Smooth Newt and Newtsex Models

by Bob Schwartz

Sometimes posts don’t make it to the blog on time. The Republican Presidential primaries moved so fast that yesterday’s hot item becomes tomorrow’s “Who?” or “Who cares?” in a flash. Newt Gingrich is back in the news today, with the apparent collapse of his business mini-empire. This is in no way kicking a man when he’s done, since it is simply fascinating, not critical.

For those who think that “Smooth Newt” and “Newtsex Models” refer to something about a Presidential candidate, you are in for a shock. They are in fact references to four Newtsex models (known as Mark I, II, III and IV) that are part of a very sophisticated biological study of the courtship of the smooth newt (triturus vulgaris). The article How Long Will Newts Wait? explains:

The Newtsex model simulates the behavioural transition between two parts of newt courtship, Retreat Display and Creep, and models the interaction between four causal factors: the behaviour of the female, the male’s spermatophore supply, his need for oxygen, and feedback from the male’s own behaviour. The model predicts that, if feedback from the female is withheld at a critical point (Tail-touch), the male will revert from Creep to Retreat Display after an interval, the duration of which is proportional to his spermatophore supply. The results of an experiment in which the female’s behaviour was controlled support this prediction, but a high level of variance in the results suggests that respiratory constraints on male courtship behaviour require further investigation. (Behaviour, March 1991)

Newtsex. Tail-touch. Creep. Retreat Display. This is science. You cannot make this stuff up.