Tue 18 Dec 2007
A salamander to die for.
The weekend’s rains have led to the start of an annual migration across my fields. California newts have begun the long trek from the Giacomini family’s stockpond just east of my pasture to Tomasini Creek a third of a mile to the west.
Newts travel so slowly they’re easy to catch, but if you do, wash you’re hands afterward. This salamander’s skin secretes a neurotoxin, tetrodotoxin, that is “hundreds of times more toxic than cyanide,” Wikipedia reports. It’s the same toxin found in the internal organs of Puffer fish — the one that each year kills a few daring diners in Japan who eat incorrectly prepared chiri (puffer-fish soup) or sashimi fugo (raw puffer fish).
California newts, which are found mainly along the coast and in the Sierra, have a mating season that runs from December to May. For their aquatic courtship, adult newts return to the pool where they hatched. It’s an eye-nose-and-throat foreplay. After they swim in a mating dance, the San Diego Natural History Museum notes, “the male will mount the female and rub his chin over the female’s nose.”
Occasionally, several males try to mate with a female at once and end up in a ball, rolling around in the water. Although newts are amphibians, females have been known to suffocate in these orgies.