Orange underbelly with black spots
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I still see this as Palmate, despite being heavily outnumbered in the voting. The crucial bit to see is not shown - the underside. But I see in these shots none of the strong colour or large spots on the throat that Smooth should have. In the RH pic especially I would expect to see some evidence of these in a Smooth. And the hind feet and tail look awfully like a male Palmate.
If someone can point out the error I will swap sides!
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Like you, I noticed the tail filament and thought it was a Palmate. However, all my books say that the hind feet on the Palmate should be webbed - which in my photos, I can see they are not in this specimen. Also the belly was very orange when I picked it up (to save it from very narrowly being squashed by a car).
Palmate has yellow or orange belly, but it lacks large and obvious black spots there and on the throat. Smooth has very large black spots on the belly and throat. Both the tail filament and the webs in Palmate depend on the degree of development of breeding readiness. If Smooth, I think you would have said 'the belly had big black spots' rather than 'it was very orange'.
I must admit the tail filament (if it is one - I wasn't 100% sure)and absence of a crest would suggest a male Palmate. So outnumbered or not you will probably be proved right!
I think I'm more confused about the ID than when I started!
I'm going with Syrphus here and saying "male Palmate". The pattern of the double row of spots along the tail is typically Palmate. The tail filament is small but it is there - another feature of the Palmate newt and never seen in Smooth newts, though these filaments can get broken off.
Looking at the rear feet causes a bit of a problem, though they are not at the best angle to see any webbing. Although the "classic" photo of a male palmate will show a full set of "ducks foot" webbing, if you look through the range of Palmate photos on the web you can see that not all of the males have this in full, you can see toes with partial webbing and toes that look a bit broadened.
I would suggest that this is male Palmate just beginning to develop his breeding dress - it is an early season photo, particularly for Scotland. We can see the spot pattern and the start of the filament on the tail, but little webbing on the hind feet.
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This discussion shows the difficulty of identifying any Lissotriton which are not males in full breeding condition. It is usually unwise to be certain of species with other states unless you see the underside, and with small juveniles not necessarily even then.
Smooth usually have large and heavy black spots below, and a distinctly creamy throat with spots. Sometimes the spots are reduced in size or darkness. Palmate may have small weak spots at the sides of the belly, but nothing significant elsewhere below, and a +- colourless translucent throat.
A fairly good pointer is habitat - Smooth is a beast of lowland sites with a relatively high pH. Palmate is the only one likely to be found in more acid peaty waters. This explains why Palmate is overwhelmingly the commoner over most of Scotland (compare the NBN Gateway maps).
I still hold with my original ID, but perhaps the correct and prudent ID should be just to the genus.
For me this is still easily identified as a male palmate due to the pattern of spots on the tail. There is a lot of confusion about the small newts, but I would suggest that with practice you can identify them all with reasonable confidence. I do a lot of newt surveys in a professional and voluntary capacity and have seen tens of thousands of each. It's taken me a few years but I would say I can identify 90% of individuals (including females) without having to look at the underside (which can actually be very misleading as I have seen many smooth newts without spotted chins). So... practice makes perfect with these...
I've only just come across this one; as has already been said this just goes to show how, even with good photos like these it can be very difficult to separate the two (palmate and smooth newt).
Not much to add, it has all been said other than to say I agree with this being a male palmate newt coming into breeding condition. Also both males and females have a dark line through the eye and to reiterate only males in breeding condition have the webbing on the hind feet.
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