I like to run. I live in California’s Santa Cruz mountains. My favorite place to run is straight up the street which goes up the hill I live on. I run there for three reasons: It’s convenient, it’s beautiful, and I can
watch what happens to the plant and animal life as the seasons change.
One of my favorite times of the year to run is just after the first rain of the season, after the long, dry, rainless summer.
I started this tradition about four years ago when I first moved to my mountain home. I love the smell, the sounds and the feel of the clean air. It was four years ago when I found out about the newts.
It had just rained.
It was misty and cool outside, perfect running weather. I slid on my running shoes, called for my cattle dog, Mr. Wizard, and headed out the door. I had only gotten a couple hundred yards up the road when I began to see theese little brown and orange creatures walking slowly—and I mean slowly—across the street.
There were a bunch of them. They looked like lizards, very slow lizards. I realized, however, knowing just enough about animals to get me into trouble, that they were newts or salamaders. They were so cute. Brownish with orange bellies and yellowish eyes.
Then, much to my horror as I ran further up the hill, I began to see squished newts. The salamander carnage was terrible. I realized that even though I could see them while I ran by that the cars going up and down the hill could not.
Bad for the newts.
I kept running knowing what I had to do next. I saw several more little squished carcases and then I saw a live one slowly making its way across the road. I ran to it, scooped it up in my hands and delivered it to the side of the road it was heading towards.
Salamanders don’t like to touch our skin. The oils and salts on our hands are toxic to these little creatures. But I figure better a brief contact with some skin than a two-ton SUV.
I spent the rest of my run saving little amphibious lives. I found out later after doing a little research that the reason they come out in such large numbers during and after it rains is because they’re looking for mates.
They move in large numbers to aquatic breeding sites when it rains during breeding season. The species that I see when it rains is the Coast Range Newt, Taricha torosa torosa, a native of my Santa Cruz Mountains. This newt is a stocky medium-sized salamander. In its terrestrial stage it grows between five and eight inches long, including its tail.
It’s has rough brown skin on it’s back and yellowish orange on it’s belly.
By the way, “newt” is a name given to a salamander that spends most of each year on land.
Salamader is the name given to a whole group of tailed amphibians including newts, mud puppies, sirens and olms.
When it’s not raining, they need to keep their skin moist so they spend most of their time under logs and leaves, some are even arborial (they live in trees) and some live in burrows that they’ve dug to stay out of the sun, because if they get too hot and dry they could die.
Salamanders can’t hear.
So, every time it rains, I worry about those little guys.
Many types of salamanders are on the decline because of human encroachment and pollution.
I do what I can.
I run up my hill when ever it rains so I can save as many as I can.
When threatened, the salamanders lift their tails and heads up in kind of a swayback posture to show their orange underbellies warning preditors that they taste bad and are probably poisonous.
Really their only line of defense is bad-tasting skin secretions that keep most predators away. These salamaders contain neurotoxins throughout their bodies that can kill most vertebrates.
Now, I don’t know who would want to, but if a person, for some reason, ate a bunch of newts, he or she would probably die also.
But then, who would want to eat a newt?
I don’t recommend picking up salamanders because their skin does excrete toxins—and our skin is toxic to them—so if you do pick one up, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly.
Now here’s the important part of the story for gardeners.
Because Salamanders are slow moving, they tend to eat slow-moving prey, ie, slugs and snails.
They eat slugs and snails!
That makes the newt the gardener’s heroes.
We love these guys!