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Volunteers in the San Francisco Bay Area helping newts reach their breeding grounds

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

In the San Francisco Bay area, some people are really devoted to the well-being of newts. And if you don't know what a newt is, they're a type of salamander, and reporter Callie Rhoades is charmed by them.

CALLIE RHOADES: I think they're very cute. We primarily - in the Bay area, we see these California newts. The tops of them are kind of darker brown and bumpy and rough, but when you shine a light on them, they have these really distinctive red underbellies.

FADEL: Red, to show predators they're toxic.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Rhoades covers the environment for the Oaklandside. She wrote about the Chileno Valley Newt Brigade, a group of concerned citizens who act as crossing guards for the newts.

RHOADES: They are an amazing range of volunteers across the Bay area. They are literally going out in the middle of the night with buckets and gloves and high-vis vests, and they are picking up every single newt that they see on the road, putting them in a bucket with some water and helping them get across the street.

FADEL: So A, why did the newt cross the road?

MARTÍNEZ: I'm sure I don't know. Maybe ask a newt, Leila.

FADEL: (Laughter).

MARTÍNEZ: Tiffany Yap definitely does. She's a conservation scientist at The Center for Biological Diversity. She says during the rainy season, newts emerge from their burrows and look for places to breed.

TIFFANY YAP: The rainy season is when they come out. And it doesn't matter if there's a road in the way or not. If they want to get to the water, they're going to cross that road. And that's where we see a lot of newt mortality.

FADEL: Meaning, I'm sorry to say, the newts become roadkill. One study found newts dying by the thousands - as much as 40% of the local population killed on one road.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, Leila, and that's really bad news because on top of the intrinsic value of newts as living creatures, Yap says the little guys are valuable as animals that can tell us about the health of the local environment.

YAP: Because they're so sensitive - they have this permeable skin that is vulnerable to disease and pollution - they kind of give us an idea of the state of the ecosystem. They're also really important predators on the forest floor. They eat a lot of insects.

MARTÍNEZ: Including mosquitoes.

FADEL: Fortunately, Yap says, there are some success stories. One road in the Bay area has shut down for part of the year since the early '90s to protect the newts.

YAP: It's a nice reminder that, like, we don't have to be scientists. We don't have to be engineers. We are just members of this community that if we see an observation - maybe we're curious about it and look into it - there's a lot of impact that we can have.

MARTÍNEZ: So take this as your sign from the universe to lend a hand to an amphibian in need. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.