The great crested newt, Triturus cristatus, has been around for at least 40m years and looks like a dinosaur. At this time of year in the UK it is mostly asleep but not hibernating, merely waiting for the warming spring weather in March to move towards its breeding ponds. The newts are dark on top, have a warty appearance and a bright orange underside. They can be up to 17cm (6.6in) long, which makes them unmistakable; the two other British newt species are half their size.

Like much other British wildlife, numbers have plummeted through the destruction of breeding ponds and pollution from farms. Because they are a protected species, the newts are blamed by developers for holding up their projects because they have to be relocated. Even Boris Johnson, when he was the prime minister, spuriously fingered the newts for failures in the planning system.

Males are known for their spectacular underwater mating dance. Photograph: James Grundy/Freshwater Habitats Trust/PA

While widely distributed in lowland Britain, these newts are increasingly hard to find because their breeding habitat – clear ponds without fish – is in short supply. They are a fascinating species, particularly because the males perform a spectacular underwater mating dance to attract females, who lay up to 200 eggs.


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