It rained last night, and this morning our road was covered with efts (pronounced “eefts” around here). They’re juvenile spotted newts, about an inch long, who were born in fresh water, probably the pond across the road, and emerged a month or so later to spend the next 3 or 4 years on land before returning to their wet world.
You can’t miss them. They’re bright orange-red. Old-timers might call them cunning, which used to mean “cute” or “beguiling.” My mother-in-law, a pediatrician, used the word when she held newborn babies: “Isn’t she cunning!” When I hold an eft in the palm of my hand, I stare at its tiny toes with the same astonishment and delight.
Efts need moisture to survive; during a dry spell, they crawl under the leaf mold. If they’re not quick, we find them on the road. They’re no longer cunning as little hardened orange-red commas. Although their bright color warns some predators that they are toxic, most efts don’t survive on land. They’re eaten by birds and lizards or crushed by cars. Those who make it back to the pond turn olive-green and spend the rest of their lives in water.
Efts, according to biologists, are economically valuable because they eat mosquito larvae. We should give them credit for being cunning, too.