Friday, September 12, 2008

all the newts that's fit to print

For those of you who think they have mistakenly tuned in to Wild Kingdom -- well, you may not be completely wrong.

Two days ago: stinging caterpillars. And now the belly of some disgusting amphibian. Actually, the belly of another childhood memory.

In the little stream next to my boyhood home -- and in the Coquille River that it fed -- resided a creature that fascinates me to this day. Let me introduce you to Mr. rough-skinned newt (Taricha granulosa), also known as the Oregon Newt. And, in this case, that would be Ms. rough-skinned newt.

My brother and I would join the neighbor kids and collect these newts -- some for populating tanks in our houses -- others to simply release. At one stage in their lives, they return to the water to breed. That was prime snatchin' time. The back washes of the river were newt-deep. We also learned some very early lessons of how DNA is shared.

A few years ago, I recall that a visitor from Colorado swallowed one of these delectable-looking amphibians. Apparently, he had been drinking heavily (my bet is: not a vintage pinot noir) and took up a dare to devour a newt -- oysters Rockefeller style, without the Rockefeller.

Let me quote a source for what happened next. "Within 10 minutes, he complained of tingling in the lips. During the next two hours he complained of numbness and weakness and then experienced cardiopulmonary arrest. He died later during the day (despite hospital treatment)."

I thought that was an urban legend, until I learned that the little newt that fascinated me in my youth is the most toxic newt in the entire world. We are not talking Costa Rica or Guinea here. It was small town southern Oregon. But they have been known to kill belted kingfishers, great blue herons, bullfrogs, and fish. Only one variety of garter snake has developed an immunity to the toxin.

Some Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest used these newts to poison their enemies. Perhaps, ground in some form of salmon with dill sauce.

These newts were our playthings as children.

The moral from this little traipse through my benighted youth. Why ask me? I was the kid stupid enough to handle these ET toxic dumps.


glorv1 said...

I hope that little newt you have in your hand is not poisonous. Those things scare me. When we first moved here (21 years) it was just tons and tons of dry brush which required a lot of work, as our yard is 1/2 acre. Well we ran across those things, they really scare me. If they are poisonous, why are you holding in your hand? Remember that visitor from Colorado? Take care.

Steve Cotton said...

Gloria -- That is not my hand, but I would have no problem handling them -- even now. Some people suffer a mild dermititis as an allergic reaction. The danger is ingesting them. And I will not do that.

Anonymous said...

Well Steve... perhaps you should say "Goodbye newts, Hello scorpions," as you depart Oregon and venture into Mexico where you'll no doubt encounter all kinds of innocuous-looking but potentially deadly fauna.

Life's a dangerous thing.

Live it up while you can.

At least you're not moving to Australia.


Kim G
Boston, MA

Steve Cotton said...

Kim -- I must confess that Australia has tempted me. And, ironically, I have always had a Steve Irwin approach to nature. Sure, nature is dangerous, but something is eventually giong to kill me. Why not enjoy life while I am waiting to die?

Steve Cotton said...

By the way, Kim, we have plenty of scorpions in Oregon. But, like most nocturnal creatures, they do not have much human contact.

Isla Deb said...

Eewwww...we have plenty of lizard-like things in Texas, as well. In fact, I was weeding my yard last week and screamed when I grabbed onto a 5-inch long, 1-inch thick green caterpillar thing. Next time I'll take a picture of it after I stop screaming.

Steve Cotton said...

Deb -- The creepier and crawlier -- the better.

Anonymous said...

Hola Steve,

From what I hear, the scorpions in Mexico are far more gregarious than the reticent Oregon variety.

Fortunately, I've only had a few encounters with them. And in every case, I had the advantage.

But some day... they'll have the upper hand, and then I'll wish I was back shoveling snow in Boston.


Kim G
Boston, MA
(Where, thankfully, we aren't quite yet shoveling snow.)

Steve Cotton said...

Kim --

I have had a few close encuonters with scorpions in Mexico. I was actually stung by a little one who made a hit through a tear in my deck shoes.

I have always been amazed at the tourists who walk through tall grass wearing flip flops. I know how stupid that is because a few days ago, I was walking through a lawn with clover and managed to catch a honey bee between my foot and my sandal. I got exactly what nature had in store for me.