Drought affecting breeding of newts at UC Berkeley Botanical Garden

The rainy weather has finally arrived but the drought is affecting the breeding of newts at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden.
March 5, 2014 6:57:10 PM PST
The rainy weather has finally arrived but the drought is still very much on the minds of many, especially some in the Berkeley Hills where an annual mating ritual is underway. But the future of those mating is in question.

If you know the Berkeley Hills, you also recognize South Park Drive and even know why the county closes it every rainy season from November to April.

Officials close the road to thru traffic every year to protect the newt population during their mating season.

Though not so much in this drought year when, just off the road, a person is more likely to find errant golf shots from Tilden Park than newts.

"This year, I have seen only two, but how many rainy days have we had?," one woman said.

Why does the newt cross the road?

"To get to the other side, to get to the pond, water, a place to breed," UC Berkeley Botanical Garden Director Paul Licht, M.D. said.

Licht is also one of the world's foremost newt experts.

The UC Berkeley Botanical Garden's pond is where many newts would be at this time of year, but they're hard to find right now due to the drought.

"It has prevented them from starting to breed, starting to feed and starting to breed," Licht said.

We visited the pond and found one of a few arrivals at a time when the pond should have thousands.

With patience, you may get lucky enough to find a male newt grappling a female. Scientists say amplexus is the word used to describe the mating embrace between amphibians.

In G-rated terms, the male newt demonstrates his strength to the female. He arouses her interest and leaves deposits along the bottom which the female scoops up. Within days, she leaves behind a fertilized egg sack and the two mated newts live happily ever after, separately.

This practice is being encouraged by the closing of a Berkeley road which, at this time in most years without a drought, would be helping to prevent massive newt genocide.

"If the rains start coming now, it will extend the newt season and it probably should be closed until the newts are done," Licht said.

The East Bay Regional Park District tells ABC7 News that leaving the gate closed could be an option.


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