For the Birds: Efts and mushrooms make for a very orange walk

Photo by Chris Bosak An eft works its way across a path in New England, fall 2021.

Orange was the color of the day during a recent morning walk in the woods.

It had rained overnight and the trails were damp in most places and puddled in others. I got a flash of excitement when I saw my first eft. Then I saw another. Then another. Efts were underfoot on every fifth or sixth step.

Efts are eastern newts in the terrestrial stage. Some are brownish but most are bright orange and, despite their small size, very visible on paths in the woods. They can be found any day from late spring into fall, but damp weather is when you are most likely to find them, even if you aren’t looking for them.

Newts have four distinct stages, or life cycles. Females lay eggs on aquatic vegetation in the spring. A month to five weeks later, the eggs hatch and the newts live in water for a few months. At this larval stage, they are less than 1 inch long and have feathery gills. In the fall, they shed their gills, crawl onto land and live as efts for about three or four years. They spend New England’s harsh winters hibernating under logs or rocks.

They are relatively slow-footed, brightly colored and highly conspicuous when crossing trails or other areas void of vegetation. It would seem to be a recipe for disaster with all the predators lurking in the woods, but remember, bright colors in nature are often a warning to stay away. Efts also have black spots, further warning would-be predators of their toxicity. Indeed, efts secrete a poison from their skin and are most toxic during this terrestrial stage.

Speaking of predators in the woods, efts themselves are carnivorous hunters. They wander the floor of the woods looking for insects, small worms, snails and other small prey.

Finally, the eft returns to the water as a mature newt and lives out its days in an aquatic world. Its tail is flattened and they are tannish or olive green. They range in size from just under 3 inches to a bit over 5 inches.

I watched my steps carefully on this day as the efts were out in force. This particular park is popular with mountain bikers, and I tried not to think of the toll that activity plays on the eft population on damp days.

I continued my walk and noticed a few leaves changing, mostly to orange. Swampy areas tend to change color earliest, and several maples in the swamp were showing off already.

On previous days, I had noticed clumps of shiny, bright orange mushrooms. As I continued this current walk, I saw these fungi from time to time. Then I came across a huge jumble of these mushrooms. The orange cluster in the woods caught my eye from dozens of yards away.

I photographed the clumping from different angles with my phone. From below the mushroom heads, the thick forest of stems seemed to be home to a magical world. What was in this magical world, I have no idea, but a poet or children’s book author certainly could have drawn inspiration from it.

From what I could tell based on an Internet search, they looked like jack-o’-lantern mushrooms. I’m not a mushroom expert (not even close), so I’m not positive of that ID and would never offer advice on whether they, or any mushroom, are edible. One of my pandemic hobbies was to expand my knowledge of edible plants and nuts in New England, but I steer clear of mushrooms. I’m sure mushroom harvesting is a fulfilling and exciting hobby, but given the potential consequences of being wrong, I’ll continue to get my mushrooms from the grocery store.

Greens, browns, grays and blues dominate the New England landscape. Splashes of orange were a welcomed change of pace on this day.

Photo by Chris Bosak Orange mushrooms grow in New England, fall 2021.
Photo by Chris Bosak Orange mushrooms grow in New England, fall 2021.

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