A newt is a semi-aquatic amphibian which looks rather like a cross between a lizard and a frog, or perhaps a very wet dragon. They can be found around waterways in North America, Asia, and Europe. Depending on the species, newts may spend a great deal of time in the water, or they may live primarily on land, in which case they are known as efts. Efts tend to be more brightly colored than newts, and they may also have drier, more rough skin.
Some people confuse newts and salamanders. Newts are, in fact, salamanders since they are in the family Salamandridae, but not all salamanders are newts. A newt has a long, slender body with a broad tail, and most species have moist, smooth skin. Some species are decorated with crests and ornamental gills, such as the European crested newts. Care should be taken when handling a newt, as most emit a mild toxin which can irritate mucus membranes. They may also carry bacteria found in their watery homes, much like other amphibians.
When newts lay eggs, they cover them in a layer of toxic jelly which is designed to make them less appetizing to predators. Some newts also parent their young until the babies are mature enough to wander around on their own, while others leave the young newts to fend for themselves. The creatures go through several stages before reaching adulthood, starting out as tadpoles which later grow legs to turn into larvae and then ultimately maturing into adult newts.
One of the largest newts is the Pacific Giant Salamander, which can grow over a foot (30 centimeters) in length. The Pacific region also hosts the red bellied newt, a distinctive species with a bright orange to red belly. Around the world, some newt populations are considered very healthy, while others such as the crested newts are endangered. Biologists monitor these species in the hopes of learning more about them and hopefully preventing extinction.
Although the mythical salamander was capable of surviving fires, this is not the case with newts. Newts can also be traumatized through improper handling, as most species require a moist skin in order to promote oxygen exchange. You may run into newts in the wild if you investigate waterways, especially those around dense forests. Efts can often be found in cool, damp places like under logs and in well watered gardens. The animals should not be regarded as pests if you find them; in fact, since they enjoy insects and larvae, they can actually be quite beneficial.