California newts shut down road in Berkeley’s Tilden Regional Park

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Sorry, speedy bicyclists. Too bad, commuters looking to sneak around bad traffic on I-80. Tough luck, park visitors. South Park Drive in Tilden Regional Park is closed to all motor vehicles through March 31.

The reason? Newts. Lots of newts.

The road closure is an annual precaution to protect the migrating and breeding newts making their way from the summer habitat to ponds and creeks in the park. Once they arrive, it’s newt love to the max.

Bicycles are allowed, although riders are asked to go slowly to avoid newts crossing the road. While dogs may be off-leash on South Park Drive during the closure, they must be under voice control, and their owners must carry a leash and use it when necessary.

Newts excrete a neurotoxin that can be fatal, so park rangers urge dog owners to keep a close eye on their animals. Humans need to avoid touching the newts, too.

For the non-newtons in the crowd, the East Bay Regional Park District explains that California newts are a native species of salamander. They measure 5 to 6 inches long, and during the dry season they stay in sheltered upland locations, in abandoned rodent holes, under rocks and logs and anywhere there is moisture.

When winter approaches, the newts leave their homes, biologically driven to return to the places where they were spawned, to mate and produce a new generation of newts.

“They respond to the moisture level in the air,” parks naturalist Trent Pearce explained. “They come out after the rains, and even after heavy fog.”

Officials said that East Bay Regional Park District is committed to making park lands accessible to Bay Area residents and guests, but they also protect sensitive species in the urban landscape. For the past 20 years, the district, working with UC Berkeley researchers, have shut down the road to help out the newts.

Those visiting the park can use Grizzly Peak Boulevard, Wildcat Canyon Road and Central Park Drive to maneuver to favorite park areas.

Newts are not an officially threatened species, but their population has decreased in the past few decades, mostly because of habitat loss. Preserving the Tilden population helps maintain the newt numbers.

Want to know more about newts? Here’s a Q & A with naturalist Pearce:

Q: How far do these newts travel?

A: Studies have shown some newts are able to return to their home stream from distances of up to 2.5 miles, although shorter migrations are more common. Here in Tilden, many newts cross South Park Drive on their way to Wildcat Creek. Some also cross Wildcat Canyon Road on their way to the Regional Parks Botanic Garden, the Tilden Golf Course, and other pools of water.

Q: What changes do the newts go through in the breeding season?

A: Male newts change more dramatically than females. Once in the water, males swell and become bulkier, their tails become flattened for swimming, and they develop nuptial pads on their feet for gripping females. Females …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Lifestyle


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