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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


California Newt - Taricha torosa

(Rathke, in Eschscholtz, 1833)

(= Coast Range Newt - Taricha torosa torosa)
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California Newt Range MapRange in California: Red

Orange: Sierra Newt

Dot-locality Range Map



Identifying Species of
Pacific Newts - genus Taricha



observation link



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California Newt California Newt California Newt California Newt
Adult, San Luis Obispo County Adult, Contra Costa County Underside of Adult, Contra Costa County
California Newt California Newt California Newt California Newt
Adult, Contra Costa County Adult, Los Angeles County
California Newt California Newt California Newt California Newt
Adults in defensive pose, showing the brightly-colored
underside as a warning, Santa Cruz County
Adult and juvenile, Contra Costa County Terrestrial phase adult, San Diego County © Chris Gruenwald
California Newt California Newt California Newt California Newt
Adult, Contra Costa County Juvenile, Kern County Male in aquatic phase, Kern County
California Newt California Newt California Newt California Newt
Adult, Los Angeles county
© Jonathan Nemati
Adult, underwater, Solano County
© Sean Barry
Juvenile, Los Angeles County
© Jeff Ahrens
Juvenile, Los Angeles County
© Jeff Ahrens
California Newt      
Adult, Santa Ana Mountains, Orange County © Benjamin Smith      
       
Feeding
California Newt California Newt California Newt  
Adult newt eating a very large worm in Mendocino County © Amelia True  
California Newt California Newt    
These newts appear to be stretching an earthworm and struggling to see which one gets to eat it.  Alameda county  © Scott Futral    
       
Breeding, Eggs, and Larvae
California Newts California Newt eggs California Newt larva  
Mass of underwater breeding adults, Contra Costa County Eggs, close-up Larva in late June, Alameda County  

Here's a full page with more pictures of breeding season newts, breeding habitats, eggs and larvae.


Habitat
California Newt Habitat California Newt Habitat California Newt Habitat California Newt Habitat
Habitat, Alameda County Habitat, breeding pond,
Contra Costa County
Habitat, Contra Costa County Habitat, San Luis Obispo County
California Newt Habitat California Newt Habitat California Newt Habitat California Newt Habitat
Habitat, San Gabriel Mountains,
Los Angeles County
Habitat, Contra Costa County Habitat, Kern County Habitat, San Diego County
California Newt Habitat California Newt Habitat California Newt Habitat California Newt Habitat
Habitat, Winter, Contra Costa County These East Bay hills are full of newts, Alameda County Several newts were found under these rocks in spring, Alameda County. Habitat, Contra Costa County
California Newt Habitat California Newt Habitat california toad habitat california toad habitat
Kaweah River as it enters Lake Kaweah, Tulare County.

In the Sierra Nevada, California Newts are found south of the Kaweah River, while Sierra Newts are found north of the river. However, there is some overlap between the two around the river itself.
Habitat, San Gabriel Mountains, Los Angeles County © Jonathan Nemati Habitat, Alameda County
California Newt Habitat California Newt Habitat California Newt Habitat California Newt Habitat
Habitat, 1400 ft., San Gabriel Mountains, Los Angeles County Habitat, 1500 ft., San Gabriel Mountains, Los Angeles County Habitat, Los Angeles County
© Jeff Ahrens
Habitat, Los Angeles County
© Jeff Ahrens
California Newt Habitat      
A careful look underneath the fallen bark of this dead tree turned up one Arboreal Salamander, two Coast Range Newts, one Yellow-eyed Ensatina, and 12 California Slender Salamanders, illustrating how dead wood and bark on a forest floor is an important microhabitat for salamanders and other wildlife.

     
       
Newt Conservation
California Newt sign California Newt sign California Newt sign  
Signs indicating a road closure to protect newts as they migrate to
and from breeding areas during the rainy season, Contra Costa County.
 
California Newt sign California Newt sign California Newt sign  
Sign at dried up breeding pond in November, Contra Costa County Same sign in late January in a full pond during a wet winter.

 
Short Videos
California Newt California Newt California Newts California Newts
California Newts on the move in the woods on a Fall morning.


A big ball of newts forms in the breeding pond when a male and female in amplexus are approached by several male newts who want to take the female. Male and female newts in amplexus in the breeding pond. The males hold on tight and swim around the pond using their huge tails. One uses the toes on his hind feet to stroke a female, probably to make her receptive to take his spermatophore. Views of a large mass of female newts in the breeding pond, as they go about laying and securing their eggs.
California Newts California Newts    
Female newts repeatedly attack and bite at newt egg sacs, probably in an attempt to eat them. Newts have been known to eat the eggs of their own kind. Solitary males patrol the edge of the pond at the beginning of the breeding season waiting for females to arrive, and females are seen crawling overland and entering the water.    
       
Description
 
Size
Adults are 2 3/4 - 3 1/2 inches long (7 - 8.9 cm) from snout to vent, and 4.9 - 7.8 inches (12.5 -20 cm) in total length.

Appearance
A stocky, medium-sized salamander with rough, grainy skin in the terrestrial phase, and no costal grooves.
Color and Pattern
Terrestrial adults are yellowish-brown to dark brown above, pale yellow to orange below.
(There is less contrast between dorsal and ventral color on sides than with T. granulosa.)
The eyelids and the area below the eyes are lighter than the rest of the head.
The iris is silvery to pale yellow.
The eyes appear to extend to or beyond the outline of the head when viewed from above, (unlike T. granulosa.)
Male / Female Differences
Breeding males develop smooth skin that looks wrinkled and baggy underwater, a flattened tail to aid with swimming, a swollen cloaca, and rough nuptial pads on the undersides of the feet to aid in holding onto females during amplexus.
Larvae
Aquatic larvae are the pond type, light yellow above with two dark regular narrow bands on the back.

Comparison With Other Taricha Species
Identifying Species of Pacific Newts - Genus Taricha

Life History and Behavior
Rough-skinned when in the terrestrial phase.
Breathes through lungs.
Activity
Terrestrial and diurnal, often seen crawling over land in the daytime, becoming aquatic when breeding.
(In some permanent bodies of water, adults retain their aquatic breeding phase characteristics and live in the water year-round.)
Sometimes seen moving in large numbers to aquatic breeding sites during or after rains during breeding season.
Terrestrial newts spend the hot dry summer in moist habitats under woody debris, or in rock crevices and animal burrows, but can sometimes be seen wandering overland in moist habitat or conditions any time of the year.
Longevity
Longevity is not known, but it has been estimated that California Newts can live for more than 20 years.
Defense
Poisonous skin secretions containing tetrodotoxin repel most predators. This potent neurotoxin is widespread throughout the skin, muscles, and blood, and can cause death in many animals, including humans, if eaten in sufficient quantity. (One study estimated that 1,200 - 2,500 mice could be killed from the skin of one California Newt.) This 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, is has a high resistance to this poison, and is known to prey on Coast Range Newts.

When threatened, a newt will assume a swaybacked defensive pose, closing its eyes, extending its limbs to the sides,  and holding its tail straight out. This "unken reflex" exposes its bright orange ventral surface coloring which is a warning to potential predators.

Larvae are not poisonous and are preyed on by adult newts and other predators. Chemical cues from adult newts trigger larvae to seek cover.
Sounds
According to Davis and Brattstrom, California Newts produce a repertoire of sounds. (Davis, J. R. and B. H. Brattstrom. 1975. Sounds produced by the California newts, Taricha torosa. Herpetologica 31:409-412.) The sounds are very faint and difficult to hear over environmental sounds in the field. They did not determine how the newts were able to physically produce these different sounds. Breeding phase Coast Range Newts from Orange County were observed and recorded in a laboratory in a naturalistic setting where they were able to continue their typical social behaviors.

Three types of sounds were documented: clicks, squeaks, and whistles.

Clicks were the most commonly heard sounds. They were made when newts were put in an unfamiliar location, and when they were confronted by another newt. (The clicks appeared to be used to establish territories.)

Squeaks were made when a newt was picked up, and were sometimes accompanied by the newt twisting its body. The purpose of the squeak might be to startle a predator or to advertise the newt's toxicity.

Whistles were observed during breeding activity when a newt was touched in the middle of the back by a human or another newt, such as when a male newt climbed onto the back of another male newt. It was produced by males and females. The sound was not observed and could not be artificially evoked two weeks after breeding was over. This sound appears to be used in sex recognition and to establish hierarchical relationships, similar to the release call of a frog.
Diet and Feeding
Adults eat small invertebrates such as worms, snails, slugs, sowbugs, and insects. They also consume amphibian eggs and larvae, including newt larvae and newt eggs. A small nestling bird was found in the stomach of one newt.
When feeding on the ground, adults feed by projecting a sticky tongue to capture prey. Aquatic adults open their mouth and suck the prey in.
Larvae eat small aquatic invertebrates, decomposing organic matter, and possibly other newt larvae.
Breeding
Reproduction is aquatic.
Adults proably reach reproductive maturity in their third year.
The breeding season lasts 6 - 12 weeks.
Adults migrate from terrestrial locations to ponds, reservoirs, and sluggish pools in streams to breed, typically beginning anywhere from late December to February, depending on rainfall amounts.
Populations that breed in stream pools migrate later, typically in March and April, after the stream flooding has subsided.
Migration may take several weeks and cover large distances. (In one study, newts were recaptured up to nearly two miles (3,200 m) away from the breeding pond where they were originally captured and marked.)
Newts have a strong homing instinct and typically return to the same breeding site each time they breed. This homing behavior has not been explained, but experiments show that it invoves a sense of their body position, but it could also involve the sense of smell or a form of celestial navigation.

Males arrive first, and stay longer than females.
In the water, 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 patrol the edges of the breeding pond waiting from females to enter the water. When a female enters, she may be mobbed by a number of males who struggle to hold on to her until one male grabs on and cannot be removed.
After a period of amplexus, where the male clutches the female from above, the male deposits a spermatophore and the female picks it up with her cloaca.
Eggs
Females lay and attach a spherical egg mass to submerged vegetation, branches, or rocks.
Southern populations tend to lay egg masses under rocks in quiet stream pools where northern and central populations tend to attach egg masses to vegetation.
Egg masses contain from 7 - 47 eggs. It is estimated from ovarian counts of 130 - 160 that females lay from 3 - 6 masses each.
Egg masses are attached just below the surface of the water. If the water rises significantly or lowers and strands the eggs, the eggs will die.

Incubation times may vary at various locations, from 14 - 52 days.
Larvae
The larval stage lasts several months.
The average larval period at one location in the Bay Area was observed to be from March to October.

Larvae transform and begin to live on land at the end of the summer or in early fall.
Larvae have been found in the spring in Southern California that were completing their metamorphosis, meaning they had hatched the previous year and had continued developing over the winter, but it appears that overwintering by larvae is uncommon.
Metamorphosis may be triggered by pond drying in some waters, but other factors that influence metamorphosis have not been determined.
Metamorphosis takes about 2 weeks, as the tail fin is absorbed and the gills are reduced.

Transformed juveniles leave the water with adult coloration and characteristics and with a trace of gills remaining.
At this time they cannot survive if kept in the water.
Juveniles leave the natal pond and travel overland where it is assumed they take refuge and do not return to the water until they breed.

Geographical Range
Endemic to California.
Found along the coast and coast range mountains from Mendocino county south to San Diego county.
A disjunct population is found in the southern Sierra Nevada from northern Kern county at Breckenridge Mountain north to a zone of intergradation (or hybridization) with the Sierra Newt along the Kaweah River in Tulare County.
(Formerly newts throughout all of the Sierra Nevada were recognized as a different subspecies, T. t. sierra - Sierra Newt.)
Reports of sightings from northwestern Baja California have never been verified.

Co-exists with T. granulosa from Santa Cruz county north to Mendocino county.
Elevational Range
From sea level to 4,200 ft. (1,280 m.) on Mt. Hamilton. (Stebbins & McGinnis 2012)

Habitat
Found in wet forests, oak forests, chaparral, and rolling grasslands. In southern California, drier chaparral, oak woodland, and grasslands are used.

Notes on Taxonomy
Two subspecies of Taricha torosa have been traditionally recognized: T. t. sierrae, and T. t. torosa. In 2007, Shawn R. Kuchta1 showed that the two subspecies of Taricha torosa "constitute distinct evolutionary lineages and merit recognition as separate species: T. torosa (California newt) and T. sierrae (Sierra newt). " The contact zone between these two species is the southern Sierra Nevada with a "hybrid zone centered along the Kaweah River in Tulare County."

A geographically isolated population of T. torosa in San Diego county has very warty skin and was once recognized as either a differen species T. klauberi, or as a different subspecies T.t. klauberi, the Warty Newt, but the warty appearance was determined to be caused by disease. Recent analysis (2) has determined that these San Diego county newts are "genetically differentiated, demographically independent, geographically disjunct, and have a history of isolation relative to the coastal populations."

Warty newts have also been reported from the San Francisco Peninsula.

Genetic variation exists between newts found north and south of the Salinas Valley.

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
Some verified populations in San Diego County are now extinct. Southern California populations have suffered population declines due to habitat loss and alteration caused by human activity, and from introduced predatory mosquitofish, crayfish, and bullfrogs, which eat the non-poisonous larvae and eggs. Breeding ponds have been destroyed for development, and stream pools used for breeding have been destroyed by sedimentation caused by wildfires.

Protected from take with a sport fishing license in 2013.
Taxonomy
Family Salamandridae Newts Goldfuss, 1820
Genus Taricha Pacific Newts Gray, 1850
Species

torosa California Newt (Rathke, in Eschscholtz, 1833)
Original Description
Rathke, 1833 - in Eschscholtz, Zool. Atlas, Pt. 5, p. 12, pl. 21, fig. 15

from Original Description Citations for the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America © Ellin Beltz

Meaning of the Scientific Name

Taricha: Greek - preserved mummy, possibly referring to the rough skinned appearance.
torosa: Latin - full of muscle, fleshy.

from Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained © Ellin Beltz

Alternate Names
Coast Range Newt - Taricha torosa torosa

Related California Salamanders
Taricha sierrae - Sierra Newt
Taricha rivularis - Red-bellied Newt
Taricha granulosa - Rough-skinned Newt

More Information and References
California Department of Fish and Wildlife

AmphibiaWeb

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.

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.

Jones, Lawrence L. C. , William P. Leonard, Deanna H. Olson, editors. Amphibians of the Pacific Northwest. Seattle Audubon Society, 2005.

1Herpetologica, 63(3), 2007, 332–350 E 2007 by The Herpetologists’ League, Inc.
Contact Zones and Species Limits: Hybridization Between Lineages of the California Newt, Taricha torosa, in the southern Sierra Nevada
Shawn R. Kuchta

2 Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2006, 89, 213–239. With 8 figures
Lineage diversification on an evolving landscape: phylogeography of the California newt, Taricha torosa (Caudata: Salamandridae)
Shawn R. Kuchta and An-Ming Tan

Conservation Status

The following status listings come from the Special Animals List and the Endangered and Threatened Animals List which are published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.


The CA Department of Fish and Game listing refers to Coast Range Newts from Monterey County and south.
Newts north of Monterey County and in the Sierra Nevada have no listings.
Organization
Status Listing
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife DFG:SSC California Species of Special Concern
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service None
 

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