Monday, May 12, 2008

Red Eft

Many a person has been shocked to spot a brilliant orange-red salamander boldly stalking about the forest. After all, most salamanders are shy and retiring in the extreme; some of our most seldom seen animals. Turning over rocks and rotting logs is the usual modus operandi for finding these secretive beasts.


So, what gives?

Why would a salamander shun the wallflower ways of their brethren, sport a coat of flashing crimson, and bravely march about during the day, every bit as conspicuous as Liberace in full regalia.

Eat a Red Eft and you'll find out. Most things that are brightly colored and conspicuous are unafraid, and with good reason. Efts are protected by toxins, and most potential predators know it. Thus, no fear. This works to our advantage, as non-eft-eating humanoids can admire Red Efts up close and personal.



Efts tend to be most active during and after showers, when the forest floor is damp, as it was in West Virginia where I took this shot. The Red Eft is but one stage of the life cycle of one of our most interesting salamanders, the Red-spotted Newt, Notopthalmus virescens. After the tadpole stage comes the eft, which lives for two or three years in this stage, as we see above. Completely terrestrial, the efts ensure ready dispersal over long distances and to new breeding pools, thus constantly mixing gene pools.

Once the free-wheeling eft reaches a suitable pond, it enters the water and transforms into the adult Red-spotted Newt. In all, individuals can live for up to fifteen years. Adults look nothing like the bright Red Eft. They are greenish, have a laterally compressed tail like a muskrat, and are completely aquatic. It is also one of few salamanders often found in ponds with fish, as newts are also toxic and unpalatable to piscivorous predators. I've seen adult newts in ponds many times, and they always remind me of little fish themselves, swimming about quite gracefully.

So, if you are fortunate enough to bumble into an eft, look, but don't eat.

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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Eft and newt are two of my favorite words. Did you know that a newt is just a(n) eft? The "n" from the article drifted over and attached itself to the e of eft, and, lo and behold, an eft became a neft or newt. There are many other words like this--called "nonce" words, after the old expression "for then once," which over time turned into "for the nonce." But that's a whole nother story....

Anonymous said...

i just recently hiked at natural bridge state resort and saw 2 red efts in thier youth stage. i find it amazing that the red eft can in a way metamorphize twice

Anonymous said...

We live on a wooded farm outside Morgantown, WV, and just found a very small red eft in our sink this morning -- thought it was one of our daughter's toy newts at first! She printed out your page on the red eft and brought it in to share with her fourth grade class (the print out, not the eft -- he's somewhere in the woods by now!)