Sierra Newt – Powerful Water Drive and Deadly Skin

In winter and spring, Sierra Newts in Nevada County respond to an over-powering urge – to return to the pond or stream where they were born.

Hormones cause this migratory breeding behavior, known as water drive. (The hormone, prolactin, is also responsible for human breast milk production.) The migration begins with travel and ends in a submerged ball-like embrace with a female (amplexus).

On its mating journey and throughout its twenty-year life, the only form of defense that the newt possesses is its skin.  The skin contains tetrodotoxin, a neurotoxin. “This neurotoxin is strong enough to kill most vertebrates, including humans,” – Wikipedia.  “Scientists have tested 30 potential predators of newts, from belted kingfishers to great blue herons to bullfrogs and fish, finding in every case that the newt killed them,” writes Lynda V. Mapes, Seattle Times staff reporter.

When threatened, the newt arches its back, flashing its colorful underbelly, offering the predator a warning and a choice (unken reflex). [See Worlds Weirdest video below.]

Newts are one of the most toxic animals in the world. But the toxicity of the Sierra Newt is nothing to worry about when handling this interesting and delicate creature. It’s only dangerous if you eat it!

California and Sierra Newts are native to California.

photo credit: Bill Bouton from San Luis Obispo, CA, USA

Toxic Skin

Resources:

Amphibian Population Decline

California Newt Identification

California Newt – Wikipedia

Declining Global Amphibian population – National Geographic – 1 hr program

eHow – Newt Life Cycle

Nevada County Resource Conservation District – Amphibians

PDF – California Newt Fact Sheet – Sacramento Zoo

PDF – Sierra Newt – Wildlife Habitat Relationships System – CA Dept. of Fish & Wildlife

Sierra Newt – Taricha Sierrae – California Academy of Sciences

Sierra Newt’s Epic Mating Tactics -Earth Touch News Network

The deceptively cute newt: ‘You don’t want to kiss them’ – The Seattle Times

The importance of fresh water for newt breeding
& newts of Southern Cal. on Dept. of Fish & Wildlife Species of Special Concern List.

Eye of Newt References:

Book – Eye of Newt and Toe of Frog, Adder’s Fork and Lizard’s Leg, THE LORE AND MYTHOLOGY OF AMPHIBIANS AND REPTILES by Marty Crump

Is eye of newt a real thing?  – How Stuff Works

Herbalists & Mustard Seeds

Life on the Creek Art:

$5 from every sale of ‘Life on the Creek’ art goes to support the website/film production project. Upon completion, the proceeds will be donated to Deer Creek watershed stewardship organizations.
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