The Resilient Coast Range Newt: Adapted for Fire and Survival

Jun 28, 2023 | MSHCP, Species

A pair of coast range newts (Taricha tarosa tarosa) prepared themselves as the heat from the approaching fire intensified. Within seconds, their slimy skin secreted a foamy substance, forming a protective coating that shielded them from the surrounding flames. This fire-resistant coating acts as a barrier, while escaping the burning areas and find refuge in cooler habitats.

This extraordinary phenomenon is not a work of fiction. Adapted to reside in a state that leads the nation in wildfires, the coast range newt has defense mechanisms suited to a warm climate. Their ability to withstand our arid climate is enhanced by their large bladder capacity, thick skin, and ability to tolerate high temperatures.

Coast range newts prefer the cool streams and upland habitats of the Santa Ana Mountains bioregion. These small amphibians can cover significant distances relative to their small size – traveling up to 1.24 miles (2 kilometers) during migration between habitats and breeding sites, spanning from the Santa Ana River to the Santa Margarita River.

Mating season occurs between January and May and requires very specific breeding habitat conditions. These conditions consist of deep and slow bodies of water, also known as “pools,” and deep and fast bodies of water with minimal turbulence, referred to as “runs.” Several males may vie for the attention of a single female, especially during the early part of the breeding season. After fertilization, females take several weeks to deposit a clutch of eggs, containing anywhere from seven to thirty eggs.

A typical newt diet consists of earthworms, insects, snails, and other small invertebrates. To aid in feeding, the newt has a highly developed tongue-projection system, relying almost entirely on the movement of their prey to detect food items. Motionless prey within their reach is typically ignored.

The natural lifespan of a coast range newt ranges from 10 to 15 years. Over time, they have faced numerous challenges, including wildfires, invasive species, and land development. Introduced invasive species such as the red swamp crayfish and mosquitofish prey on newt eggs and larvae. Additionally, historical land development in western Riverside County and other south coastal counties has also contributed to the degradation of their habitats.

Recognizing the precarious state of the coast range newt, this newt is listed as a Species of Special Concern. Through the MSHCP, RCA aims to conserve 85,020 acres of suitable habitat, helping to protect current and future populations of the coast range newt in western Riverside County.