Thursday, October 30, 2014

Rough-skinned Newt

The McLane Creek Nature Trail, near Olympia, was developed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources. Although only a mile long, the trail winds through forest and wetlands and is a great place for birding. We walked the trail on 20 July 2014.

A new creature for us, however, was not a bird, but this Rough-skinned Newt. This amphibian is common throughout western Washington and along the West Coast. This species is likely to be found out in the day, perhaps because its skin is highly toxic and is avoided by predators. The toxin is the same that is found in pufferfish and can induce paralysis and death. Only the Common Garter Snake can survive eating a Rough-skinned Newt (Washington DNR). The DNR warns that these newts "can be handled safely but care should be taken with small children prone to putting things in their mouths. After handling any amphibian, one should avoid touching the mucus membranes of the eyes, nose and mouth until hands have been washed.” People usually just suffer skin irritation, although one person, on a dare, is reported to have swallowed a Rough-skinned Newt—he died (Wikipedia).

Rough-skinned Newts are usually terrestrial, and move to ponds to breed. A few populations remain in ponds through the summer but migrate back to land in the fall. Others remain in ponds all year. Reproduction is aquatic. Adults breed when they are about five years old, and may breed every other year. Males arrive at ponds, transform into their aquatic phase, and wait for the females. When a female enters the water, males rush to grab her. The successful male hugs her from the back until she is ready to have her eggs fertilized. The male then deposits a sperm sac and she picks it up with her cloaca.  The eggs, which are also toxic, are deposited on submerged plants.  The eggs hatch into larvae, which become terrestrial after about a month, or they may overwinter and transform the next summer (

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