Peasant: She turned me into a newt!
Sir Bedevere: A newt?
… … … …
Peasant: I got better.
The entire scene from which that bit of dialogue comes, in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, is one of my favorite scenes ever from a movie. The absurdity of mob rule is summed up well, I think, by the idea of a fully healthy human male saying out loud, as evidence of a woman being a witch, that “She turned me into a newt!” But what, exactly, is a newt?
Newts are salamanders, or, more precisely, newts are salamanders with three life phases – an aquatic larva phase, a land-living juvenile phase, and an adult phase that can be aquatic, or on land (though they return to water to breed). That is, all newts are salamanders but not all salamanders are newts. Newts can be found in Asia, Europe, and North America. The most familiar newt in eastern North America, where I live, is the Red Eft, which is the juvenile form of the Red-spotted Newt Notophthalmus viridescens, which is in the above image. The Smooth Newt Lissotriton vulgaris is the most common newt across most of Europe, and is also, as a matter of fact, called the Common Newt, and is most likely the type of newt that a witch would turn a peasant into in England. You can see what that one looks like in the image below.
Of course, there are many more kinds of newts (There are fourteen genera of newts!) but those two seem to be the two species that most people are likely to encounter or be turned into by witches. So, remember, don’t anger any witches and if you think someone is a witch just see if you can figure out if she weighs less than a duck.
Now get out there and find a newt! Who knows, it might be the victim of a vindictive witch!