Taricha torosa! The gentle California Newt
They are adorable, they are orange, and they’ll kill you if you eat them! Who couldn’t love a California newt? Over the years we have noticed some interesting things about them, like how they always seem to be moving in a purposeful direction, and on rare occasions, we have even come upon several of them all balled-up together in a stream. Newt balls! Delightful! It wasn’t until recently that we delved more deeply into learning about these special creatures that are found mainly in California, on the coastline, and in the Sierra Nevada. Captain asked many questions and we discovered some remarkable things about our little orange friends that we would like to share. Most kids love newts and we invite you to read on for 10 fast facts. You can also find free coloring pages of California newts, and other cool creatures, on the USGS site by clicking here.
Fast Fact 1. California newts are poisonous! There are glands in their skin that secrete a potent neurotoxin, tetrodotoxin, which is hundreds of times more poisonous than cyanide. It is the same toxin found in pufferfish and harlequin frogs, and one drop can kill up to 7,000 mice. The neurotoxin is strong enough to kill humans, but they are only dangerous if ingested.
Fast Fact 2. Due to their toxicity, California newts have few natural predators, although garter snakes, and some other species, have developed a resistance to tetrodotoxin.
Fast Fact 3. California newts eat earthworms, snails, slugs, bloodworms, mosquito larvae and other invertebrates.
Fast Fact 4. They reproduce between December and early May. The adult newts will return to the pool in which they hatched. This “homing instinct” is probably why they seem to be moving with purpose. Cool! The “ball of newts” is actually several males wrapped around a female during the mating process.
Fast Fact 5. When a female releases her egg mass, it will have between 7 and 30 eggs. The egg masses attach to stream plant roots or rocky crevices.
Fast Fact 6. California newts make sounds that humans can’t hear, unless under special conditions, like in a lab or aquarium environment. They whistle, squeak and click to tell other newts that this is “their territory”, to attract mates, or to warn predators that they are poisonous.
Fast Fact 7. These newts can live up to 20 years!
Fast Fact 8. California newts grow to be about 3-8″ in length.
Fast Fact 9. When threatened, a newt will take a sway backed position and close its eyes. It will extend its limbs to the side and hold its tail straight out in warning.
Fast Fact 10. California newts are currently a California Special Concern Species due to population reduction. Human habitation and invasive species are the biggest contributors to the reduction. We hope that if you read about them here, or elsewhere, you will encourage others to do so as well so that they are not overlooked.
There are many more things to learn and I encourage you to check out Sierra Nevada Natural History by Tracy I. Storer and Robert L. Usinger, and, for lots of great photos, visit californiaherps.com. Thanks for reading!
Good thoughts, Karen & Co!