Rough-skinned newt (Taricha granulosa)
Witches beware! This week’s crawly will leave you with grave consequences if you go after their eyes for your potions.
Meet the rough-skinned newt (Taricha granulosa), a “look don’t touch” crawly if ever there was one. They don’t sport that “three-mile orange” warning color on their bellies for nothing.
Rough-skinned newts possess a powerful neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin. They can exude it from the glands covering their bodies. Tetrodotoxin is the same toxin produced by pufferfish and by uber deadly blue-ringed octopuses. It’s not to be trifled with.
Tetrodotoxin works by blocking sodium channels, in turn causing gastrointestinal, neurologic, and cardiac symptoms which can lead to death. There is no known antidote.
That bears repeating – there is no known antidote.
Fun fact: The most toxic newts are found in Oregon. While the Eastern newt also produces tetrodotoxin, it is only 1/100th as potent as the toxins found in the rough-skinned’s west coast Genus Taricha.
When threatened, rough-skinned newts curl into a display called the “unken reflex.” Their heads go back, and their tails curl up so their three-mile orange underside flashes a very clear “Back off!” message. Wise witches, pay heed.
All that said, rough-skinned newts aren’t going to come chasing after you or anything. Like all crawlies, they just want to be left alone to do their crawly thing.
Rough-skinned newts come by their name honestly. If you find a newt in Oregon, they are a rough-skinned and sport that pebbly textured skin. California has rough-skinned and a few similar species in the same genus, sporting smooth skin.
Here in our area rough-skinned live in forested areas from the coast across to the eastern foothills of the Cascades. They are adaptable enough to live happily at sea level or way up in sub-alpine meadows at nearly 9,000 feet.
Rough-skinned do need a damp environment, but as adults they’re mainly terrestrial. However, you will find adults in ponds, lakes, slow-moving streams and even roadside ditches. They need to be in water to breed and for the females to lay their eggs.
Like their frog cousins, rough-skinned start life underwater, sporting gills to breath. These nifty, newty larvae are between one-quarter and one-half an inch in length. They feed on protozoans by scraping them off aquatic plants and submerged rocks. As they grow larger, they feed on small aquatic invertebrates.
Rough-skinned larvae can take up to 10 months to mature into land-loving, lung breathing adults.
Fun fact: Newt larvae can mature enough to mate and reproduce without ever ditching their watery ways and gills and taking to land. However, these offspring are less hardy than those of fully developed terrestrial newts.
Rough-skinned take four to five years to mature enough to reproduce, so you can see why some of the gill-breathers maybe get impatient.
Adult rough-skinned are another of nature’s pest controllers, dining on aquatic and terrestrial insects (including mosquitoes!) as well as small snails.
Your chances of seeing a rough-skinned newt are pretty good. Of course, you’ll have to wait until next spring, but then, keep an eye out. Due to their deadly toxicity, they are free to lead a pretty bold life and are one of the only salamander/newt species who are regularly out in the open and active during the day.
Final fun fact: Despite their nearly fail-safe anti-predator neurotoxins, rough-skinned do have two natural predators. Both raccoons and garter snakes have evolved an immunity to tetrodotoxin and will have the occasional rough-skinned snack.
Witches, though – still out of luck.