Found a small, brown, cold-blooded animal and not sure what it might be? You're not alone! We hear from lots of people every spring who are unsure about what they've spotted. Our guide looks at the telltale signs for separating your newts from your lizards.

Newt or lizard: how to tell the difference


Perhaps the most telling difference between newts and lizards is their speed. If you've managed to get up close and personal, chances are you've found a newt! 

Lizards are reptiles. They bask in sunny spots to warm up and stay active. When warm, the slightest disturbance can send them scurrying for cover. Often a rustle of grass and the glimpse of a disappearing tail is all the encounter you'll get!

Newts are amphibians and are much slower on land. 


Newts are of course associated with water and breed readily in garden ponds. But they can be found on land too, particularly during the colder months. Newts overwinter in soil and in damp, sheltered spots, such as beneath rocks, plant pots and paving slabs. As the weather starts to warm they then travel over land to breeding sites.

Common lizards are less likely to be found in most gardens. Heath and moorland, grassland and woodland with plenty of rides, glades and sunny edges are their preferred habitat. 


Common lizards are protected by well-defined scales all over their body. Newts however have softer, damper skin. Smooth newts, as their name suggests, have a smooth appearance. Great crested newts are covered in small, warty bumps.


Newts have blunt, rounded heads compared to the more pointed snouts of lizards. They also have only four toes on each front foot. Common lizards have five, tipped with tiny claws.

During the breeding season, male smooth newts also develop wavy crests along their back.

It is not uncommon to find lizards with blunt, stubby tails. They are able to shed the ends of their tails when threatened, leaving behind a wriggly distraction for predators as they make a quick getaway. Newly regrown tails are often darker than the rest of the lizard's body.


Adult common lizards reach up to 15cm in length from nose to tail. Common newts are generally smaller, around 10cm long, and great crested newts can reach a pretty impressive 17cm.

Our British newt identification guide has more detail to help you sort newts by species.

Record newts on Nature’s Calendar

The Nature’s Calendar project tracks the effects of weather and climate change on wildlife across the UK. Its records date all the way back to 1736. The emergence of newts is one of more than 150 wildlife events recorded for the project.

Take part in Nature’s Calendar to record your first sightings of newts and add to this important bank of records. The information you give us helps us to better understand the effects of climate change and other patterns in the natural environment. By taking just a few minutes to share what you see, you'll be adding to hundreds of years' worth of important data.

Visiting woods

Nature's Calendar

Help monitor the effects of climate change on wildlife near you. Your records contribute to a growing body of evidence on global warming.

Add your wildlife recordings

Brush up on more identification skills