Newt news

It is this time of year when the California newt is on the move. Adults are crawling out from under their rocks and heading toward the closest pond to find a mate. A great find on a February hike.

The rains have come and the ground is wet. Fungus and lichen grace the forest floor.

The winter rains of Northern California bring moist conditions to our parched land, filling up shallow meadows and ponds, providing perfect breeding grounds for the California newt.

There are 100 known species of newts in the world, found in North America, Europe, North Africa, and Asia. The California newt, Taricha torosa, is found only in California and is our most common newt.

Interesting info:

This week, Athena saw a newt on one of our trails. One rainy night a few years ago, we found this pair in our yard.

They are sometimes mistaken for a lizard, but a newt is not a lizard. A lizard is a reptile; whereas a newt is an amphibian in the salamander family.

The newt has an impressive amphibian ability of living on land and water. They are semiaquatic, spending part of the year in water for reproduction, then living on land for the rest of the year.

Their permeable skin makes them reliant on cool, damp places like this.

Unless you scramble around in stream beds lifting up rocks, newts are not easy to find. They stay hidden most of their lives in moist environments, under logs and rocks. They are also quiet creatures. But at this time of year when the ground is wet and they are on their breeding trek, we are granted an occasional sighting.

The California newt is a small creature, ranging in length from 5 to 8 inches (13-20 cm). They have four short legs and move very slowly. If I didn’t know better, when I am watching one it seems like the whole world is in slow motion. One leg lifts…pauses mid-air…goes down…then another leg lifts…pauses mid-air…goes down.

Quite miraculously, they will travel on their short, sluggish legs up to 2.5 miles (4 km) to their breeding grounds.

Though the California newt moves slowly, it has few predators due to its toxic skin. It produces poisonous skin secretions, called tetrodotoxin, repelling most predators. This neurotoxin can cause death in most animals, including humans, if eaten.

One year we found this adult and eft (juvenile) in an underground well tank.

In nearby Berkeley, California, every year from November 1 to March 31, a main thoroughfare in Tilden Park is closed to vehicular traffic exclusively to protect the California newt. For 20 years the Park District has closed South Park Drive to allow newts a safe terrestrial journey as they march to their breeding grounds.

When the newts finally reach their aquatic breeding environment, mating occurs. Then, much like their their fellow amphibian the frog, the eggs stay in the water and a few weeks later the larvae hatch. Larvae undergo metamorphosis, developing legs and lungs. In this process, which takes about two weeks, their gills are no longer needed and are absorbed into the body. When they are fully metamorphosed, they leave the water and begin life on land.

So when we see a beautiful newt on the rainy forest floor, it is a marvel to behold. Tiny little legs on a mission to perpetuate their species. They can breathe under water and then on land. And though they are small creatures, they can kill just about anybody who dares to mess with them.

A tip of the hat to this amazing creature.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

102 thoughts on “Newt news

    • We get pretty excited around here when we are graced with rain, Tim. So every mushroom and newt and mossy rock is a glorious sight. I’m glad you enjoyed them here today with me, thank you.

    • Then I’m really glad I could introduce you to one of earth’s distinguished characters, Ingrid. We get almost giddy when the rains come these days. Years ago it was a winter regularity; but nowadays it’s a blessing, for we hope what you hope. Many thanks, Ingrid.

    • I would imagine newts think we humans are a little creepy with our giant bodies and deathly vehicular machines, so I guess this makes it even, Bill. Thank you for stopping by.

  1. What a fun and interesting read Jet and I have experienced the closure of South Park Drive many times as it was my route to work. During closure it would be a favorite place to walk our dogs with no cars and a retrieve from muddy trails. It was always a treat to spot a newt crossing !

    • Oh how I loved hearing about your experiences on South Park Drive during newt season, Maria. With the newt’s slow movement, it is easy for them to get run over by a car, so I think this road closure that the Park District’s been doing for two decades now, is terrific. Glad to hear it’s fun for the residents, too. Thanks so much, Ria.

  2. Something we really don’t have around here. I enjoyed learning a bit more about them. It seems early for amphibian shenanegans. No sign of our little frogs and toads for a few more months. Whenever I hear about newts, my mind immediately goes to Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

  3. I’ll confess it. When I saw your title, I thought, “Has Jet gone political?” Thank goodness you weren’t writing about Newt Gingrich! These creatures are much more fascinating. I knew the word for a juvenile is ‘eft,’ but the details you provided about the life cycle are intriguing. I was quite taken with your description of their slow movements. I never would have expected that — no wonder they need a little help getting to their breeding grounds!

    • Hi Linda. As always, I totally enjoyed your comment. I am a political person and can get going on rampages, but I keep it strictly apolitical here, for calmness. Your comment made me chuckle, and I agree, the Calif. newts are far more interesting. When I read up on the newts, no one says how slow they are, and whenever I have seen one, they’ve been super slow, which I, too, find interesting. Many thanks, my friend.

  4. Those images of the Newts are wonderful. I haven’t seen one in ages! The information is quite interesting. I didn’t know that the juveniles are called Eft! You learn something new every day!

    I loved the mushrooms. Too bad the fairies were feeling shy and weren’t home. πŸ˜€

  5. My guess is one needs a keen eye to spot the wee newt. I love that the road you mentioned in Berkeley closes each year to protect them. incredible that they can travel such distances.
    At first glance of the ‘newt’ in your title I thought of ‘eye of newt’ for the witches brew recipe. hopefully these Californian lovelies stay safely out of the cauldron.

    • It’s fun to think about newt references, and I enjoyed your reminder of the witch’s brew SO much, Sue. And I’m with you, I think it’s so great that the Park District keeps South Park Drive in Tilden Park closed for the newts during breeding. So very wonderful to chat with you this morning, my warmest thanks.

    • Oh how exciting that I could share the marvel of the newt crossing on South Park Drive with you, Jan, so close to where you live. I lived in the Berkeley Hills in the 1990s and got to see this phenomenon then, and I’m so amazed it still happens. One day you might enjoy a walk along there, maybe you’ll see a Calif. newt on the road. I hope so. Great to hear from you, thanks so much.

  6. Your local newts are quite handsome. It is interesting that their breeding season is months long. The yellow-spotted salamanders here tend to emerge all at once (at least 80%) on the first ‘warm’ (40s) rainy night in late March or rarely, early April. Volunteers stand ready around that time to receive the call that they are on the move and will guard certain portions of roads near vernal pools that are known salamander crossings. Wearing gloves and headlamps, they escort each critter safely across. They act as traffic cops, too, slowing or halting traffic to ensure roadkill is minimal. Personally, I try not to drive on warm, rainy nights at all because frogs and toads come out in summer as well. Being hyper-alert and swerving to avoid encounters is rather taxing!

    • I truly enjoyed hearing an account of your yellow-spotted salamanders, Eliza, thanks so very much. And how incredible it is that you have volunteers assisting the salamanders as they make their way to their breeding grounds. This was a real high point for me, Eliza, this news and the goodwill…thank you.

  7. I loved reading about these β€œno rush and don’t mess with us” little creatures! Your description of their unhurried movement was wonderful. Enjoyed the accompanying photographs, all adding up to a delightful piece about damp dwelling life. Thanks, Jet, for the good newts bulletin!

    • Yes the newts really are “no rush and don’t mess with us” creatures, I liked your description, pc, it gave me a smile. What a great thrill to share the great newts with you, my friend. Sending a smile your way….

  8. They were the inventors of the dance for every wedding reception named “Conga”… I think? That was the the way you described their walk anyway! Seriously, I hardly see newts, or look for them under rocks, even when I could find some friends of mine. I enjoyed your post very much, my friend. πŸ™‚

  9. I might as well enjoy the newts here as I’m not going to be spotting any in our backyard!! πŸ™‚ I especially like that first shot of the newts and the first of the mushrooms. It’s amazing how quickly mushrooms will sprout. I enjoyed hunting for edible mushrooms in France with my sister-in-law who knew which ones were good and safe to eat.

    Newts always remind me of Gussie Fink-Nottle in the “Jeeves and Wooster” episodes with Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry: ( Gussie’s claim to fame was studying newts. We’ve enjoyed the entire series many times.


    • I enjoyed your input today on the newts, Janet, from your liking the photos, to comments on mushrooms, to hunting edible mushrooms in France. I am not familiar with the Jeeves and Wooster episodes but was glad you included a link. Looks like a fun series, including Gussie’s studying of newts. Thanks so very much for this fun and lively comment.

  10. Fascinating information. Especially that slow pace. Very cool that they are protected that way during migration. Around here, we have to be careful in October when the tarantulas are crossing roads to look for mates. I also recall in Costa Rica that the land crabs had a problem with crossing roads, too.

    • In the course of today’s post I heard from a blogging friend in the NE about the salamander crossings, and now you about tarantulas in Oct. and land crabs in Costa Rica. I think it’s absolutely wonderful that people take an interest in protecting our animal friends on the move. Thanks so very much, Eilene, for sharing this info.

    • I’m sure if you witnessed a newt doing a “slow-mo strut,” Donna, that you would garner some fantastic photos. I hope someday you have that pleasure, but meanwhile, how fun that you stopped by for the newt news. Thanks so much.

  11. When my daughter was young, she had a pet newt. I have no idea which kind it was. We kept it in an aquarium with a lid because it had tiny suction cup feet and could climb up the glass and escape really well. One time, we looked and looked and couldn’t find it, and my daughter was really upset. when I went to empty a lunch bag from her trash, though, something rattled in it, and when I looked, it was her newt–totally dried out. I didn’t know what to do, so tossed it back in the water part of her aquarium, and by the time she came home, it had puffed up and was fine again. I’ll never forget that. Really enjoyed your post.

    • My mouth fell open when reading this, Judi. What a great story about life and newts and recovering. Thanks so very much for taking the time to share this amazing human and newt story. Wonderful!

  12. OMG look at those photos! Great captures that illustrate so finely nature’s activity.
    There they are making their presence know! Thank you so much dear friend for
    continuing the story of life on Earth. love, Eddie

    • Dear Eddie, a great joy to receive your comment. I, too, think those photos are so fun. Athena was on her belly one night in the pouring rain to get some of those photos. The newts don’t come to visit us too much, so I’m glad she did it. This “story of life on Earth” is a great joy to share with you, my friend…thank you.

  13. Love newts and enjoyed reading the natural history of your California species, Jet, and seeing Athena’s images. Besides the yellow spotted salamanders that Eliza mentioned above (we live near each other a few towns apart) we also have eastern red-spotted newts which have similar behaviors. As young ones they are known as red efts (although they are more orange than red) and may stay immature for several years before reaching adulthood. They also move slowly…unless you are trying to photograph one and it suddenly is able to move too quickly for my liking.Here’s one of ours. I find them often on my hikes on dirt roads and have to watch my step. πŸ™‚

  14. Interesting, as always… and lovely photos. I had to laugh at your line…
    “Unless you scramble around in stream beds lifting up rocks…”
    b/c that’s the kind of stuff you guys actually do! And I’m so grateful.
    Enjoy the rainy season!

    • Dear Nan, you know me well. The beauty of the wet season is that we can lift up rocks without having to worry about rattlesnakes. When it’s hot and dry, we don’t lift rocks. It’s not something either of us learned to do until about 10 years ago when some young teenage boys from Canada, who were reptile and amphibian fans, did it on one of our group walks. There’s all kinds of interesting creatures under rocks! (I do, however, only do it with gloves on.) Thanks so very much for your visit and comment.

    • You are an outdoor naturalist with great experience, Cindy, so that you have never seen newts or salamanders surprises me. But I know you have lived in numerous places, and assume you lived where there are none. If you are still living in Calif., now is a good time to seek out the Calif. newt, as you now know. I SO hope you get the honor. Thanks so much.

  15. Your posts always get me in the mood for meditations on the world beyond & close at hand. Newts and salamanders cycle annually from the water to the land, the way that all of life once did, but through the eons. Wonderful, and thank you for sharing!

    • I’m honored to hear that my posts get you meditating on life and its cycles, near and far, Walt. It’s my favorite aspect of nature. No matter what is happening in my world or the big world, I can always find peace in nature (except when it whoops my butt, which has happened plenty of times, as I’m sure it has to you, too…lol). Thanks for your lovely words, my friend.

    • I’m happy you appreciated that first photo of the newt pair, Jane. Being a skilled photographer, you can imagine what it took to get this. Athena was on her belly in the pouring rain on a black winter night. “It’s important to be on their level,” said Athena. I’m heading over your way to partake of some of your talent and wisdom. Thanks so much, Jane.

  16. I’ve never seen a newt or a salamander in the wild. My parents identified a tiny creature I found in our damp basement as a salamander so that size (maybe an inch long) and shape was the impression left in my mind. I was surprised to see the size of your newts! Doing a little research I learned now that we have only one kind of newt in Connecticut (the eastern, or red-spotted newt) which can be up to 4 inches long! And we have 12 kinds of salamanders. I will have to keep my eyes open for them this spring. Thanks for introducing me to your California newts! Fascinating creatures… And I love those little mushrooms coming put of the tree stump.

    • It warms my heart to hear that this post inspired you to look up salamanders in your area, Barbara. I liked the basement story, too. When all the snow is gone and winter has passed out there in Connecticut, and spring has finally arrived, I hope you are blessed with the sighting of a red-spotted newt. Somehow, I think it will happen. Cheers to you, Barbara.

    • I, too, am so happy they are still closing the road in Tilden Park, Andrea. I lived in that area in the 1990s, and remember the newt-closed road well. I live 50 miles away now and haven’t heard anything about it, so imagine my delight when I was thinking about the newts and researching for this post, to find that the park still does it! A joy to see you, Andrea, thank you.

    • I can imagine how much you enjoyed the newt news, Dawn Renee, for you are such a lizard fan. My thanks for your fun comment and visit. I’m looking forward to warmer days when our lizards are out again, but we had a warm day over the weekend and one came out, and that was a lovely surprise. I hope you are having a lovely surprise or two these days, too.

  17. Enjoyed learning about the newt and loved the title! Athena’s photos of the newts and forest are stunning and it was wonderful to read about the environmental actions to protect them on their journeys. I know you enjoyed the game and it appears you may have a chance to wear that #12 jersey for a few more years!

    • Your visit was a joy, ACI, thanks so much for stopping by. The newts were really fun to write about and I’m glad you enjoyed the post and Athena’s photos. The big game was indeed fun. I also like watching Mahomes play, so much talent and athleticism, and the Chiefs. It was too bad they didn’t play as great as usual. But you know me and my salute to Tom Brady, so yes, it was great seeing him win another Super Bowl, and I’m looking forward to wearing my #12 jersey in the future. I hope you and Harper had a fun day with the Super Bowl and the Puppy Bowl. Many thanks!

  18. This is the first time I’m hearing of the California newt. Interesting to hear it is not a lizard but an amphibian. It sounds small but mighty, ready to defend with its toxic skin. Not something I’d want to upset πŸ˜€ Wonderful close-ups and night shots by Athena. Hope you are doing well over there and staying safe.

    • Dear Mabel, lovely to “see” you today. I am delighted I could introduce you to the California newt and I like your summation of it: “small but mighty.” All is well here, I’m glad to say, and my wishes for your well-being extend across the globe. Thanks so much.

      • Always happy to come by here and see you posted, and see you Jet πŸ™‚ Lovely to see wildlife in your own backyard. Good to hear you are well and best wishes to you too.

  19. Fascinating to read about the characteristics and behavior of this interesting amphibian, Jet. Makes me wonder whether any of the little salamanders we used to see in the woods of upstate New York had this same toxin. 😳 I remember what a treat it was whenever I would find one or my kids would find one.

    • Hello BJ, so glad to “see” you today. And I’m delighted that the newt post brought back fond memories of your NY salamanders. Since it’s retrospect, just as well not knowing about the possible toxic dangers. ha.

  20. Respect, Jet. Anyone posting a piece boasting the title Newt News gets my vote! I’ve liked newts ever since I was a kid. We have three species in the UK, all a bit smaller that your Californian bad boys (but everything’s bigger in the US, isn’t it?) I think it’s wonderful that a road is closed every year to allow safe passage for randy newts. I’m not aware of that here but, in a similar vein, in some parts of the country bands of volunteers patrol certain roads after dark to protect toads as they return each spring to their traditional spawning ponds. It’s wonderful what some people – and communities – will do to look after their local wildlife.

    • I so enjoyed your comment, Platypus Man, and am glad I could share some of the California newt news with you. I liked hearing about the UK newts, as well as the volunteers patrolling certain roads to protect the toads. And I agree, it is wonderful to see folks looking after their wildlife. Thanks so much for your visit today.

    • I sure like hearing that your granddaughter found the newts captivating subjects for her camera, Michael Stephen. Thanks so much for your visits this morning.

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