From Oct. 31 through March 31, South Park Drive will be closed to cars to protect Tilden Park’s population of California newts as they migrate. File photo

Why did the newt cross the road? In the case of those that live in the East Bay hills, it’s so they can breed. And because the park district cares about its wild inhabitants, every year it closes the road in question to avoid the prospect of salamander carnage.

From Oct. 31 through March 31, South Park Drive will be closed to all automotive traffic, and cyclists are asked to proceed slowly and keep an eye out for the little beady-eyed creatures, which usually run five to six inches long. Dogs, while still allowed off-leash, must be under voice control. Drivers can use the alternative routes of Grizzly Peak Boulevard, Wildcat Canyon Road and Central Park Drive during the five-month closure.

The Park District has closed South Park Drive for the seasonal migration for over 20 years, allowing the newts to seek out the higher air moisture levels they favor for breeding.

Although not an officially threatened species, the overall newt population has decreased over the past several decades primarily due to loss of habitat, according to the East Bay Regional Park District, which shared some insights into California newts in a Q&A with naturalist Trent Pearce, who works in the Tilden Nature Area.

How far do these newts travel?

Studies have shown some newts are able to return to their home stream from distances up to 2.5 miles, although shorter migrations are more common. Here in Tilden, many newts cross South Park Drive on their way to Wildcat Creek. Some also cross Wildcat Canyon Road on their way to the Regional Parks Botanic Garden, the Tilden Golf Course and other pools of water.

What changes do the newts go through in the breeding season?

Male newts change more dramatically than females. Once in the water, males swell and become bulkier, their tails become flattened for swimming, and they develop nuptial pads on their feet for gripping females. Females may develop a slightly flattened tail.

What do the newts look like when they hatch from their eggs?

When newly hatched, larval newts look similar to a frog tadpole but are striped and have external gills. As they grow, four legs slowly emerge. As summer progresses, they metamorphose into a terrestrial juvenile (a tiny version of the adult) — changing color, losing their gills, and leaving the water to find an upland retreat.

Where are the newts in the summer?

Some newts weather the dry months in rodent burrows, under rocks and logs, and anywhere moisture is trapped. Others may remain in their mating pools year-round if the pools stay filled with water.

How can the public help the newts?

When traveling on South Park Drive, watch the ground (especially when cycling). Drive slowly when passing the Regional Parks Botanic Garden on Wildcat Canyon Road, as many newts cross in this unprotected area. And never remove a newt from the wild — all animals in East Bay Regional Parks are protected under Ordinance 38.

Berkeleyside staff

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