Eye of Newt

Eye of newt, and toe of frog, Wool of bat, and tongue of dog, Adder’s fork, and blind worm’s sting, Lizard’s leg, and owlet’s wing, For a charm of powerful trouble, Like a hell-broth boil and bubble. Double, double, toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

~William Shakespeare

I went camping last weekend with friends in the mountains of Virginia in Jefferson National Forest. We hiked a few trails in the area near Mountain Lake and I carried my macro set-up (Canon 7D, Canon 100mm lens, and Twin Light) on every trail in hopes of capturing a few close ups. After a heavy downpour Saturday night, we broke camp Sunday morning and headed to a beautiful spot called Glen Alton.

Glen Alton

Restored buildings at Glen Alton (click photo to enlarge)

This area had been the farm and weekend retreat of a local businessman until the Forest Service acquired it in 1999. The buildings have been restored and it is beautifully maintained with a nice trail system and several wetlands and ponds, a true hidden jewel.

Trailside plants at Glen Alton

Lush vegetation along one of the trails at Glen Alton

wetlands at Glen Alton

There is an impressive wetlands about a mile down the trail at Glen Alton

Rain clouds began moving in as we headed back to the cars Sunday morning, giving the landscape a certain moodiness in colors and shapes.

Red-spotted Newt

Red-spotted Newt crossing the trail

As we walked, someone spotted something in the trail – a red eft, the juvenile stage of the Red-spotted Newt, Notophthalmus viridescens. After hatching from eggs in water, newt larvae exist as aquatic animals with gills for a few months before transforming to the terrestrial efts. The eft stage can last up to several years before they again transform to a more aquatic adult phase which is olive green/brown in color. I bent down to take a couple of images and when I looked at  the camera screen I noticed something I had never really paid attention to before…

Red-spotted Newt close up of eye

Close up of newt eye

Their eyes are so strange-looking. My first reaction was that it looks like a tiny open set of black jaws. The pupils have jagged horizontal streaks running through them….how strange is the eye of newt (no wonder it was used in potions). The generic name, Notophthalmus, is likely derived from the Greek ophthalmos, meaning eye, and may be a reference to the eye-like red spots on the dorsal surface of both the adult and juvenile forms, or perhaps just pays homage to their odd eyeballs.

Red-spotted Newt close up of eye 1

A few steps down the trail we ran across another, brighter orange, red eft.

We saw several red efts in the next few minutes, some much brighter orange than the first, and all with the weird eyes. It just goes to show you, even someone that spends a lot of time outdoors can always find something new when you simply look more closely at something. I have seen many newts in the past, but just never paid attention to their unusual eyes. When I got home, I Googled newt eyes and horizontal pupils, but never really found anything that discussed the function of the unusual pupil shape. What I did learn was that the eye of newt in the witches’ recipe in Macbeth probably referred to a eye-like seed of a medicinal plant, rather than an actual salamander eye. And, researchers have shown that one species of newt has an amazing ability to regenerate eye lens tissue repeatedly over a span of many years. Research of tissue regeneration in newts may even hold promise for studies on human cell regeneration.

So, with all that focus on newt eyes, it caused me to look at my other images from the trip in a different light. I found that there was almost a theme of eyes in the images my lens had captured. So, let’s take a peek at a few of the eyes I encountered on the trails last weekend…

Ebony Jewelwing silhouette

Bulging eyes of an Ebony Jewelwing damselfly silhouetted on a back lit leaf

eye of male box turtle

Red eye of a male Eastern Box Turtle

Jumping spider, Thiodina sp

Multiple eyes of a Jumping Spider, genus Thiodona

unid fly

Unidentified fly eyes

Striped Hairstreak

This faded hairstreak butterfly (probably a Striped Hairstreak) has fake eye spots and antennae on the hind wings (the antennae are almost worn off and the eye spots are very faint). Hairstreaks even rub their hind wings back and forth to make their fake antennae more life-like. This may provide some protection by fooling predators into striking a less vital part of the butterfly, allowing it to escape.


1 thought on “Eye of Newt

  1. wow! It seems that all species are drawn to check out eyes; must be hard-wired into the brain for survival; the eyes give us so much information. Thank you so much for these beautiful images!

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