Rough-Skinned Newts
and Their Tracks

Taricha granulosa

 
The direction of travel of the tracks above is from right to left. The tail drag does not always show in the trail.
 

Natural History of the Rough-Skinned Newt

Rough-skinned newts are one of the most aquatic of newts. They live in rivers, streams, ponds, and other watercourses. These newts are poisonous if eaten. If you find one and are tempted to pick it up, handle it carefully and wash your hands thoroughly afterward. When handling amphibians, make sure your hands are not coated with insect repellent or lotions. Wet your hands before handling amphibians.

 
perfect rough-skinned newt track
Perfect rough-skinned newt track in mud.
 
fresh rough-skinned newt tracks
Rough-skinned newt tracks in mud. These tracks were only seconds old.
 
old newt tracks

Older newt tracks in mud. These have been rained on, which you can tell by the pock marks in them and the surrounding soil.

 
newt showing tail drag
Rough-skinned newt making tracks across a dirt road.
 
newt making tracks
Rough-skinned newt and his tracks
 
alert newt
An alert looking newt
 

This rough-skinned newt was found wandering on the floor of a redwood forest in December. The rainy season is a good time for amphibians to travel over land. They can venture much further from water during these times.

 

The face of a rough-skinned newt. This was a male in the breeding form during early spring. Notice that the eyes do not extend beyond the outline of the head. That is one identifying characteristic of this species.

 

When disturbed, the rough skinned newt will arch its back and raise its tail to display the bright orange underside. This defensive posture is likely a warning to predators that says, "I am poisonous. Do not eat me! Stay away!"

 
The breeding male has a smoother skin appearance, and the tail is
 

This newt was in a pool of shallow water alongside a river. Many newts were in this pool. The current from the river fed more water into the pool, but the water was relatively still.

 

These two rough-skinned newts were underwater in the Eel River. They were at a depth of about 12 feet. During the summer, there was a group of newts that lived in this location. They lived among the algae on the river bottom. Periodically, they would swim the the surface, then dive back down.

 

Another newt resting on the river bottom. The algae provided protection from predators and possibly a place to find food. The only predator known to eat them and survive is the common garter snake.

 

This newt is beginning its swim from the river bottom up to the surface. There is another newt resting on the riverbed behind it. I am not sure of the purpose of the surfacing behavior.

 
This newt is at the surface. Their visits to the surface were very brief.
 

Newt swimming back down to the river bed after having surfaced. Notice how they tuck the arms and legs against the body to streamline their shape and swim faster.

 
A newt turning to dive back down.
 

Sometimes, the newts would swim partway up to the surface, then float like this. It looked like they were taking a break from swimming. After a break, some of them would float all the way back to the river bed. Others would resume swimming to the surface.

 

A newt is reflected on the surface of the water as it dives back downward. An underwater camera was used to get these shots.

 

A newt at the surface. Perhaps they come up for air. It's only one explanation. I am really not sure what the purpose is. They looked like little divers coming up for air.

 
 
A Look at Rough-Skinned Newt Feet

These close-up views will give you an idea of the shape of the feet that make the tracks you find. Newts are lightweight animals and their tracks are best looked for in fine mud near waterways.

The left front foot of a rough-skinned newt. The front feet both have four toes. Newts have no claws. During the breeding season, male newts have "nuptial pads" on the tips of their fingers. Photo below.

 
 
Close-up of a left front foot.
 
This is the back of the left front hand.
 
Back of the left front foot (or hand) of another rough-skinned newt.
 
This is the bottom of the left hind foot. It is the palm, or palmar surface of the foot. The hind feet have five toes.
 
A nice close-up of a newt's left hind foot.
 
A nice close-up of a newt's left hind foot.
 
The left hind foot of a different newt.
 
The right front foot palmar surface.
 
A nice view of the back of the right front foot.
 

Hind tracks may show only the tips of the toes due to how newts walk. In some substrates, you will find good details. This is the palm of the right hind foot.

 
The back of the right hind foot.
 
Back of the right hind foot of a different newt.
 

The nuptial pads are found on male newts in breeding form. During this time, their skin is smooth. They also have these nuptial pads that probably serve to help them grip the female newt during mating. Male newts grip the female from behind in a position known as amplexus. These pads are not found on the female newt.

 
 

This newt is exhibiting the defensive posture and bright color that warns predators to leave it along. In nature, bright colors are often used this way. Think of the skunk with its bold black and white coloration patterns. Predators learn which animals to avoid, sometimes the hard way.

 
 
tandem swimming
Two newts locked in amplexus
 
amplexus newts
Amplexus is the gripped posture the newts use when mating. They can swim in tandem like this for a long time
 
three views
Three views of newts in a breeding pond
 
warning posture
A newt showing the warning posture which displays the bright orange underside.
 
newt in wet grass
Newt walking in wet grass
 
amplexus
Two newts in amplexus
 
newt in pond
A newt underwater in the breeding pond
 
newt in puddle
A newt in a shallow puddle
 
newt in puddle
Puddles like this one are good places to find newts in spring
 
amplexus pair
Two newts in amplexus
 
amplexus
Swimming in tandem. The male newt is the one with the flattened tail
 
breeding newts
Two newts in their breeding pond
 
breeding newts
Springtime is the best time to observe this behavior in newts
 
newt trail
A newt trail going from left to right
 
breeding newts
Three newts, one trying to break apart the other two
 
breeding newts
View from the same pond
 
breeding newts
A second male newt trying to break up a pair in amplexus
 
 
newt tracks
Newt trail
 
male newt underwater
Male newt in a shallow puddle.
 
male newt in puddle
Male newt underwater.
 
male newt showing nuptial pads
Male newt in the breeding form. Notice the nuptial pads on each foot.
 
male newt in shallow puddle
View of a male newt in a shallow puddle near a dirt road
 
male newt in shallow water
Male newt exploring the underwater world in a shallow puddle
 
Newt exploring a grassy trail in early fall
Newt exploring a grassy trail in early fall

 

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Copyright 1997, 2009, 2012. Text, photos, and drawings by Kim A. Cabrera

Updated: July 4, 2012

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