Black-spotted newt  Notophthalmus meridionalis
ESA status: petitioned for listing

Black-spotted newt pc Gary Nafis

The black-spotted newt's look is both fashionable and utilitarian - silvery gray with bold black and light yellow spots. They sport an orange-yellow belly that they flip over to expose when disturbed, warning potential predators of their toxic, irritating skin (which one brave human investigator discovered by touching a newt to his lips).

Despite their bold fashion statement, these newts tend to be secretive, hiding in fissures, under debris, and in crab and crayfish burrows to escape the periodic dry spells and high temperatures of their dramatic habitat - the clay soils, ephemeral pools, and dense brush of the Tamaulipan thorn scrub. This rich ecosystem is found only in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of south Texas and northeastern Mexico, which shelters more than 1,700 plant and animal species, including the extremely rare ocelot and jaguarundi.

Though the newts seem to like thorn scrub best, they used to be fairly common along the Gulf Coastal Plain from south of the San Antonio River in Texas down to the northern tip of the Veracruz region in Mexico. Now, because of clearing for urban development, agriculture, and cattle grazing, much of that habitat has been lost, including as much as 97 percent of the Tamaulipan thorn scrub, and the newt has fewer and fewer places to hide. There are only three known populations of the newt remaining - two in Texas and one in Mexico.

Like many other amphibians, they are threatened by water pollution, herbicides, and insecticides. The black-spotted newt's coastal home is further threatened by increasingly severe drought and hurricanes brought on by climate change. The newt is classified as "endangered" in Mexico, but though they face many of the same threats on both sides of the border, they have not received any federal protection in the United States.

Maybe you shouldn't kiss them, but these rare creatures certainly deserve full protection under the Endangered Species Act, which would safeguard the newt and its extremely rare habitat.  WildEarth Guardians has petitioned for their listing and will continue to urge the federal government to take action. We intend to make sure the black-spotted newt doesn't receive the kiss of death.

photo credit: Gary Nafis, Californiaherps.com