Sierra Newt – Powerful Water Drive & Deadly Skin

California and Sierra Newts are native to California.

In winter and spring, Sierra Newts in Nevada County respond to an over-powering urge – to return to the pond or stream where they were born.


Hormones cause this migratory breeding behavior, known as water drive. (The hormone, prolactin, is also responsible for human breast milk production.) The migration begins with travel and ends in a submerged ball-like embrace with a female (amplexus).

Predators & Toxins

On its mating journey and throughout its twenty-year life, the only form of defense that the newt possesses is its skin.  The skin contains tetrodotoxin, a neurotoxin.

“This neurotoxin is strong enough to kill most vertebrates, including humans,” – Wikipedia.

When threatened, the newt arches its back, flashing its colorful underbelly, offering the predator a warning and a choice (unken reflex). [See Worlds Weirdest video below.]

Newts are one of the most toxic animals in the world. But the toxicity of the Sierra Newt is nothing to worry about when handling this interesting and delicate creature. It’s only dangerous if you eat it!

“Scientists have tested 30 potential predators of newts, from belted kingfishers to great blue herons to bullfrogs and fish, finding in every case that the newt killed them,” writes Lynda V. Mapes, Seattle Times staff reporter.

photo credit: Bill Bouton from San Luis Obispo, CA, USA

Toxic Skin

If you enjoyed this post, check out Sierra Tree Frog with Chemical Sensitivities

click image to purchase or view more Life on the Creek art


Amphibian Population Decline

California Newt Identification

California Newt – Wikipedia

Declining Global Amphibian population – National Geographic – 1 hr program

eHow – Newt Life Cycle

Nevada County Resource Conservation District – Amphibians

PDF – California Newt Fact Sheet – Sacramento Zoo

PDF – Sierra Newt – Wildlife Habitat Relationships System – CA Dept. of Fish & Wildlife

Sierra Newt – Taricha Sierrae – California Academy of Sciences

Sierra Newt’s Epic Mating Tactics -Earth Touch News Network

The deceptively cute newt: ‘You don’t want to kiss them’ – The Seattle Times


Eye of Newt References

Book – Eye of Newt and Toe of Frog, Adder’s Fork and Lizard’s Leg, THE LORE AND MYTHOLOGY OF AMPHIBIANS AND REPTILES by Marty Crump

Is eye of newt a real thing?  – How Stuff Works

Scurvy in California’s Food Capital

Well before the Gold Rush (by the 1750’s) it was known that eating citrus fruit prevented scurvy

scur·vy | ˈskərvē/ | noun – a disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin C, characterized by swollen bleeding gums and the opening of previously healed wounds, which particularly affected poorly nourished sailors until the end of the 18th century.

“Yet the 1849ers, in their rush to riches, chose to ignore common wisdom (fresh fruit and vegetables) and medical counsel. They paid a severe penalty. Americans were some of the best-fed people in the world in 1849; nevertheless, scurvy stalked the mining West relentlessly that year.” –Life and Death Jostle One Another: Medicine in the Early Gold Camps (1994)
Duane A. Smith, Professor of History at Fort Lewis College,
Durango, Colorado

Alonzo Delano 1806-1874 – Miner, journalist, artist & humorist

“Most immigrants, even if they arrived in good health, would ‘be sick after arrival.’ Exposure and bad diet contribute much to producing sickness.” – Alonzo Delano

While many miners turned to popular medicines – opium, mercury, quinine, and castor oil – some experimented with eating wild plants or drank sassafras and pine needle tea.

Joaquin Miller, Poet of the Sierras 1837-1913 – A mining-camp cook (Willamette Oregon region) who contracted scurvy from eating his own cooking. Also a lawyer, judge, journalist, Pony Express rider, and horse thief.








When dreaming of leaving the goldfields, Joaquin Miller wrote,
“I’ll not have to live on chile beans
Shortbeef and rusty bacon
Nor work in mud and more and rain
And be all the time a shaken.”








If you liked this post, you may also enjoy Miners Provisions – 1850 Food Prices


Life and Death Jostle One Another: Medicine in the Early Gold Camps (1994), Duane A. Smith, Professor of History at Fort Lewis College, Durango, Colorado

Shared Tastes – Shovel Bread & Watercress, Potato & Tomato Salad Recipes

click on image to see more Pony Express items

Sierra College – Alonzo Delano: Nomad Denizen of the World by Gary Noy

Stanford University – Sacramento Medical Societies prior to 1856 (Dr. JDB Stillman)

Wikimedia Commons – Joaquin Miller \ Cincinnatus Heine Miller (1837-1913)

Wikipedia – Alonzo Delano

click image to download free coloring sheet
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