Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Newt Dance

As rains finally fall on fair California, and ponds fill, and creeks begin to run, the seasonal newt dance has also begun.

For much like the skunks, this is also their time of year to look for love.

So they make the march to water. To where they were born.

For the Sierra Newt, Taricha sierrae, this means mountain streams and ponds, and even the stillwater edges of large rivers.

I come from down in the valley
Where mister when you're young
They bring you up to do like your daddy done
Me and Mary we met in high school
When she was just seventeen
We'd drive out of this valley down to where the fields were green

We'd go down to the river
And into the river we'd dive
Oh oh down to the river we'd ride...

- The River, Bruce Springsteen


The males go first, and set up shop in those perfect places they know the ladies like to lay.

Which can lead to the occasional confusion...

sierra newt

sierra newt

sierra newts
"Hey baby - come here often?"

sierra newts
"What the?"

sierra newts
"Sorry dude"

But a greater contributing factor to these awkward moments is that most newt males go down to the river to breed every year, and les femmes newtale... not so much. Every other year. Or less.

So most of the newts in the river are males.

Yep, it's true. Newt parties are total dude-fests.

Which means that if you're a hot-to-trot male newt, and you find a lady that likes your style, you really have to hold on to her.

Giving new meaning to the term clingy.

sierra newts
Male (top) and female newts in their mating embrace (called "amplexus" in amphib geek)

sierra newts

But it's a must, because, as you can see in this 37 second video, the other males can get pretty pushy in their attempts to meet your gal:


Video of second male sierra newt trying to break apart pair in amplexus

In fact, newt males have adaptations to help, which can be useful for sexing them in the field.

sierra newt
Black nuptial toe pads and roughened thighs of breeding male sierra newt

sierra newt
Black toe pads are even visible from the top when newts are in their aquatic phase

Because when in their terrestrial form, they can be pretty impossible to sex.

sierra newt
A sierra newt from under a nearby rock still in terrestrial form

And it can get pretty rough out there. The competition for breeding females can even turn into those infamous "newt balls," with multiple males all trying to get at a single lady newt.

sierra newts
Churning and spinning ball of male sierra newts trying to break apart a couple in amplexus

sierra newts

sierra newts

sierra newts

sierra newts

sierra newts

But in the world of newts, ball brawls are how they prove health, and separate men from boys.

sierra newts
To the victor, the genetic spoils

And it appears that lady newts are well worth the wrestling.

We'd go down to the river
My baby and I
Oh oh down to the river we'd ride
Ay, yai, yai...


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8 comments:

  1. Really love that last photo. I'm supremely jealous of your voyeurism.

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    1. You've been to the exact spot too!

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  2. What are glorious spring days for but to sit by a stream and watch newts dance? Here is a poem by a East Coaster that catches it too - not so sure about the belly to belly part but otherwise perfect.
    Forty-Five by Hayden Carruth
    http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php?date=2014/02/25
    I've never seen the Sierran species. Like the marbled texture of male in second photo.

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    1. Nice. I also thought of doing a riff on Van Morrison's "Moondance":
      Well, tt's a marvelous day for a newt dance
      With the sun up above in your eyes
      A fantabulous time to make romance...

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  3. I'm laughing so hard at this. Fun post.

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  4. This is a very amplexie post.

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  5. Thanks for celebrating the newtonian rite of spring with us.

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    Replies
    1. Ha! Wish I had thought of that word play. "Newtonian Dynamics" would have been a fun title. :)

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