Market days can get long for Bracken and I while Jeff is in the booth, and I often look for nearby outdoor activities for us to do together on Saturdays. This last Saturday we went to an event by Nearby Nature called: ‘Wow Newts! Nature Quest.’ We had been to another Nearby Nature outing last year, the bug safari, and loved it. I had been looking forward to doing something with Nearby Nature again. The write-up said: “Enjoy a newt quest in Tugman Park! Learn about these cool critters from naturalist Tom Titus as we explore the wild side of this south Eugene park. Event co-sponsored by the Eugene’s Southeast Neighbors.
About our special guest: Dr. Tom A. Titus loves salamanders! He is a research associate in the Institute of Neuroscience at the University of Oregon, and teaches a university course on amphibians and reptiles of Oregon. Tom is president of the Eugene Natural History Society, and is author of the essay collection Blackberries in July: A Forager’s Field Guide to Inner Peace.”
I didn’t know a thing about newts and I had lots of questions. Bracken loves finding newts in our yard and I knew he would love learning more about them too. My first question was wondering what the difference was between a newt and a salamander? From the handout: “The differences between newts and salamanders are really minor, newts are a group of salamanders (or should I say a newt is a type of salamander), so it is correct to say that some salamanders are also newts. Newts usually have rougher skin than other salamanders (at least not as slimy), and most newts return to an aquatic habitat for their adult life (or at least part of it.) The pacific newts (genus Taricha) are terrestrial as adults, but return to water to breed, during the breeding season, they develop a flat tail, which is another one of the “differences” between the two types, (salamanders have rough tails.)”
That day we learned about rough skinned newts which are brown with orange bellies. They exude a toxin from the glands in their skin and the only animal that can eat them are some garter snakes (which can become poisonous for a period of time after ingesting them.) We were told that we’d only be harmed by a rough skinned newt if we ate it (which nobody would want to do anyway) and that if you had a cut on your hand and touched one, your hand might tingle a little and that was all. (But the whole poisonous thing was enough to make me not want to touch them at all. I’m happy to just look at them and learn about them.)
The turnout that day turned out to be huge and we were split into groups. Each group walked along an area of the creek and counted how many newts they saw. The story went that the creek there had once been polluted because the water that fed it went underneath a landfill and all the run off from car batteries etc. made it inhabitable for lots of wildlife. They later diverted the water, that fed the creek, away from the landfill and suddenly there were many newts to be found in the creek. On Saturday we participated in the first newt count in that creek and all the groups counted a total of 62 newts! Which means there are many more there, because they are not always easy to see.
After the newt count along the creek, the kids gathered around as we learned more about newts, and then played games. I loved the web of life game where each person got something pinned to their shirt. Things like: the sun, a snake, rain, salmon, a river, a dragonfly, etc. One person started out with the string and then handed it to someone else in the circle who they had a connection to. So, the person with the salmon could hand it to the person with the river, as one example. It was a good visual to see just how interconnected we all are in the web of life.
P.S. After all this time of living in Oregon, I finally found out what those beautiful purple flowers are. Camas.