Newts are small amphibians with long tails and bright skin colors. If you’ve seen a newt in your backyard or garden, you may have wondered how these little creatures get around. Do newts crawl like lizards and snakes? Or do they have a different way of moving?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: While newts can crawl short distances using their legs, they actually have a distinctive ‘walking’ gait underwater thanks to their webbed feet and large tails that propel them forward. On land, they prefer to creep along slowly rather than crawl.

In this nearly 3,000 word guide, we’ll take an in-depth look at how newts move both in the water and on land. We’ll cover everything you need to know about newt locomotion, from their specialized adaptations for aquatic movement to their slower, more laborious terrestrial gaits.

Newt Adaptations for Efficient Aquatic Movement

Webbed Feet and Large Tail Fins

Newts have several key adaptations that allow them to move efficiently in water. One of the most noticeable is their webbed feet. A newt’s toes are connected by thin flaps of skin called webbing. This webbing allows them to paddle through the water, similar to a paddle boat.

With each kick, the webbing pushes against the water, propelling the newt forward. According to the San Diego Zoo, the large webbed feet give newts excellent mobility in water while also aiding in swimming and floating.

In addition to webbed feet, most newts also have large, vertically flattened tails. These tail fins function similar to the tails on fish, providing locomotion through the water. Research shows that over 70% of forward thrust for swimming newts is created by lateral movements of their powerful tails. As newts swing their tails side-to-side, the tail fins push against the water, driving them forward.

The tail fins tend to be proportionally larger on aquatic newt species compared to semi-aquatic or terrestrial species.

Side-to-Side Body Motions

Interestingly, newts don’t typically swim by moving their limbs up and down or “dog paddling” like some other amphibians. Instead, most species rely predominantly on lateral undulation of their entire body to push them through the water.

This side-to-side wave-like motion begins at the head and travels back toward the tail, getting amplified by the tail fin.

Sustained lateral undulation allows newts to keep moving forward without pausing between limb strokes. Researchers have found this makes lateral undulation the most hydrodynamically efficient mode of swimming for most aquatic amphibian species. Terrestrial salamanders use their limbs for swimming, but aquatic and semi-aquatic newts favor lateral undulation to maximize their speed and mobility in water.

Newt Species Average Swimming Speed
Smooth Newt 0.5 body lengths/second
Alpine Newt 0.8 body lengths/second

As the table shows, the speed at which a newt can swim depends largely on the species. But lateral undulation allows most species to travel efficiently at a pace suitable for migration, predator evasion, and finding food within their aquatic habitats.

To learn more about newt adaptations for life in the water, visit the Caudates of the World ecophysiology website.

Characteristics of Newt Movement on Land

Creeping and Crawling Motions

When not in the water, newts move through a combination of creeping and crawling motions. They tend to lift their bellies off the ground and propel themselves using primarily their sturdy front and hind limbs (Jehle et al. 2000).

This allows them to navigate a variety of terrestrial habitats effectively in search of food, mates, shelter, or to migrate between aquatic habitats. According to a study published in Herpetological Journal, adult great crested newts (Triturus cristatus) were capable of moving up to 145 meters away from their breeding pond over land to reach other small water bodies or sheltering habitats in a UK wetland area (Jehle 2000).

Newts may alternate between brief pauses and rapid bursts of crawling depending on environmental conditions. A study observing newts in laboratory conditions found they moved in sporadic bursts averaging about 6 seconds, with resting periods of 15-30 seconds between bouts of locomotion (Azizi and Landberg 2002).

Terrestrial activity levels also vary significantly by season, as newts are prone to losing moisture and overheating out of water during hot, dry weather (Schabetsberger et al. 2004).

Seasonal Variations in Terrestrial Activity

Newts that live in temperate climates typically spend October-March in a dormant state during cold winter months, taking shelter under logs or rocks and emerging when temperatures warm in early spring (March-May depending on location and species).

They are most active moving over land to and from breeding ponds during the spring/summer breeding season which occurs April-August for most species (Sinsch 2014).

According to a radiotelemetry study on smooth newts (Lissotriton vulgaris) in the UK, these newts spent 85% of days during April-August moving over land, but remained dormant nearly year-round from November-February (Jehele 2000).

This corresponds with seasonal requirements to mate and then prepare for overwinter dormancy. Newts have also demonstrated surprising durability crossing inhospitable habitats between fragmented aquatic sites.

One study tracked great crested newts traversing over 500 meters of dry grassland habitat with little cover to reach isolated breeding ponds (Jehle and Arntzen 2000).

Differences Between Newt, Salamander, and Lizard Movement

Newts vs. Other Salamanders

When it comes to movement, newts stand out from their close salamander relatives in a few key ways. While most salamanders move in a “walk” or “trot” motion, newts tend to crawl instead. Their bellies drag on the ground and they pull themselves forward using their limbs (kind of like an army crawl! ).

Newts also have some unique adaptations that aid this crawling movement:

  • Wider feet for gripping surfaces as they pull themselves along
  • A more tapered body shape to squeeze into tight spaces
  • Slightly webbed toes for swimming (many newt species live both on land and in the water)

The mucus covering a newt’s skin is also thicker and more sticky than other salamanders. This helps their bellies slide smoothly instead of getting caught on rocks and sticks.

Newts vs. Lizards and Snakes

While newts crawl on their bellies, most lizards and snakes walk on their feet or “scurry” across the ground. Skinks are an exception – they move in a snakelike motion, pulling themselves forward with their bellies on the ground.

So newts have more similarities to some lizard species than others when it comes to getting around.

Newt Lizard (e.g. gecko) Skink
Type of movement Crawl on belly Walk/run on feet Snake-like crawl
Speed Slow (🐢) Varies by species Moderate

As the table shows, newts and skinks have more similar movement styles since they both crawl on their bellies to get around. 👍 However, newts tend to be slower overall – they creep along at a snail’s pace compared to the quicker skinks!

Some key differences from snakes: newts have visible legs and feet, while snakes do not. Newts also have moist/mucus-covered skin rather than the dry, scaly skin of snakes. So they leave a distinctive “slime trail” when moving around on land!


In this guide, we took a granular look at how newts move both on land and in water. While they do sometimes crawl short distances on land using an awkward gait, newts are much better suited for an aquatic lifestyle.

Their specialized adaptations like webbed feet and large tail fins allow them to ‘walk’ smoothly underwater via lateral undulations of their long bodies.

Newts demonstrate a range of fascinating locomotive abilities across different environments. Hopefully this overview gave you a better understanding of how these tiny amphibians get around. Next time you see a newt creeping through the grass or paddling in a pond, take a moment to observe its distinctive movements!

Similar Posts