Friday, December 9, 2016

Life on the Watershed: Eater, Beware

The rains bring out the California newts—brownish amphibians that over the dry months have holed up in hollow logs, rock crevices, burrows and other safe, moist woodland havens. Now they’re on their annual pilgrimage to the breeding waters—the small, still pond or stream where they themselves were hatched. 

Like other amphibians, they begin life as larvae, with external gills for breathing. As they become adults, they develop lungs for life on land. When they first leave the waters, they’ll be away for about three years before braving their own first yearly return.  

Many of the adults we see now are making the weeks-long trek on tiny legs across miles of boulders, fallen trees, dense clumps of grass, fences, and other obstacles. Good thing they’re equipped with the famous salamander ability to regrow a lost tail or other limb (along with a heart, liver, spinal cord, brain part, lung part, or lens of an eye).

The resilient newt is fortunate in another key survival aid—a highly potent toxin. The odor it sends out and the bright orange belly give others the message, “POISON—Eaters, Take Heed.” And most do.

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