Smooth Newt - Triturus vulgaris
This species is believed to have been one of the first vertebrates to colonise Ireland after the last Ice Age. They are extremely common creatures in Wicklow, and are very quick to colonise new ponds or pools built in rural gardens. Newts can easily go undetected, as they spend a lot of time in the water and are not nearly as large, so noisy and so extroverted as frogs. The female reaches about 8cm from nose to tail-tip, and the male rarely reaches more than 10cm.
You are most likely to see them between March and the end of July, when they start to show up in ponds and slow-moving rivers to breed. The females are quite small, drab and delicate-looking, and not nearly so colourful as the males when the breeding season begins and they turn bluish, with bold black spots, crests stretching from the base of their necks to the tips of their tails, and firey-orange bellies, like the one shown in the photograph, which was rescued from a cat.
Colour seems to be important to the females, and mating involves the male twisting and "dancing" in front of the female and then depositing a special pod of sperm on a rock or pebble. This pod, known as a spermatophore, is then picked up by the female with her cloaca, a small opening beneath her. This method of reproduction is one of the strangest of any vertebrate animal, and remarkably similar to the manner in which scorpions mate.
Sometimes Smooth Newts are also found under stones or blocks of wood, where they resemble tiny brownish lizards and are nothing like their breeding condition. In all cases they are best seen at night, when they hunt small invertebrates.