By: Carson Olson
She is often found hanging out on the outskirts of town with some slimy characters.
Slimy striped newts that is.
Rebecca Means, a Wildlife Ecologist at the Coastal Plains Institute, dedicates hours of her time to study the little known striped newts in the temporary or ephemeral wetlands South of Tallahassee.
The striped newt is a small but integral part of the unique ephemeral wetlands. These wetlands contribute to the vital larger longleaf pine uplands environment that is habitat for many at-risk species including gopher tortoises and panthers and decreasing numbers of striped newts in the wetlands could have effects on the whole environment.
But for Means, the animals themselves are reason enough to spend hours in the wetlands.
“Personally, I love working with the small, amazing amphibians that breed in ephemeral wetlands,” Means said in a recent email interview. “They truly are unique and some of the most interesting species on our planet.”
She said that she understands that striped newts and the ephemeral wetlands can be off-putting though.
“Striped newts aren’t cuddly, cute (to most people), large, and they don’t look or behave like us like many animals that people are interested in saving like primates, tigers, manatees, pandas, elephants, sea turtles, etc.,” Means said. “Ephemeral wetlands have little recreational value – they are often too small to boat in and they don’t have fish so you don’t fish I them.”
Means said the biggest reason to care about striped newts is unknown potential impacts on other species and the environment.
“Convincing people to protect can be difficult,” Means said. “But the big picture is that we do not know how everything is connected.”
Claire Olson, Means longtime friend, said for Means the work is a personal part of every day.
“She’s passionate about it,” Olson said. “Her work is her life.”
For Means, the importance and reason for her work with the striped newts can be summed up in one quote.
“There is a famous quote by John Muir which I love and I think succinctly answers this question: ‘When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe,’” Means said.