Males up to 85, females up to 95mm total length. Tail length slightly shorter
than snout-vent length. Superficially similar to T. vulgaris or
T. boscai. Glandular ridges alongside the back give the male newts a
square-backed appearance. Breeding males have a low, smooth crest along the
back that continues into a higher crest on the tail. They also posses a thin
filament at the end of the tail and black webbing on the hind feet. These
characteristics become less distinct, or can even disappear during the
terrestrial stage. Males have a more swollen and darker cloaca than females,
and this sexual dimorphism persists in the terrestrial phase. The base color
of both sexes is olive-green or brown. A dark line runs from the nares, through
the eyes, across the head. This line is bordered ventrally on the cheeks by a
bright area, which can be spotted in males. Males show an orange streak
centrally along the tail. The lower row of the tail can show a blue area.
All males and some females have a dark spotting on the back. Both sexes have
a yellow or pale orange belly that can sometimes show some spotting. The
throat is never spotted, and this characteristic can be used to distinguish
this species from the largely sympatric T. vulgaris.
Distribution and Habitat
Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom
T. helveticus has a subatlantic distribution. Its range is restricted
to western Europe: from Scotland to the northern part of the Iberian Peninsula;
eastwards to the Elbe river in Germany and western Czechoslovakia, and in the
lower and middle altitude ranges of the Alps in Switzerland. Differentiation
to subspecies level may have taken place during Pleistocene glaciations.
The species is common in most of its range due to its wide ecological
amplitude. It occurs mainly in lowland marshes, forests, pasture or
agricultural land, where all types of standing water are suitable for
reproduction. On the northern border of its range, as in The Netherlands
and Belgium where the species is rare, its ecological amplitude is narrower,
and it is more often found in oligotrophic and slightly acid conditions. On
the eastern border of its range, in Switzerland and southern Germany, the
species is abundant in forested margins of rivers. Isolated populations occur
in the southern part of the range.
The glacial distribution was centered in southern France and/or northern Spain.
During the postglacial northern expansion the species succeeded in reaching
Britain before the island became isolated from the continent. Today,
T. helveticus is sympatric over most of its range with
T. vulgaris, the phylogenetically most closely related species,
the postglacial distribution of which was centered in Eastern Europe.
Both species replace each other mutually in the sympatric zone on a
macro-scale. However, no effects of competition have been found on a
micro-scale; in habitat, food or time resources. An adult hybrid of both
species was found once in the wild.
The altitudinal distribution ranges fron sea level up to 1455m in the Alps
and to about 2200m in Spain. The species is most common between 500 and
1500m (Gasc 1997).
Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors
The reproductive period in Middle- and Western Europe extends from the middle
of February until May. The reproductive period on the Iberian Peninsula can
occur from January until August, depending on the altitude. The courtship
takes place in water, and is superficially like that of the smooth newt,
T. vulgaris. A single female can produce 290-440 eggs over one season.
Each egg is individually attached to water plants. The eggs are 1.3-1.8mm
in diameter, and resemble the eggs of T. vulgaris. The larvae hatch
after an embryonal development of 8-14 days at a length of 8-14mm.
Metamorphosis can occur after six weeks in the middle European part of the
distribution. The larvae often over winter in the water and metamorphose the
next year in other parts of its distribution. Neoteny is also known to occur
in this species. Sexual maturity is reached in the second year. Longevity is
recorded at up to 12 years.
Adults hibernate in the more northern parts of the distribution, either on
land, or more rarely, in water. On the Iberian Peninsula, however, activity
can be year-round. In the reproductive period, the animals are active during
the day as well as the night. Outside this period, activity is restricted to
rainy or humid nights.
T. helveticus feeds mostly on small crustaceans and
Plecoptera-larvae The larvae feed on planktonic animals and
Daphnia. They are also known to display cannibalistic tendencies
(Noellert and Noellert 1992).
Trends and Threats
T. helveticus is protected by law in all countries where it occurs.
Its status is thought to be endangered in the Netherlands, Belgium and
Luxembourg and vulnerable in Germany. In the remaining countries, the species
is more or less common, or at least, not endangered. An exception is made
for the isolated populations in Iberia, e.g. the subspecies
T. h. sequerai, which is supposed to be seriously threatened
(Gasc 1997). Noellert and Noellert
(1992) also list forestry,
road construction and the introduction of trout as a threat to this species.
Possible reasons for amphibian decline
General habitat alteration and loss
Habitat modification from deforestation, or logging related activities
Drainage of habitat
Predators (natural or introduced)
Although in some regards T. helveticus appears to be competitively inferior to its closest relative T. vulgaris, the species fares well in acidic pond environments. Thus, a decline in quality of ponds in England has led to an increase in the abundance of T. helveticus in some areas. (John W. Wilkinson & John Buckley, FrogLog, 2012).
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.
Nöllert, A. and Nöllert, C. (1992). Die Amphibien Europas. Franckh-Kosmos Verlags-GmbH and Company, Stuttgart.
Stumpel-Rieks, S. E. (1992). Nomina Herpetofaunae Europaeae. AULA-Verlag, Wiesbaden.
Written by Arie van der Meijden, John Cavagnaro (amphibia AT arievandermeijden.nl), Research associate, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, UC Berkeley
First submitted 2000-01-24
Edited by AvdM (2012-04-02)
Species Account Citation: AmphibiaWeb 2012 Lissotriton helveticus: Palmate newt <http://amphibiaweb.org/species/4297> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed Aug 4, 2020.
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Citation: AmphibiaWeb. 2020. <http://amphibiaweb.org> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed 4 Aug 2020.
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