PETALUMA, Calif. (KRON) — From mid-November to mid-March, California Newts in Petaluma begin making their way from their terrestrial habitats in the Northern California hills to their aquatic breeding ground.
This year, it seems like the recent rain may have encouraged this migration, leaving volunteers with the Chileno Valley Newt Brigade with their hands full — literally.
“In the past, we’ve never seen more than 250 baby newts; they come out of the lake as soon as it starts to rain,” Gale said. “This year, our wave of migratory babies far exceeded anything we’ve seen before; about four or five thousand baby newts.”
Newts spend most of their lives under coverage on a moist mountainside and migrate in waves to and from Laguna Lake, a large, shallow, natural lake at the head of the Chileno Valley to breed. Sally Gale, co-founder of the Chileno Valley Newt Brigade, told KRON4 that the babies are the first to move, then the adult males head into the lake next and wait for the females, then adult females cross over.
“In the last four years, we’ve had what we call “big nights” where you won’t see too many usually and then one night you see thousands,” Gale said. “We see a lot of newts every night.”
In order to make this migration, the newts cross a one-mile stretch of Chileno Valley Road, which puts them in harm’s way because they have to dodge cars. This means with a life span of 30 years, our local newts make this crossing about 60 times.
“Every night during the [four-month] migration period, we have volunteers helping them cross,” Gale said.
Gale said while hand crossings are helpful, there needs to be a long-term solution. This is why the Chileno Valley Newt Brigade is seeking to raise $35,000 to help fund a study to find a long-term solution.
Possible solutions may include closing the road on mass migration nights—several nights a year; modifying the existing storm culverts which currently are not newt friendly; installing newt-friendly tunnels specifically designed to help amphibians cross dangerous roads; installing new culverts designed specifically for amphibians with fences to guide the newts into them; or raising the roadway, the Newt Brigade said in its January-February 2023 newsletter.
“If they disappeared, we lose a jewel in our natural world,” Gale said. “Our attitude towards the newts is that they’re valuable in themselves. They don’t make our food, we can’t eat them[…] but they’re a part of the beauty of nature, just like the Monarch butterfly.”
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Gale said they currently have 50 volunteers and are always interested in getting more help.
“We’ve been doing this for 5 years and we’ll be doing it next year,” Gale said.