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Lucky Critter

Posted by on April 20, 2010

“>”>These days, with the advent of spring, much of my time is spent in the garden. There is much to do to get my raised beds ready for my favorite vegetable — chile peppers. Not being really fond of the smell of burning gasoline, I cultivate using one of those long handled four-pronged tools. I’ve gotten fairly good with it over the years, able to get the job done while still being able to hear the  song birds and the occasional chatter of squirrels.

So it was, the other day. I was whizzing along with the cultivator, swinging it up, bringing it down with a strong thud into the weedy soil. Suddenly there was something orange in the dirt. It was one of those “What is that?” moments. Reaching down I pushed it lightly with a finger. It moved, flipping itself over. It was a small eft. Had I punctured it? Smashed it? Didn’t see any blood. It seemed intact. It was intact. It certainly was a lucky critter. A little dazed perhaps, for it was not really moving much.

Grabing the camera,  I took about four photos, then decided to put it in with the worms and dirt I had collected in a used gallon ice cream tub. Threw in a few leaves in case the eft wanted  some shade. It got really active, going around in circles, then resting under a leaf. More pictures later when I went to lunch, I thought. Clean it up for a better photo.

It was not to be. It escaped.

But perhaps that was best. It was back to where it was familiar. It has a good chance of survival that way. And the photos I do have are just fine. It is how you or anyone might see it at first. Many times photos in books are the ideal, no distracting debris, perfect color for identification. But nature is not usually that way.

By now you are probably wondering what an eft is. An eft is the land form of the Central Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens louisianensis[Wolterstorff] ). Newts are a type of aquatic salamander which have a complicated life cycle. The adults live in the water, preferring wood shaded ponds and swamps. You usually won’t find them in ponds that have fish because fish will eat them and their eggs. They lay their eggs one at a time on underwater pond plants. The young, when hatched have gills but develop or metamorphose into what are called efts. After a few months they lose their gills, develop a tougher skin and then leave the water for land.

On land, they become a gardeners friend. If you forget to move a downed tree limb, don’t have time to rake away all the leaves from corners or fences, don’t bother to burn a brush pile, the efts will move in, quietly living there eating small snails and insects. Then after a couple or three years, the eft matures and returns to the water. You can’t see it in these photos, but the underside, is a bright orange. A good thing, too, for it was that orange belly that got my attention and saved its life.

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