Adults swimming in a pond,
Thurston County, Washington
Adults swimming in a pond,
Thurston County, Washington
Rough-skinned Newt Skeleton
National Museum of Natural History
When seen from above, the eyes of
a Rough-skinned Newt, T. granulosa, do not extend to or beyond the margin of the head.
Compare with T. torosa, the California Newt, on the right and with other newts found in California here: Newt Identification.
Adult Defensive Posture
Adult, defensive posture,
Del Norte County
Adult, Lewis County, Washington
This newt is in a defensive posture called "unkenreflex"in which it displays its brightly-colored underside as a warning. The Rough-skinned newt curls it's colorful tail. Compare with the straight tail of the sometimes sympatric California Newt and the sometimes sympatric Sierra Newt.
Adult in defensive posture, Douglas County Oregon.
(Note that this newt is not curling its tail over the back, which is the typical behavior for this species.)
Breeding adult male in defensive
posture, Butte County
This short video shows several Rough-skinned newts in Pacific County, Washington, interact with an underwater egg mass that could be from A. gracile - Northwestern Salamander, or possibly a Long-toed Salamander. Some of the newts appear to be trying to bite the eggs as if to eat them, while others seem to just thrash around without taking any bites.
Gilled juvenile found on land and photographed in water.
Larva (in water)
Metamorphs, found on land at the edge of a pond, and photographed in water. Notice the trace of gills remaining
During the breeding season, adult males develop nuptial pads on the toes to improve their ability to hold onto females during amplexus. Compare with the toes of a breeding female without these pads.
Rough-skinned Newt Habitat in California
Habitat, Mendocino County
Habitat, San Mateo County
Habitat, near sea level, Del Norte County
Habitat, San Mateo County
Habitat, Siskiyou County
Habitat, 5,700 ft. Siskiyou County
Habitat, Humboldt County
Breeding pool in coniferous forest,
Rough-skinned newts move around the rocky shallow margins of a river in Douglas County, Oregon, occasionally coming up for air.
A few light taps on the back of a Rough-skinned Newt causes it to take a passive defensive posture, raising its tail and head to display the bright orange color of its underside which signifies danger. This "unken reflex" shows a would-be predator that the newt is deadly poisonous, while at the same time, the newt releases deadly toxins from its skin.
Pairs of Rough-skinned newts in amplexus in a breeding pond.
A male and a female Rough-skinned newt in their underwater amplexus ballet.
Male newts in the breeding pond wrestling over and waiting for females.
Solo male newts and males and females in amplexus swim underwater in a breeding pond in Pacific County, Washington in mid February.
Adults are 2 1/2 - 3 1/2 inches long (6.4 - 8.9 cm) from snout to vent, and 3 1/2 - 7 7/8 inches (8.9 - 20 cm) in total length.
A stocky, medium-sized lunged salamander with dry granular skin, and no costal grooves.
Color and Pattern
Black, brown, reddish-brown, or light brown above, yellow or orange below.
Lower eyelids are dark.
Irises are yellowish.
Stebbins, 2003, describes some different color variations:
- at Gravina Island, Alaska, individuals have dark blotches on ventral surfaces;
- at Crater Lake, OR, and vicinity some are nearly all black underneath;
- some newts in the Siskiyou Mountains of California have dark blotches on both the dorsal and ventral surfaces;
- some newts at Fay Lake, Linn County OR and 13 Lakes, Del Norte County, California, have dorsal blotches.
Male / Female Differences
Breeding males develop smooth lighter-colred skin that looks wrinkled and baggy underwater, a flattened tail to aid with swimming, a swollen vent, and rough nuptial pads on the undersides of the feet to aid in holding onto females during amplexus.
Larva are pond type, brown with a row of light spots on the sides of the body
Rough-skinned when in the terrestrial phase.
Breathes through lungs.
The natural history of T. granulosa varies widely over its range.
Generally terrestrial, often seen crawling over land in the daytime, becoming aquatic when breeding.
Some populations hide in daylight becoming active at night.
Some populations are primarily aquatic, living up to 10 months in permanent ponds and in streams.
In terrestrial populations, rainfall in fall triggers emergence and a period of wandering to forage.
Rough-skinned Newts are often seen moving to breeding sites during the breeding season.
Migration may involve the use of celestial cues for navigation. Migration to and from breeding sites varies among populations. Some newts spend the dry summer in moist habitats under woody debris, rocks, or animal burrows with adults emerging after the fall rains.
In some populations, adults remain in the ponds and lakes throughout the summer and migrate back onto land in the fall when the rain starts. Often they will form large aggregates of thousands of newts in the water.
In other populations, males remain in the ponds all year.
Adults have been found in some California streams all year long except during winter flooding.
Longevity is estimated to be 12 years. (Amphibiaweb)
When threatened, this newt assumes a swaybacked defensive pose, closing its eyes, extending its limbs to the sides, and holding its tail curled up over the body. This "unken reflex" exposes its bright orange ventral surface coloring which is a warning to potential predators that the newt is poisonous.
Rough-skinned Newts have poisonous skin secretions containing the powerful neurotoxin tetrodotoxin that repel most predators. The poison is widespread throughout the skin, muscles, and blood, and even the eggs. It can cause death in many animals, including humans, if eaten in sufficient quantity. (One study estimated that 25,000 mice could be killed from the skin of one Rough-skinned newt, the most toxic of the Taricha species.)
The poison can also be ingested through a mucous membrane or a cut in the skin, so care should always be taken when handling newts.
In most locations the Common Gartersnake, Thamnophis sirtalis, has a high resistance to tetrodotoxin which allows it to prey on Rough-skinned Newts. Thamnophis atratus and Thamnophis couchii have also been found with a strong resistance to tetrodotoxin that allows them to eat newts of the genus Taricha.
Thamnophis elegans has also been found eating Taricha torosa in San Luis Obispo County.
An arms race between T. sirtalis and the tetrodoxin poison contained in Taricha has been documented, with newt toxicity varying by location and snake resistance to the toxin also varying by location.
(Edmund D. Brodie III. Patterns, Process, and the Parable of the Coffeepot Incident: Arms Races Between Newts and Snakes from Landscapes to Molecules. From In the Light of Evolution: Essays from the Laboratory and Field edited by Jonathan Losos (Roberts and Company Publishers). 2010.)
According to Petranka,1998, a study on Vancouver Island showed that while T. sirtalis showed no ill effects after consuming T. granulosa, T. elegans and
T. ordinoides suffered loss of motor funtion when after consuming the newts.
Diet and Feeding
Diet consists mostly of a variety of invertebrates but also includes salamander and frog eggs and larvae, and even tiny fish.
larvae feed on protozoans, scraping them off plants and rocks. As they grow larger, they feed on small aquatic invertebrates.
Adults feed mostly at night, slowly stalking prey, then quickly snapping at it, sucking it into the mouth when feeding underwater. Prey is found by sight and smell.
Reproduction is aquatic.
Adults breed along the vegetated edges of slow streams, lakes, ponds, and reservoirs typically begining in December, but the timing varies with location.
At low elevation sites along the coast, breeding occurs mostly in March and April, but can take place any time from late December to June.
At higher elevations, breeding can occur in summer and fall.
Adults are thought to be reproductively mature when they are 4 to 5 years old.
Adults in most populations are thought to breed every other year.
Except in areas where adults remain in the water year-round, males and females migrate to the breeding site where the males transform into their aquatic phase, with smooth skin that lightens in color, swollen cloacal lips, and tails enlarged and flattened to help them swim.
Females develop smoother skin, but do not undergo as much change as males.
Males arrive first and wait for females to arrive.
When a female enters the water, males rush to grab her, often all grabbing her at the same time until one male is the victor. A male grabs onto the back of a female and holds on tightly, using specialized nuptial pads on his toes that develop during the breeding season to help his grip. Males continue this amplexus, swimming back and forth in the water, until the female is ready to fertilize her eggs.
At that time, the male deposits a spermatophore and the female picks it up with her cloaca.
After fertilizing her eggs by picking up a male spermatophore in her cloaca, females lay and attach eggs singly onto the stems and leaves of submerged plants, typically within a few inches of the surface of the water.
Eggs contain the same chemical toxin that is present in the newts.
Eggs hatch in 20 - 26 days, depending on the water temperature.
Larvae transform in some locations after 4 - 5 months.
In others, they overwinter and transform the following summer.
Recently-transformed juveniles can be found under rocks and wood along the edge of a breeding pond.
After metamorphosis, juveniles move onto land, sometimes far from the water, moving into underground retreats and emerging on wet nights to feed on the surface.
Uses a variety of terrestrial and aquatic habitats. Found in grasslands, woodlands, and coniferous forest, often near their aquatic breeding habitat. Aquatic habitats include temporary and permanent ponds, lakes, slow edges of streams and creeks.
T. granulosa has the largest distribution of the three species of Taricha, ranging from Alaska south along the coast through British Colombia and Washington and Oregon, mostly west of the Cascades Mountains, and south to the Monterey Bay.
Also introduced into a small area in Idaho near Moscow and in Saunders County, Montana. (Stebbins, 2003)
Distribution in California
Found from Santa Cruz County north along the coast through the north coast ranges, around the northern edge of the great valley and along the foothills of the west slope of the Sierra Nevada as far south as near Magalia in Butte County.
Coexists with T. rivularis but unlike that species, this newt breeds in still, not flowing, water. Sometimes hybridizes with T. rivularis.
Found at elevations from sea level to about 9,200 ft. (2,800 m). (Stebbins, 2003)
Notes on Taxonomy
Two subspecies of Taricha granulosa are sometimes recognized:
T. g. granulosa T. g. mazamae - (Mazama Newt or Crater Lake Newt - found at Crater Lake, Oregon)
Stebbins, Robert C., and McGinnis, Samuel M. Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Revised Edition (California Natural History Guides) University of California Press, 2012.
Stebbins, Robert C. California Amphibians and Reptiles. The University of California Press, 1972.
Samuel M. McGinnis and Robert C. Stebbins. Peterson Field Guide to Western Reptiles & Amphibians. 4th Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2018.
Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.
Behler, John L., and F. Wayne King. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.
Powell, Robert., Joseph T. Collins, and Errol D. Hooper Jr. A Key to Amphibians and Reptiles of the Continental United States and Canada. The University Press of Kansas, 1998.
Bartlett, R. D. & Patricia P. Bartlett. Guide and Reference to the Amphibians of Western North America (North of Mexico) and Hawaii. University Press of Florida, 2009.
Bishop, Sherman C. Handbook of Salamanders. Cornell University Press, 1943.
Lannoo, Michael (Editor). Amphibian Declines: The Conservation Status of United States Species. University of California Press, June 2005.
Petranka, James W. Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution, 1998.
Corkran, Charlotte & Chris Thoms. Amphibians of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. Lone Pine Publishing, 1996.
Jones, Lawrence L. C. , William P. Leonard, Deanna H. Olson, editors. Amphibians of the Pacific Northwest. Seattle Audubon Society, 2005.
Leonard et. al. Amphibians of Washington and Oregon. Seattle Audubon Society, 1993.
Nussbaum, R. A., E. D. Brodie Jr., and R. M. Storm. Amphibians and Reptiles of the Pacific Northwest. Moscow, Idaho: University Press of Idaho, 1983.
The following conservation status listings for this animal are taken from the November 2020 California "Special Animals List" and the November 2020 "State and Federally Listed Endangered and Threatened Animals of California" list, both of which are produced by multiple agencies and available here: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Data/CNDDB/Plants-and-Animals. You can check the link to see if there are more recent lists.
If no status is listed here, the animal is not included on either list. This most likely indicates that there are no serious conservation concerns for the animal. To find out more about an animal's status you can go to the NatureServe and IUCN websites to check their rankings.
This salamander is not included on the Special Animals List, which indicates that there are no significant conservation concerns for it in California.