Striped Newt Repatriation Project

The Atlanta Botanical Garden breeds striped newts and releases offspring into the wild in hopes of re-establishing lost populations of this imperiled species.

These small salamanders (Notophthalmus perstriatus), are endemic to only southern Georgia and northern Florida. They have a complex life cycle requiring both seasonal ponds and regularly burned dry upland habitats, making them particularly susceptible to habitat loss and alteration, diseases and climate change. They have mostly disappeared from their original range. 

Over the last decade, several zoos have partnered with Coastal Plains Institute to release over 4,000 striped newts into the Apalachicola National Forest and several were refound last year, suggesting the project is succeeding there! In October of 2021, with permits from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Garden staff worked with Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy and others to collect larvae to begin a breeding project. In 2022, the first 217 offspring from those original seven wild-caught founders were released into the Apalachicola National Forest as part of the Striped Newt Repatriation Project run by the Coastal Plains Institute. 

In June 2023, the Garden partnered with the Jones Center at Ichauway for the first release of striped newts in Georgia. Staff can then compare experiences and observations with those of the team continuing to restore striped newt populations in the Apalachicola National Forest in Florida. As part of the first release in Georgia, the Atlanta Botanical Garden and Jones Center performed a four-day experiment releasing the newts into screen enclosures within the wild pond. This allowed staff to monitor their survival during the transition out of the stable lab conditions and into the fluctuations and challenges of life in a pond. 

The Garden works to mimic natural conditions in captivity. The newt breeding lab features 14 species of plants as well as 11 species of live-feeder invertebrates so the newts grow up hiding under leaves and hunting different types of prey. Water flows through compartments of peat, leaf litter, and limestone to introduce the tannic/humic acids and calcium availability observed in the wild. The system receives CO2 injection at night to mimic the drop in dissolved oxygen that occurs in wild ponds when plants stop photosynthesizing. The timing of sunrises and sunsets is adjusted weekly to match the daylength in their wild habitat, and both an adjustable water chiller and a heater during peak sun hours provide additional seasonal cues. 

It’s never possible to fully match wild conditions in a lab, so staff are excited to report that the newts survived and were released from the enclosures to live freely! Through future releases the Garden will continue working toward the ultimate goal of establishing a self-sustaining population at Ichauway, where a population of newts historically thrived but had fully disappeared.

Striped newts are a rare species of salamander found only in southern Georgia and northern Florida.

Amphibian Program Coordinator Chelsea Thomas weighs newts before they are released.

The Garden’s bio-secure Striped Newt Lab offers an environment similar to the rare natural habitat of the imperiled species.

Amphibian Program Coordinator Chelsea Thomas surveys wild striped newt larvae from a Florida pond.