Thursday, April 12, 2012

More Signs of Spring: Newt Xing

What is cute, small, brown, moves at the pace of a drunk snail, and secretes a particularly potent neurotoxin? 

Rough-Skinned Newt, aka Taricha granulosa

Why did the newt cross the trail?

To breed on the other side...

I've been tempted to make a sign alerting people to keep an eye out for Newt Crossings, which are a regular occurrence these days. Some newts in this particular area have been alerted by celestial cues that it is time to migrate.

Aside from being my chosen trail of choice for training runs, Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve is home to both the Rough-Skinned Newt (Taricha granulosa) and the California Newt (Taricha tarosa).

I'm fascinated by these amphibians. They are so clearly in their own world, meandering along, searching for the perfect water spot to get it on. They blend in really well with their habitat, so it's actually quite dangerous if they migrate through a heavily trafficked area. Wildcat Canyon trail, which follows an oak-lined canyon leading up to the west side of Black Mountain in the preserve has heavy traffic. And the other day, I came across a few newts who didn't make it.

What do you think, a big yellow sign that says, Newt Xing?

A few fast facts:

1. Newts are able to regenerate body parts. Yes, cut off a leg, and they will grow a new one. Not only that, you could poke out their eyes, break their spine, rip out their heart, break their jaw in a fight, or if you were really mean, take out their intestines, and it wouldn't phase them. Ok, well, maybe it would phase them if you did that all at once. But they have cells which are able to de-differentiate at an injury site, reproduce, and re-differentiate to grow new limbs which retain structure and function. Pretty cool, eh? So, don't go dissing the newts.

2. Newts, particularly the Rough-Skinned Newt as seen above, secrete neurotoxins called tetrodotoxin and terichatoxin. The former of these is  more poisonous than potassium cyanide. Similar to pufferfish and other animal species who secrete these chemicals. If ingested, the poison binds to sodium channels in nerve cells and leads to paralysis, and if in high enough doses and depending on the victim, death. Humans usually don't have a problem when handling newts, but should be careful to wash after. Probably humans handling newts cause more damage to the newt because they have semi-permeable skin, and we have chemicals and oils that could make their lives rough.

As members of the Salamander family, these particular species have a range from the coastal areas of California, inland to higher foothill elevations and extend up to Alaska. They like cool waters from ponds, lakes, streams, and slow-moving rivers. Terrestrial adults like to hang out in grasslands, woodlands, or coniferous forest beds, under rocks, leaf litter and beneath fallen logs. They eat crustaceans, insects, snails, leeches, worms, or other larvae and are estimated to live for up to 20 years.

Salamanders, like other amphibians, are sensitive bioindicators, providing insight into water quality and watershed health. California newt populations in Southern California are considered by the California Department of Fish and Game to be Species of Special Concern. Populations have declined due to introduction of non-native species, pollution, and human development. 

Next time your out in Newt habitat keep your eyes peeled for these incredible creatures.

Now that I got that out of my system, just a few more pictures from a hike I took today out on the trail. I  decided to give running a break, and carried a notebook, camera, and moved slowly, like a newt. I saw black-tailed deer, western scrub-jay, california quail, *heard and saw* wild turkey, a bees nest, various species of mushroom, and pretty little wildflowers in bloom.

Black-Tailed Deer

Steen, Sue, can you ID?

Wildcat Canyon Trail

I was told this is a "Jack-O-Lantern" Mushroom by a fellow mushroomer.  Neat fact: it is bioluminescent. 
water droplets in a web

Caught in a web

So pretty, yet so uncomfortable. I love to look at Poison Oak this time of year

Ghost Spider (as dubbed by me)

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