Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Creature Feature: Rough-skinned Newt.

"She turned me into a newt!...I got better." - Monty Python's Holy Grail.

Of all the creepy things this blog has covered, we have not covered newts. We have had a few neotenic salamanders, but newts are noticably absent. What, a major spell ingredient, missing? Not in my October!

That said, the Rough-skinned Newt (Taricha granulosa) is one newt that even the most stoned witch would not put in her cauldron. It is native to the Western coast of North America and probably the most lethal creature there after Katy Perry's outfits. Like most newts, it eats insects and has plenty of natural enemies.


This newt is lethal. Its skin secretes tetrodotoxin, one of the single most deadly toxins in the natural world. It should sound familiar if you have ever looked into fugu poisoning, the blue-ringed octopus, or even triggerfish. If ingested, this newt will almost certainly kill. We do not think that California is one of the environments you think of upon hearing "deadly poisonous animal," but nature loves trolling humanity.

The rough-skinned newt's poison has an unlikely counter. Of all things, the common garter snakes in the newt's habitat are the only things that can eat the toxic not-lizards. These are not impressive snakes to look at, but they have evolved such that the binding feature in tetrodotoxin cannot work its deadly magic. The two are in an arms race so fierce that the snake keeps evolving stronger and stronger counters to stronger and stronger pufferfish poison.

So yeah. If you touch this newt, you will not get better.

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