Newt Hunter

March 13, 2010

Took the family on a little hike just outside of Pasadena at Monrovia Canyon Park. Hoping to find a rare California Newt sighting here in southern California, I didn’t get my hopes up due to the rarity. There are tree frogs in just about every rural watering hole in Southern California. But newts?

California newts are one of my favorite animals. They’re hearty, but only in terms of amphibians which makes them the heartiest of a flimsy species. Amphibians have the largest number of extinctions around the world, because things can go wrong for them one of two ways: bad water or bad land. And the explanations of their extinction aren’t so easy as to claim environmental pollution, acid rain, etc. Amphibians are dying off even when the environment appears to be normal. They’re just leaving us… as if it’s their time.

A lot of reptile/amphibian experts know about the Santa Rosa Plateau, down in Riverside county, where a small but stable group of California (or Western) newts thrive on a reserve. There is a lot of volcanic soil in the area which produces rich, green vegetation and the usual red clay that muddies up the water is gone. The population is stable enough, that I intend to poach some egg clusters and raise them in captivity. I can breed them and make sure more babies survive than out in the wild, and release the adults back into the preserve after a few generations.

But little is known about this tiny population of newts in Monrovia. There are plenty of sightings, but the area is very close to the city, with a lot of foot traffic from hikers going to the waterfall at the end of mile long path. But going up isn’t where you find newts, you have to go down stream to where the water slows down a bit and the pools get larger. The kids were getting antsy, so My Beloved has to take them back to the van for refreshments. But I had crawled through some bracken to a calm part of the stream and found a single, adult newt, about eight inches long if you count the tail. He was about four feet into the pool so I couldn’t reach him. I called my two oldest kids over and they got to see the newt, walking under an overhang of grass and mud.

I stepped into the water with my shoes on and sunk deep in the mud. The park rangers would dig this site, but I figured I was far enough off the trail nobody would see me. I wanted to catch the newt just so the kids could see it up close. He got away, I couldn’t get a good picture, and my shoes were filled with mud. At least I saw what I came for. My next step over the next month will be to widen my search to other parts of the San Gabriel Mountains. I have a feeling there’s a lot more newts up there than in just this area.


7 Responses to “Newt Hunter”

  1. Ryan Says:

    My only newt sighting ever in my life was when I was about 5 or 6 and my dad took us for a hike in those same mountains. Neat!

  2. Doug Says:

    So they’ve been there since the late 80s. Now I’m wondering when the newts were introduced to this area. Thousands of years? Pangea? The mind boggles.

  3. Curious about your interest in these critters?

    In the Santiago Canyon (South Orange County) on the way out to Holy Jim Falls, there’s a short waterfall hike that has dozens of salamanders every time I go out there. Kind of maroon on top and orange on the bottom. They’re pretty neat.


  4. Ian Says:

    I read this post to my dad, who grew up catching turtles in the Florida panhandle and often took me and my little brother out looking at tree-frogs when we were growing up in S. California. He said a trick that might help is to dig a little hole and put a ceramic bowl at the bottom, filled part way with water that you crumble a few little pieces of local soil into (to normalize the PH just a little bit). Add to that a small chunk of raw hamburger meat and they’ll come out of the woodworks to get at it.

  5. Ryan Says:

    Oh shoot, maybe I saw a salamander… I don’t remember now.

  6. Lynn Maudlin Says:

    you are sort of an enormous human newt… my only newt sighting was “Aliens”…

  7. PGA Says:

    We were just up at Camp Trask above Monrovia in the San Gabriel mtns for a cub scout pack camping trip. By a large mud puddle near the upper camp, the cub scouts found several newts coming out of cracks in a cliff of dirt. Several of the boys had 4 or 5 newts crawling in the hands and up their arms. Fortunately the boys were very gentle with them. This was heaven for the boys as there were frogs and tadpoles there also.

    This brought memories back to me, as when I was a boy growing up in Indiana I was fortunate to have found a mudpuppy in a creek near my house, which are very hard to find.

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