatching rates depend on the water temperature. If conditions are right, they can hatch in two weeks but in shaded or not very newt-friendly ponds, it can take up to three times as long. However, due to chromosome abnormalities, only 50% of all eggs laid actually hatch. The lucky baby newtoids develop through a number of stages (it gets a bit technical but they have 9 growth stages) and they do not leave the safety of the pond until they are about 18 weeks old and have grown into mini newts. They keep on growing for a couple of years, reaching sexual maturity at two years old for females and 4 years old for males. In this period of development, they forage on land and travel to find new breeding ponds away from their place of birth. Newts use long grass, hedgerows and gardens as corridors for food and habitat until they find a pond suitable for breeding in. This is why it is important to keep any size pond in the best condition you can for aquatic wildlife, as you never know when the local Great Crested Newt scouts may find it and colonise it. They may be in your pond already, you may have not have seen them yet but a Great Crested Newt can move about 500m a year in the hunt for new breeding sites so keep an eye out for them over the next few months.
So what makes a good health aquatic wildlife pond, I hear you ask? Well, you will have to come back and find that out. I will make it my next Blog entry but I should really go do some farm work before Dad returns from his District Council work!!! BWB