Large newt with a broad, dorsoventally flattened head. The back is covered with
small warts and is usually gray to brown in color, sometimes with
spots. Rarely, the back is yellowish, greenish or black. There are conspicuous
dorso-lateral rows of 7-10 yellow-orange warts, through which the ribs can
protrude (Boehme et al 1999). Total length of males to 312mm,
up to 286mm for females. Specimens from northern Africa are smaller than those
from European populations. Tail length is smaller than snout-vent length. The
tails of females are shorter than those of males. Males also show a broader
tail-base and fin during the breeding season. During this period, males also
develop nuptial pads on the front legs, and a reddish hue on the body
Distribution and Habitat
Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: Morocco, Portugal, Spain
The species is found only in Spain, Portugal and Morocco. However, there is
another species in Africa, P. poiretti, which has been considered
sometimes to be a subspecies of the Spanish newt. In Portugal, it is found
throughout the country,
but only in warm, non-mountainous areas, being more abundant towards the
south. In Spain it lives mainly in the southern half of the country. It was
thought to be absent on the Mediterranean coast, however new localities have
been discovered for that area. The distribution range crosses the
Ebro River on
the coast of Cataluña and the Duero River in several places, reaching the
vicinity of Burgos. The northern extreme of the range is not far from the
town of Leon. For the other geographic extremes, to the east, the Cataluña
the mouth of the Ebro River and the town of Tarragona. In the European range,
the southern most populations are in Tarifa, near the Gibraltar straits.
In Africa, the animal reaches Mogador. To the
west, the Portuguese coast, between Roca Cape and Cavoeiro Cape.
In Morocco, the species is found in the humid, semi-humid and semi-arid zones
of the northwestern part of the country. The Moroccan range roughly forms a
triangle between the three localities Talmagaït, Safi and Ile d'Essaouira
(Bons and Beniez 1996).
It seems that the Iberian block was the area of origin for the genus
Pleurodeles, whose fossils appear in the upper Miocene layers,
and it might have crossed to Africa during the Messinian dry period.
Differentiation of African forms may have started at the beginning of the
Pliocene, when the Strait of Gibraltar was opened, or floded by ocean.
P. waltl lives in small permanent or temporary ponds with quiet water.
Although the ponds may be small, they must preferably be deep, commonly at
least one meter deep when full. The species can tolerate some organic
pollution and some salinity, being able to live with or without aquatic
vegetation. It is rarely found on land, and then remains near the water.
However, as the occupied pond often lasts for a short time, the newt must
migrate across land on rainy days, to find new living sites. This species
has also been found in dark caves, at a depth of 60-70m, near Ben Slimane,
Boulhaut, Morocco (Schleich et al 1996).
Although P. waltl occurs up to an altitude of 1200m in the Sierra
de Loja (Granada), it is rare above 900m in both Europe and Africa
Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors
The reproductive period varies throughout the range, but usually coincides
with a wet period. In the vicinity of Leon, mating starts in February and
lasts until April. In Extremadura however, mating season lasts from October
until May. In Cataluña mating starts in October and lasts until March.
Mating takes place in the water. The male holds the female with his front
legs around hers. This stage can last hours, up to days. The male then releases
one leg and turns his head to the female's caudal direction. The male then
releases a spermatophore, and turns the female so her cloaca is near the
spermatophore. The sperm mass is taken into the female's cloaca and stored
in the spermatheca for fertilization. Two days after fertilisation, the eggs
are laid in small groups of 9-20, usually attached to submerged objects or
plants. Over the course of 2-3 days, a total of 150 (for young females) up
to about 1300 eggs are deposited. The eggs are 1.7 to 2mm in diameter, with
a gelatinous envelope of 5-7mm in diameter. Hatching of the 11mm long larvae
occurs after 13 days at 18ºC. Metamorphosis occurs at 18ºC after 100-110
days. Under natural conditions, the larvae metamorphose after 3-4.5 months,
at a snout-vent length between 53 and 110mm. Some larvae never metamorphose,
and get neotenic characteristics. Neoteny was also observed in captivity.
In Spain the young reach a length of 14cm after their first year, and 17.5cm
after their second. After that, growth slows down and gets irregular. In
captivity, these animals reach an age of 8-12 years, although it is suggested
that they can live op to 20 years or even longer. The adults feed on aquatic
mollusks, worms and insects.
When threatened, the skin on the body contracts and pushes the ribs through
the yellow-orange warts on the side of the body. The skin in this area is
rich in poison glands and the ribs function as poisonous spines to deter
the attacker. P. waltl can produce sound when it is picked up
(Boehme et al 1999).
Trends and Threats
The species suffers from the same general problems affecting all amphibians,
that is, the loss and destruction of spawning sites. As the ponds that the
animals live in are often small and temporary, they are difficult to protect,
and pollution problems can quickly occur. The species is quite resistant,
withstanding high levels of water contamination, and pressure from predators
(mainly herons, storks, and the snake Natrix maura). Eating any small
moving prey, and even plants and young snakes, the newt can switch
diets when the main food source is scarce, and it can also remain for a long
time without food. Thus, populations can be relatively stable although they
disappear when the biotope is destroyed. Road management has sometimes wiped
out nearby populations. The northernmost populations in Spain and Portugal
are especially vulnerable, and must be monitored, and their populations
protected (Gasc 1997).
Possible reasons for amphibian decline
General habitat alteration and loss
Featured in Amazing Amphibians on 12 August 2013
Boehme, W., Grossenbacher, K., and Thiesmeier, B. (1999). Handbuch der Reptilien und Amphibien Europas, band 4/I:Schwanzlurche (Urodela). Aula-Verlag, Wiesbaden.
Bons, J. and Beniez, P. (1996). Amphibiens et Reptiles du Maroc (Sahara occidental compris). Asociacion Herpetologica Española, Barcelona.
Gasc, J.-P. (1997). Atlas of Amphibians and Reptiles in Europe. Societas Europaea Herpetologica, Bonn, Germany.
Griffiths, R.A. (1996). Newts and Salamanders of Europe. T. and A. D. Poyser, London.
Schleich, H. H., Kastle, W., and Kabisch, K. (1996). Amphibians and Reptiles of North Africa. Koeltz Scientific Publishers, Koenigstein.
Stumpel-Rieks, S. E. (1992). Nomina Herpetofaunae Europaeae. AULA-Verlag, Wiesbaden.
Written by Arie van der Meijden (amphibia AT arievandermeijden.nl), Research associate, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, UC Berkeley
First submitted 1999-12-24
Edited by Vance Vredenburg; Updated by Ann T. Chang (2013-08-12)
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Citation: AmphibiaWeb: Information on
amphibian biology and conservation. [web application]. 2014. Berkeley, California:
(Accessed: Sep 21, 2014).
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