Newt Migration: Roadkill
What are newts?
Newts are a type of salamander and are part of the larger group, amphibians (just like frogs). Seven species of newts are found in North America. Newts are born in the water, migrate to land, and return to the water periodically to breed.
Roadkill Danger at Lexington Reservoir
Several species of newt live in California's Lexington Reservoir. In the winter, these newts come down from the hillside into the water. In the spring, the adults return to land, and then in the late summer and fall, the new baby newts follow.
A road follows the eastern shoreline of the reservoir, bisecting the newts' annual migration route, and every year thousands of newts are crushed by cars traveling down the road.
Measuring the Impact
The Pacific Newt Roadkill iNaturalist project has taken on the task of counting every crushed newt body. Currently (2021), more than 16,000 bodies have been counted and photographed.
The newts have a lifespan of 14 years, so a high mortality rate could significantly impact the population. It's an interesting problem, as both the reservoir and the road are human-created; the reservoir acting as a habitat for newts, the road as a danger.
Solutions to Habitat Fragmentation
Habitat fragmentation is not just a problem for newts, with roads often bisecting the habitats of larger wildlife, like coyotes, deer, and even bears and moose. Successful solutions often involve connecting habitats by fencing the road and diverting wildlife to purpose-built bridges or culverts. Avoiding vehicle collisions is not just good for the animals; a collision with these animals is often dangerous for vehicle occupants.
The National Wildlife Federation has been working on reducing habitat fragmentation across the United States, including raising money for a crossing in Southern California to improve mountain lion habitat. Donate here.
How to Spot Newts
Newts should not be touched as they can secrete toxins on their skin.
In the rainy season, look for newts swimming along the shoreline of a lake or creek. During a light rainstorm, walk the roads near a lake or pond and look for newts crossing.
To find where others have spotted newts in your area, check out this iNaturalist map.