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Newt kid in town

Mating season brings colorful salamander into public eye
By: Gus Thomson, Auburn Journal
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Sierra newts are making their way these days to Auburn-area waterways to do what comes naturally. With spring approaching, male newts of a subspecies that sports a tomato-red underbelly can be found floating in canals and streams throughout the foothills. It's their time, said Sierra College biologist Joe Medeiros. The newts were particularly prevalent this weekend along a Placer County Water Agency canal bordering the American River Canyon off the Falcon's Point subdivision in Auburn. Medeiros said mating season brings the newts to the water in wait for scent signals from the female. Newt eggs will eventually be deposited on rocks or other shoreline material. Adult newts will continue to stay near the water but find homes in burrows as the foothills heat up in the summer. Medeiros said Sierra newts are attractive dangers to people who may want to handle one but not know about the strong neurological toxins in its skin that help it ward off predators. They're wonderful creatures and every kid wants to grab one but their skin is toxic so they don't want to rub their eyes after touching one, he said. They're not deadly but it would be really painful. Auburn-area residents will be able to go on a guided newt field trip on March 16, when Protect American River Canyons offers a two-mile descent into American Creek canyon to observe newts and picnic at a waterfall. Described as moderately steep, the hike's meeting time and location can be obtained by contacting Protect American River Canyons board member Eric Peach at (530) 885-8878. Peach said the Sierra newt also goes by local nicknames like fire belly and water dog. Last weekend, we saw them on the trails at Knickerbocker Flat (a trail near Cool in El Dorado County) because they like to move when it rains, Peach said. With people getting out more and interacting more with nature, Medeiros said that one of the ways to get more in tune with newts and other flora or fauna is to attend a lecture coming up at 6 p.m. March 13 at the Sierra College Library by Bay Area naturalist and author John Muir Jack Laws on his recently published Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada. Newts aren't endangered but their presence in canals in the future could indicate how they and their environment are doing, Medeiros said. It's relatively common to see one in a canal, he said. By summer, they'll stay close but burrow down in the cracks in rocks and have a sort of summer dormancy. They'll be on land but not too far from water. The Journal's Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com, or post a comment at auburnjournal.com.