From Oct. 31, 2016 through March 31, 2017 South Park Drive in Tilden Regional Park will be closed to all automobile traffic to protect migrating and breeding newts. Bicycles are allowed, although bicyclists are asked to proceed slowly and avoid newts crossing the road. Dogs may be off-leash on South Park Drive during the closure, but they must be under voice control and owners must carry a leash.
The California newt is a native species of salamander five to six inches long. After spending the dry season in sheltered upland places, the newts migrate in the winter for breeding.
“They respond to the moisture level in the air,” explained Naturalist Trent Pearce. “They come out after the rains, and even after heavy fog.”
Although not an officially threatened species, the overall newt population has decreased over the past several decades primarily due to loss of habitat. Road kill is a major contributor to adult mortality in areas with an urban wildlife interface. Based on staff research in partnership with U.C. Berkeley, the Park District has closed the road for the seasonal migration for over 20 years.
The public is welcome to use the road during the closure for walking, cycling and dog-walking. However, please keep dogs away from the newts as they are toxic (poisonous). And as a reminder, no collecting of wildlife is allowed in the parks.
To learn more, attend a naturalist program or read our FAQ below.
For more information on Regional Parks programs phone 888-EBPARKS (888-327-2757) option 2.
Q & A with Naturalist Trent Pearce, Tilden Nature Area
How far do these newts travel?
The newts have been observed crossing South Park Drive on their way to Wildcat Creek. Many also head to the Regional Parks Botanic Garden, the Tilden Golf Course, or other pools of water. Studies in the park have found adult newts up to two miles from their home stream.
What changes do the newts go through in the breeding season?
Once they make it to the water to breed, they do change. This is called the aquatic phase. They swell and become more bulky. Their tails become more flattened and they can swim. The males change more dramatically since they are competing for a mate.
What do the newts look like when they hatch from their eggs?
They look like tiny little wriggling specks - a lot like a tadpole but they are striped and have external gills. They grow leg buds, then legs, and they stay in the water for several months. Then they metamorphose into an adult, change color, lose their gills and crawl out of the water to find their upland spot.
Where are the newts in the summer?
They spend the summer waiting for more rain. Estivation is the term for summer hibernation. Depending on the temperature and humidity they will go quasi-dormant and hole up underground.
How can the public help the newts?
When traveling on South Park Drive, watch your step. Especially when biking. Don’t remove the newts – they are not good pets - and pass slowly when driving past the Regional Parks Botanic Garden. Use caution when on foot or bike on South Park Drive.
Photo above: Newt photographed in Wildcat Creek, Nov. 2015, by Trent Pearce.