San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionSDNHM Field Guide

Taricha torosa
California Newt

Salamandridae

Video  See California Newt video clips:

Taricha comes from the Greek word tarichos meaning mummy. The specific epithet torosa comes from Latin meaning fleshy or full of muscle. The name is in reference to the newt's appearance.

Description

The California Newt is a relatively large salamander ranging between 5 to 8 inches in total length. It is tan to reddish brown on the dorsal surface with a yellow to orange belly. It has large eyes with lightly colored lower eyelids. The California Newt undergoes a number of changes during the breeding season. Terrestrial, non-breeding adults have warty skin and are not slimy. Aquatic, breeding males develop smooth skin, swellings around their cloacal openings, and a fin-like tail.

The larvae are small aquatic organisms with an enlarged tail-fin. During the younger stages of development, the larvae have external gills. They can have black spots or blotches on either side of their dorsal fin.

Range and Habitat

The California Newt can be found in the coastal mountain ranges from San Diego to Mendocino County. They are also found along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada. The California Newt can be found at sea level to above 6,000 feet (2,000 meters). Northern populations live in moist forests, while southern ones are fragmented due to the drier climate.

Natural History

The California Newt lives a dual life as either a terrestrial, non-breeding eft or an aquatic newt. During the late summer and fall months, this species has a terrestrial existence, hiding under logs and in rock crevices. After the first winter rains, the terrestrial efts will migrate to the water for breeding. Once in the water, they will transform into an aquatic newt.

Life History: Newts can be found walking and swimming in small and large pools, both in the daytime and at night. They are somewhat resistant to predation due to their toxicity. As a warning to predators, a newt will raise its head and point its tail, arching the back and turning the legs upward. This  odd position is performed to display the bright orange coloration of its belly.

Breeding: The reproductive season is from December through early May. Adults will usually return to the same pools where they had hatched and metamorphosized from the larval stage. Courtship involves a ritualistic dance in which the male will circle the female. The male will mount the female and rub his chin over the female's nose.  The male leaves a spermatophore attached to the substrate for the female to retrieve with her cloaca. She will lay 7 to 30 eggs in small, shallow, slow-moving bodies of water. Eggs hatch in 2 to 3 weeks, but may take longer depending on local water temperatures.

Diet: They eat various types of insects, earthworms, snails, slugs, and sowbugs. Adult newts have been known to cannibalize their own eggs and larvae. When eating underwater, they protrude their tongue and use a throat suction to swallow.

Conservation Status

The California Newt is currently a California Special Concern species (DFG-CSC). The introduction of exotic predators, such as mosquito fish and crayfish, are known to threaten newt populations. These predators do not appear to be deterred by the newt's toxicity. Newt larvae appear to be especially vulnerable.

Suggested Reading

Petranka, James W.  1998.   Salamanders of the United States and Canada.  Smithsonian Institution.

California Newt from Boulder Creek, San Diego County, by Bradford Hollingsworth


California Newt.  Photo by  by Bradford Hollingsworth


California Newt.  Photo by  by Bradford Hollingsworth










California Newt.  Photo by  by Bradford Hollingsworth


California Newts are among the most toxic salamanders in California. Their skin contains poisonous glands that secrete potent toxins, called tetrodotoxin and tarichatoxin. Ingestion can cause paralysis or even death to potential predators. It is recommended that you wash your hands after touching these animals.

Text by Jacquelynn Vanderlip and Bradford Hollingsworth.
Photos by Bradford Hollingsworth.

Field Guide: Reptiles and Amphibians | Field Guide Feedback Form