Newts take the stage during annual mating ritual at UC Botanical Garden

Spring awakens the mating activities of the California newt, and the University of California Botanical Garden is the perfect place to witness the annual mating rituals of one of the state’s legendary salamanders.

Each year, male newts circle the Japanese Pool – a gift from the Japanese government after the closure of the  Golden Gate Exposition on Treasure Island in 1939 – awaiting the arrival of females  from the surrounding garden. Their flirtation ends in a long duet called amplexus, in which the male kisses the female from behind and rubs his chin against her nose to encourage her to lay eggs.

 If you’re lucky you might spot a couple of mating newts, with the male embracing the female and swimming peacefully at the bottom of the pool. Males are bulkier and have flatter tails than females, possibly an adaptation to spending much more time in the water waiting to meet females.

The male then scatters small packets of seeds to the bottom of the pond, followed by the female, who lures them  into her cesspool where they fertilize the eggs. Next, it lays its eggs in a gelatinous mass on a submerged leaf or twig, where they wait to be hatched in late spring. The pygmy newt-like larvae, but equipped with gills for breathing underwater, spend several months to a year in the pond, then disappear into the forest, live there alone and regularly visit the reservoir after reaching sexual maturity. They can live 20 years or more.

There are two species of newts in the garden: the thick-skinned newt (Taricha granulosa) and the Californian newt (Taricha torosa), which has a more reddish back and  yellow-orange belly.Newts grow up to 6 inches long. According to  UC Botanical Gardens director emeritus Paul Licht,  professor emeritus of integrative biology at Berkeley, both species have venomous skins that ensure they have few predators.

The UC Botanical Garden is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (except  the first and third Tuesday of the month), and admission is free to UC Berkeley faculty, staff, and students, as well as employees of the Berkeley Lab and the University President’s Office.

The garden’s crop manager, Andrew Doran, noted that the Japanese pool will be drained later this year to allow for the floor to be repaired. It is not a natural pond and its concrete floor is leaking after 80 years of use. Garden staff plan to relocate as many  newts  to other ponds as possible, Licht said, which will disrupt the newt community for some time.However, he added that he firmly believes the hardy amphibians will return next spring. After all, I’ve been here much longer than in the garden and at the university.

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