Sunday, November 23, 2008

Winter is Green and Orange

A few weeks ago, the first big rains finally started in coastal California. With rain, the grass sprouts, the hills turn green and the newts start marching to their breeding ponds. On November 11, I pulled a yellow-eyed ensatina (Ensatina eschscholtzii xanthoptica) from the springbox, a little fellow, shiny orange jewel. Notice the skin on this bright salamander is smooth and there are narrow lines running up his sides and across his back. They live mostly in the damp woods among leaves and logs.
As I was releasing the ensatina at the closest pond, we stumbled upon a coast range newt (Taricha torosa torosa) plodding along in the same direction. He looked like a brute next to the ensatina. Later I learned that while coast range newts breed in ponds, ensatinas lay their eggs and brood them in moist logs or burrows until they hatch fully formed. So I guess this ensatina just had to turn around to find another moist spot.

The male coast range newts head to the ponds first. This one is a male as shown by his swollen vent. Once he spends time in the water, his skin will get smooth and his fat tail will flatten to an effective swimming blade. This coast range newt subspecies of the California newt species is detected by the way the eyes extend beyond the outline of the head as seen from above and the yellow coloring of the skin under the eye. All subspecies of the California newt are poisonous and sometimes secret the neurotoxin through their skin, so either don't pick them up or wash your hands before you lick your fingers.

More info and photos of these salamanders later as the rains pick up and the newts get busy. I spent quite a bit of time with newt eggs and aquatic larvae over the past year. Ever try to feed a bunch of baby newts?

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