Ribbed newt

Spanish ribbed newt. Image taken at the San Francisco Zoo.

These adorable little critters have been the subject of quite a lot of recent research and we’re learning a lot of new things about the fascinating way these animals defend themselves. It has several levels of defense, the first simply being to squirm a lot and try to get away. Since they’re quite slippery, this can be very effective. If that doesn’t work, they’ll move to phase 2 and secrete a nasty toxin that is irritating to humans, but is strong enough to kill a mouse and probably makes them taste bad or makes them even more slippery (many newt species ooze out toxins for defense). The Spanish ribbed newt is immune to its own toxin, which is particularly important for this species and that’s because of defense strategy #3.  As a last resort, they’ll actually push their ribs through their skin to act as defensive barbs. The ribs have been documented rotating as much as 65 degrees! The ribs protrude from small orange warty-looking bumps along their sides.

Spanish ribbed newt orange bumps

Spanish ribbed newt, side view. Note orange bumps where ribs protrude. Image taken at the San Francisco Zoo.

The orange spots might act as a warning to make the ribs more obvious. When they stick their ribs out, they also release antimicrobials, so as to prevent infection. When the threat is gone, the ribs relax back into place and they heal up.  Mind you, there is no permanent opening where the ribs come out, they are actually piercing their own skin each time they do this. The next step in this research is to make observations as to the effectiveness of this defense. I really can’t wait to find out what they discover.

Find more information about this research done by Egon Heiss and gang in this pdf of his publication or on the Caudata Culture website, which nicely summarizes their work as well as gives some good general information.

By the way, dramatic prairie dog…

dramatic prairie

Dramatic prairie dog, popular internet meme.

I’d like you to meet your new foe…

Dramatic Newt!!!

Dramatic newt

Dramatic newt, dramatic prairie dog's new foe. Image taken at the San Francisco Zoo.