Newts are a type of salamander, but are differentiated by rougher skin and flat (rather than round) tails. These amphibians spend their adult lives on land, returning to water only to breed. The Rough-skinned Newt is a stocky-looking animal which grows to a maximum length of 8 inches (20 cm). Their skin has a granular appearance and can range in color from dark grey to reddish-brown. There is a small yellow stripe on the upper eyelid and the lower eyelid is usually black. These newts will migrate in large numbers to ponds, streams and rivers during mating season. Females lay their eggs on the leafs and stems of aquatic plants where they develop for three to four weeks before the larvae hatch. It will take several months before the larvae transform into juvenile newts, at which time they venture onto land.
This fragile-looking animal has an unusual defense mechanism. Its skin can produce a powerful neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin. The toxin prevents nerve cells from firing correctly, which ultimately causes paralysis and death. Many aquatic animals possess this neurotoxin, including the pufferfish, porcupinefish and Blue-ringed Octopus – considered the most venomous marine animal. One study estimated as many as 25,000 mice could be killed using the toxin in one newt. As impressive as that sounds, the toxin’s effects are usually only severe if the newt is eaten by another animal, although some people have reported skin irritation after touching a newt. It is not advisable to handle this animal, both for their safety and yours.
The Rough-skinned Newt can be found along the west coast of North America, from southern California to British Columbia. Smaller isolated populations can also be found in Idaho and Montana. They live in damp environments, finding shelter at the edge of pools, lakes and streams. On land, they can be found under rotting bark, piles of leaves or in mossy crevices.