newt
(Elias Gayles / Flickr)

Victoria is chock-full of amazing animals, birds, and reptiles, but not all of them are recognizable at first! 

That was the case for Ashley Ree, who posted a video of a strange animal in a Facebook group with a question — what is it, and is it a pet of some kind? 

In fact, the animal is a Rough-skinned Newt, one of many common amphibians (not reptiles!) on the island. They can be found all around Victoria, from UVic to Fairfield to the Butchart Gardens. Unlike the Common Wall Lizards, an introduced species of reptiles, the Rough-skinned Newt is native to North America.

The animal is named for the fact that the newt’s skin exudes a toxin called Tetrodotoxin, which is harmful to potential predators — and also to any potential do-gooders. 

Ree says that she saw the newt about to cross a busy street, so they quickly moved it to a safer spot. When she and a friend circled back later, it had disappeared.

Rough-Skinned Newt is thin-skinned, too

Dr. Gavin Hanke, curator of vertebrate zoology at the Royal B.C. Museum, says that the lizard’s skin is susceptible to damage from the acids and salts often found on human hands.

“Insect spray, perfumes, cleaners, hand cream and lotions, even grime from the handle of a gas pump, would be bad for their skin,” Hanke tells Victoria Buzz. 

The skin is also toxic, exuding a chemical named Tetrodotoxin, Hanke says. Dr. Patrick Gregory, Professor Emeritus in UVic’s Biology Department, says humans should take caution if they have to move a Rough-skinned newt.

“Anyone handling a newt shouldn’t lick it or their fingers and should wash their hands afterwards,” Dr. Gregory says. 

“As with all wildlife, newts are best left alone – take photos and leave the animal to go on with its day,” Hanke says. “I only redirect amphibians if they are about to walk hop onto a busy street. And since newts are wildlife – it is illegal to catch them and keep them as pets without permits!”

A learning experience for Ashley Ree and Victoria Buzz — and hopefully for you as well!