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Below The Surface

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Newts in Winter

I live in Huntington, Vermont, at about one thousand feet. Across the road, up a brief hike into the woods, there's a pond, courtesy of a few neighborly beaver. I say neighborly because, if not for the beaver, there would be no home, no habitat for the map turtles, the painted turtles and the many species of amphibians that live in and around the pond.

A few winters ago, as I hiked along the ice covering on the pond, I happened upon a curious opening in the snow and ice at the pond’s edge. No snow, no ice amongst the however many feet of snow that had accumulated that winter. There was a gentle up swell in the water that created enough turbulence to maintain a plate-sized window into the shallows of the pond. The water was no deeper than four or five inches and it was crystal clear.

As I kneeled at the pond edge and stared into the frigid water, I was impressed that this little flow was able to resist the impact of the freezing temperatures, that water was still moving in such a shallow area in a pond at 1000 feet in northern Vermont.

Then something moved in the water; movement I hadn’t first detected either because of my aging eyes or because camouflage in the animal world was working well here. There were ten to twenty Eastern Newts; some slowly meandering about the sticks and leaves, some occasionally hastening their movements in territorial squabbles or in some other seemingly less than sociable interaction.

I was amazed to see active amphibians in this frigid aquatic environment so close to my habitat, with few degrees to spare, and requiring long johns, fleece, thinsulate and Gore-Tex to make it humanly tolerable.

Amazing as it might have been, it is the normal seasonal cycle in the life of Eastern newts. Unlike other amphibians that hibernate through the winter, Eastern newts remain active, typically under the ice typically hidden from human eyes, but occasionally, by virtue of a small stubborn winter water flow, available for viewing for curious minds.

The hidden world about us is amazing. The adaptations animals have gone through to persevere in Vermont winters is amazing. How can one help but be a steward for these animals.

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