California Newts are one of only five
members of the newt family that inhabit California. They are 5-8 inches from head to tail with rough, reddish-brown skin
above and a bright,
yellow-orange belly. Their large, protruding eyes have a light green lower lid.
These amphibians are terrestrial for most of the year, hanging out in
moist crevices under rocks or logs, or in deep burrows that are moist
throughout the summer. When it’s time to breed, however, they
migrate back to their home ponds, lakes, or streams and shift to a
semi-aquatic body form. Their skin gets smooth and slick and their
tails flatten like an eel’s for increased swimming ability. These newts
are active but slow moving. They don’t need to move quickly
because they have one of the best defenses in the animal kingdom.
When a predator approaches, the newt shows off its bright
underside, a warning that it is poisonous. If attacked, it will secrete a
nerve toxin from glands in its skin, killing the predator and
continuing on its way. Only since the introduction of exotic animals
that are not deterred by the newt’s toxicity, such as the mosquito
fish and the crayfish, have newt populations been threatened by
predators (the larvae are especially vulnerable). California newts
are unaffected by their own toxin and adults have been known to
cannibalize their own eggs and larvae. Their diet, however, consists
mostly of a variety of aquatic and terrestrial insects, which they
catch with a sticky textured tongue.