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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California







Identifying Species of Pacific Newts - Genus Taricha

 


















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Four species of newts of the genus Taricha are found in California. All are similar in appearance.

In some areas you can use the range maps to identify the species that occurs in your area: South of Santa Cruz, north of Pt. Arena, in the central part of the Sierra Nevada mountains, and in a few other regions, only one species occurs.

In areas where more than one species occur you will need to observe some differences in appearance. In some cases the differences between T. torosa and T. granulosa are so slight that even expert herpetologists have difficulties identifying them by sight.
 
The Four Species of Newts Found in California and Their Ranges
map salamander
Rough-skinned Newt
Rough-skinned Newt
Red: Rough-skinned Newt - Taricha granulosa granulosa
   
map
Red-bellied Newt
salamander
Red-bellied Newt
Red: Red-bellied Newt - Taricha rivularis
     
map salamander
California Newt
California Newt
Red: California Newt - Taricha torosa

(Orange - Sierra Newt - Taricha sierrae)
     
map Sierra Newt
Sierra Newt
Sierra Newt
Orange:  Sierra Newt - Taricha sierrae

(Red: California Newt - Taricha torosa)
Differences in distribution can help to identify a species in areas where only one species Is present.

In areas where more than one species is present, some physical characteristics can be used to identify a species.
 
map
Bright Green shows the areas where two species of newts can be found.
Bright Fuschia shows the areas where three species of newts can be found.

Red: Rough-skinned Newt - Taricha granulosa granulosa
Yellow: Red-bellied Newt - Taricha rivularis (The entire range is shared with other species, so it does not show on this map.)
Green:  Sierra Newt - Taricha sierrae
Dark Blue: California Newt - Taricha torosa
 
Differences in Eye Color and Eye Placement Can Identify Some Species
In areas where more than one species occurs, there are some physical differences that can help you to identify them. The color of the body and the underside is variable and will not help you much with identification, but the color of the eyes and the eyelids and the placement of the eyes on the head should allow you to identify a newt (outside of the southern Sierra Nevada where only range will differentiate the two types of newts found there.)

Eye Color Can Distinguish T. rivularis from T. granulosa and T. torosa
You can easily differentiate a Red-bellied Newt, T. rivularis, from a Coast Range Newt, T. t. torosa, or a Rough-skinned Newt, T. granulosa, by looking at the eyes: the Red-bellied Newt has black eyes with no yellow patches on them.

chart
salamander salamander salamander
Red-bellied Newt - Taricha rivularis

The eyes are solid black with no yellow
California Newt - Taricha torosa
(Same as Sierra Newt -Taricha sierra)
The eyes have patches of yellow
Rough-skinned Newt - Taricha granulosa

The eyes have patches of yellow
Red-bellied Newt
Left: California Newt - Taricha torosa
Right: Red-bellied Newt - Taricha rivularis
© James Maughn
     
Eye positioning and Eyelid Color Can Differentiate T. granulosa from T. torosa
and from T. sierrae
(which has the same eye charasteristics as T. torosa)
salamander
Rough-skinned Newt

salamander
When seen from above, the eyes of
T. granulosa, do not extend past the margin of the head.

When seen from above, the eyes of
T. torosa (and T. sierrae) extend to or past the margin of the head.
T. granulosa The lower eyelids of
T. torosa
(and T. sierrae)
are light in color.

The lower eyelids of T. granulosa
are dark in color.
     
Defensive Posturing Can Differentiate T. torosa from T. granulosa

The defensive posture of Rough-skinned Newts - T. granulosa, and California Newts - T. torosa, is similar, but the positioning of the tail is usually different, although not in all areas. T. granulosa usually curls the tail over the back and curling the tip of the tail, while T. torosa and T. sierrae usually do not curl the tail over the back, and often hold it straight out.
salamander   salamander  
Defensive Rough-skinned Newts - T. granulosa, typically curl the tail.  
Sierra Newt salamander  
Defensive Sierra Newts - T. sierrae, typically do not curl the tail.
Defensive California Newts - T. torosa, typically do not curl the tail.
 
     
Underside Markings Can Distinguish T. rivularis from T. granulosa and T. torosa

The underside of the Red-bellied Newt - T. rivularis, is reddish, but the underside of the Rough-skinned Newt is also sometimes a deep orange color, and withouth seeing both newts together, it can be difficult to tell them apart based on the underside color.
Male T. rivularis have a dark band around the tail at the vent which is not present on other Taricha newts and this marking will identify them. The underside of the forelimbs of T. rivularis also have more dark coloring around the elbows than T. torosa.

There is also a sharper contrast between the underside color and the body color of the Rough-skinned Newt - T. granulosa, then there is on the California Newt - T. torosa, but this is variable and difficult to observe without having a representative of each species in hand.

Rough-skinned Newt California Newt Sierra Newt
Breeding Male Rough-skinned Newt -
Taricha granulosa
with unmarked venter.
Breeding Male California Newt -
Taricha torosa
with unmarked venter.
Breeding Male Sierra Newt -
Taricha sierrae
with unmarked venter.
salamander salamanders
Breeding Male Red-bellied Newt -
Taricha rivularis

with a dark band around the vent.
Comparison of the undersides of breeding male newts.
     
Side stripes can distinguish larval T. torosa and T. sierrae from larval T. granulosa and T. rivularis

Larvae of T. torosa and T. sierrae have a dark horizontal stripe along the sides of the body.
Larvae of T. granulosa and T. rivularis do not.

salamander Sierra Newt Larva  
California Newt - Taricha torosa

Dark horizontal side stripe
Sierra Newt - Taricha sierrae

Dark horizontal side stripe
 
salamander salamander  
Rough-skinned Newt - Taricha granulosa

Without a dark horizontal side stripe
Red-bellied Newt - Taricha rivularis

Without a dark horizontal side stripe
 
     
Eggs Can Differentiate T. torosa from T. granulosa


During the breeding season, typically winter and early spring, you can differentiate some species by their eggs 
(if you can find them or watch a female laying them.)

salamander California Newt Eggs salamander
T. sierrae eggs are laid in a
spherical mass.
T. torosa eggs are laid in a
spherical mass.
T. granulosa lays eggs singly.
Red-bellied Newt eggs salamander eggs  
T. rivularis lays eggs singly or in a flattened mass.

This mass may look similar to the egg mass of T. torosa.
 
     
Teeth Pattern on Roof of Mouth Can Differentiate T. torosa from T. granulosa.

Examination of the tooth pattern on the roof of the mouth will differentiate T. granulosa from T. torosa.
The teeth on the roof of the mouth of T. granulosa are usually arranged in a V shape.
The teeth on the roof of the mouth of T. torosa are usually arranged in a Y shape.
diagram


(Based on a drawing in A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibian,.3rd Edition. Robert C. Stebbins. 2003).





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