Naural History of Newt Creek and Glen Cove Area

Natural History of Newt Creek and the Glen Cove Area

Natural History of Newt Creek and the Glen Cove Area

 

Around 1995, students from Marty Stockard’s fifth grade class named the creek running through the Glen Cove Community.  They named it Newt Creek after the California Newts (Taricha torosa) that live and breed in its waters.  Ms. Stockard was able to get the city to install a locked gate to prevent community members from dumping trash into the water.  Her class painted labels above each storm drain on Thresher Court to remind community members that soap, oil, paint, etc. will go directly into the creek and poison the animals that live there.

 

Over the years many classes have taken field trips to the area and have done population surveys of the animals that live there.  Of most interest to students and the community are the newts that live and breed in the creek.  The California Newt’s scientific name is Taricha torosa.  A newt is an amphibian.  It is a kind of salamander that has a part of its life cycle in the water.  During the summer months, newts estivate underground during the summer drought that characterizes the California weather pattern.  Estivation is something like hibernation for amphibians to survive the hot dry months like mammals do in the winter to survive the cold.  In late fall with the heavier rains, the ground gets moist and the newts come out to eat food.  They eat worms, slugs, and insect larvae.   They can be seen at this time walking along the banks of the creek and on the Eucalyptus leaves.   During spring the newts go into the creek to breed.  Their physiology changes dramatically.  They become able to “breath” water instead of air.  Their tales flatten to aid in swimming and their skin becomes smooth.  The females become much darker than the males.  The males are first to get in the water.  They find each other and gather in large balls that roll around the water thinking they are mating.  Then the females enter the water and the males figure things out.  They pair off and mate.  Later the females lay eggs on branches and sticks that are under water along the edges of the creek.  The eggs hatch a few weeks later and then the creek is swarming with small elongated tadpoles.  The tadpoles sprout legs and eventually the baby newts leave the water as air breathing animals.  Newts have no fear of predators because they are highly poisonous.  The neurotoxin on their skin is the same as what is found in the bladder of the Puff Fish that is eaten as a delicacy in Japan. The toxin is produced by bacteria that have a symbiotic relationship with the animal (as opposed to a parasitic relationship that kills the host).  A small piece of a newt is deadly to a small animal.  If attacked, a California Newt will turn over and show its bright yellow belly as a warning to the animal.  Animals quickly learn to heed these warnings.  We (Audrey and Mr. Allison) created a video DVD on the life history of the Californina Newts that includes footage of mating, males rolling together, eggs, etc.  Call the Mr. Allison at the school if you would like a copy of this.  Newts do not make good pets.  Amphibians are very difficult to keep in captivity.  Please leave the newts in the creek alone.  If you handle one, be sure to wash your hands.

 

Over the years we have cited many other animals.  We have seen gorgeous Ring-neck Snakes that live under logs although we found one outside a classroom too.  These snakes eat California Slender Salamanders that look something like small worms with legs that also live under logs.  Gopher Snakes are the most common reptile found in the area.  These snakes often come onto the campus.  They are brown and yellow with patterns and are often mistaken for rattlesnakes.  There have been reports of rattlesnakes in the area but identification has never been confirmed by someone with expertise in identification.  Alligator Lizards and Western Fence Lizards are common in the area.  Pacific Tree Frogs are often found perched on Water Cress leaves by the creek.  They are a small green frog that can change its color to match its surroundings.  At night during mating season, they make quite a racket chirping.

 

Often children would like to keep animals as pets. Adult Gopher Snakes and lizards can make good pets.  Collecting them requires a fishing license.  You must follow the rules in the DFG regulations.  Keeping pets for a short time is best and then return them to the same place they were taken.  A pet must eat to be kept; e.g. Gopher Snakes eat only mice. 

 

In the early 1990’s students from Ms. Bravo’s class found a dead Great-horned Owl.  After a great deal of bureaucracy, a parent (Deborah Bell) had the bird prepared for display.  It now resides in the Glen Cove School library.  Barn owls also live in the Eucalyptus Trees. 

 

Newt Creek has a small population of Monarch Butterflies that over-winter in the Eucalyptus trees each year.  There are several other species of butterfly that are common including: California Buckeye (brown and has eyespots), Anis Swallowtale (yellow and black with caterpillars on the Sweet Fennel), Cabbage White (common white butterfly), Painted Ladies (orange with black spots used in FOSS kits, caterpillars eat Mallow).  A collection of laminated butterflies is available by contacting Mr. Allison.

 

Of interest to students are the Water Striders that walk on the water at Newt Creek.  They are able to walk on the surface tension of the water.  You can show students how this works by floating a paperclip on water by carefully lowering it onto the surface.  A drop of soap breaks the surface tension.

 

On some field trips, we have taken samples of the water for microscope studies.  We have found daphnia, Cyclops, paramecia, and numerous other protozoans.  In addition, we have found Planaria in the waters.  Planaria are flatworms that are fascinating.  You can cut their heads in two and two heads will grow.  Cut their tales in two and they will grow two tales.   In the mud of the creek are diatoms and there a several kinds of algae.   If children are interested in studying the water with microscopes, the book Hunting with the Microscope is marvelous.  Cultures of protozoans can be made by adding a few grains of rice to the water, or wheat berries.  Boiling weeds and putting some of this water in the culture is also a good food source for protozoans.  Don’t add too much as this will cause bacteria to grow.  If this happens it will smell bad and all the organisms will die.

 

Of course there are numerous plants in the area.  A few to mention by the creek are: Cattails, Horsetails, bulrushes, Tulles, Water Cress, Sweet Fennel (smells like licorice), Toyone Bushes, Coyote Brush (Baccarus), wild oats, and Bristly Ox-tongue.  A collection of plants is available at the school for identification of many common plants.  

 

Other animals we have seen in the area include: skunks, raccoons, squirrels, a coyote, grey foxes that are often killed on Benicia Road, and one river otter.  The river otter came to school one day and walked playfully across the plaza thinking he had a class.  We needed animal control to get the otter back to the water without being run over by a car.  The otter was not a happy student learning this lesson as we had to capture it with a net.

 

Safety Tips for Coyotes and Other Wildlife

Glen Cove is next to Benicia State Park and has several open nature areas in the community.  There’s lots of wonderful wildlife in the area.  The Glen Cove Website has a feature on the natural history of the area that is informative.  In general it is best to teach children early to never approach wildlife and never to touch dead animals or birds as there can be a transmission of disease.  Coyotes have been in the news recently and there have been citings of them in the neighborhood.  There are lots of safety tips on the internet.  Here are a few of these tips: never feed coyotes or leave food outside; keep dogs on leashes; yell, clap hands, throw things, blow a whistle and try to make yourself look larger if you have a close encounter, also, don’t run away or turn away.  Coyotes are shy and do not want trouble with humans.  They are looking for food.  Aggressive behavior should be reported to the police or the RI Division of Fish and Wildlife at 401-789-0281.

 

 

 

Baby Male California Newt (light brown, round tail, lumpy drier skin)

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Female Newt Aquatic Phase (dark slippery skin and flat tail for swimming)

newt in terrestrial phase

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newt eggs

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newt ball (males)

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river otter

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Dead Great-Horned Owl

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Bristly Ox-Tongue

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Toyone Bush

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Teasel

Teasel

Cattails

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Horsetails

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Raccoon

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Baby Gopher Snake

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Baby Western Fence Lizard

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