Striped Shore Crab

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While visiting Point Reyes National Seashore in California, I hiked along small waterways in a cattle grazing area and saw a number of these neat crustaceans.

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Typically this crab is brown-to-purple or black with green stripes. Though this color combination makes it eye-catching when seen out in the open, it also helps the crab disappear into dark, rocky crevices where it hides in sea lettuce, rock weed and bits of kelp.

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Although there can be aggressive intraspecies competition over food, this creature does not keep a territory to defend. It can spend over half of its time on land and will purposely submerge to wet its gills; it can sustain itself out of water for up to 70 hours.

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Striped Shore Crabs live along the West Coast of North America, from Mexico in the south, to Vancouver Island, Canada, in the north. In additional to cattle grazing fields, they reside in estuaries, tidepools, mussel beds and in the burrows they sometimes dig into sandy banks. They can sometimes be seen scuttling along shoreline rocks.

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The variety of habitats where they exist mirrors the variety of foods they’ll eat. Though they feed mostly on phytoplankton growing on the water or rocks around them, they are opportunistic and will also eat animals including dead fish, limpets, snails, isopods, worms and mussels.

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Striped Shore Crabs were an unexpected and fun find while on my visit to the Golden State.

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Pacific Hound’s Tongue

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This is a distinctive wildflower that I sometimes encounter on my April visits to California. It is native to western North America, where it grows in shady areas in woodland and chaparral.

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Its flowers change color, perhaps telling pollinators whether a specific flower is worth visiting for pollen and nectar. Bees can see blue colors, but not reds. Immature pink flowers may signal to bees, “Not ready; move on;” the mature blue flowers, “Ready for pollination;” and the fading blue-purple of the aging flowers, “I’m done, don’t bother.”

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Pacific Hound’s Tongue Hound’s grows from a heavy taproot and is an early-blooming perennial plant that supposedly gets its name from the resemblance of its leaf shape to that of a dog’s tongue.

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Known scientifically as Cynoglossum grande, the shape and rough texture of the leaves are described in the genus name, which is derived from the Greek – “cynos” for dog and “glossa” for tongue. The species name, grande, means showy (or big).

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Pacific Hound’s Tongue is in the same family as the Forget-Me-Not, which its blooms resemble. Its flowers attract native bees and hummingbirds and is an occasional larval host plant for moths and butterflies.

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According to folklore, a piece of hound’s tongue placed in one’s shoe will protect from being barked at by strange dogs!

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Black-crowned Night Heron

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This is a bird that resides in my home state of Ohio, but I see it more often when on out-of-state travels. I most recently saw one while visiting California. They live in fresh, salt, and brackish wetlands and are the most widespread heron in the world. They can be found in a wide variety of habitats, including marshes, rivers, ponds, mangrove swamps, tidal flats and canals.

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Black-crowned Night Herons are stocky birds compared to many of their long-limbed heron relatives. They usually forage by standing still or walking slowly at edge of shallow water. They hunt mostly from late evening through the night. Though their main diet is fish, they also eat squid, crustaceans, aquatic insects, frogs, snakes, clams, mussels, rodents and carrion.

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Adults have a black crown and back with the remainder of their body white or grey. They have red eyes and short yellow legs. Immature birds (like this one that I saw in Nevada) have dull grey-brown plumage on their heads, wings, and backs, with numerous pale spots. Their underparts are paler and streaked with brown. Young birds have orange eyes and dull yellowish-green legs.

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Black-crowned Night-Herons nest in groups that often include other species, including herons, egrets and ibises. A breeding Black-crowned Night-Heron will brood any chick that is placed in its nest. They apparently don’t distinguish between their own offspring and nestlings from other parents. At the age of four weeks, the young begin to climb about around the nest.

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This species are among the seven types of herons observed to engage in bait fishing; luring or distracting fish by tossing edible or inedible buoyant objects into water within their striking range – a rare example of tool use among birds.

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Wild Boar

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While visiting Mount Hamilton in California, I noticed a few large, dark mammals in a hillside. I decided to investigate and encountered one of the widest-ranging mammals in the world.

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The Wild Boar, is also known as Wild Swine, Common Wild Pig, Eurasian Wild Pig, or simply Wild Pig. Feral swine are not native to the Americas, they were first brought to the United States in the 1500s by early explorers and settlers as a source of food.

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Today these mammals are a combination of escaped domestic pigs, Eurasian Wild Pigs and hybrids of the two. Their population is estimated at as many as 9 million and is rapidly expanding. Each female is capable of birthing at least two litters a year of six or more piglets.

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Wild Boar are among the most destructive invasive species in the United States. They are wreaking havoc in at least 39 states and four Canadian provinces, where they do damage to the tune of $1.5 to $2.5 billion annually. They tear up recreational areas, occasionally even terrorizing tourists in state and national parks, and squeeze out other wildlife.

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Their head is very large, taking up to one-third of the body’s entire length. The structure of the head is well suited for digging and acting as a plough, while its powerful neck muscles allow the animal to upturn considerable amounts of soil. They are “opportunistic omnivores,” meaning they’ll eat almost anything. They can do remarkable damage to the ecosystem, by hunting animals like birds and amphibians to near extinction.

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Wild Boar are very smart and can get to be very big – a Georgia example named “Hogzilla” is believed to have weighed at least 800 pounds.

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Garden Tiger Moth

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While hiking at Point Reyes National Seashore, I came across a few of these really cool looking caterpillars. The Garden Tiger Moth lives in the northern United States, Canada and Europe.

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Like the Woolly Bear (the caterpillar of the Isabella Tiger Moth) from my home state of Ohio, this “punk rock” looking caterpillar prefers cool climates with temperate seasonality, since they overwinter.

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Tiger Moths tend to have conspicuous patterns on their wings that serve as a warning to predators, indicating the moth’s poisonous body fluids. Its caterpillar’s hairs act as a deterrent to birds and provide some protection against parasitic flies and wasps.

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This species resides in a number of habitats, including gardens, damp meadows, fens, riverbanks, sand dunes and open woodland. Because of the caterpillar’s generalist diet, it is not constrained to where it lives by needing a specific host plant.

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Like other Tiger Moths, the adult Garden Tiger Moth exudes a yellow smelly liquid from a gland at the back of its head as a deterrent to predators. This insect’s bold colors are ideal for frightening predators – as the moth normally hides its hindwings under its less colorful forewings when resting.

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Aquatic Intergrade Garter Snake

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Marin County (CA) is a locality where all three subspecies of aquatic Garter Snakes (Santa Cruz, Oregon and Diablo Range Garter Snake) naturally intergrade.

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Although garter snakes are found across the United States, aquatic garter snakes are only found in the coastal regions of California north of Santa Barbara and the southern Oregon coast.

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Aquatic Intergrade Garter Snakes eat fish, salamanders, toads and newts. They do not have venom, nor do they constrict to subdue prey. Instead, they quickly grab prey by mouth and swallow it whole.

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Like other garter snakes, they have a striped pattern. These snakes have characteristics of each of the three subspecies that are combined to create them. This snake can be seen most of the year when conditions allow, but is primarily found during Spring through Fall.

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These reptiles inhabit creeks, streams, rivers, small lakes and ponds. They seem to prefer shallow rocky creeks and streams and are often found in woodland, brush and forest.

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Although they are often associated with water, I sometimes encounter them quite some distance from a permanent water source. They are active during the day and after dark during very hot weather.

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These snakes are always unique and interesting finds while exploring the Bay Area of California.

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Yellow Sand Verbena

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While exploring Point Reyes National Seashore, this low-to-the-ground plant with striking yellow flowers caught my eye. It is native to the west coast of North America, from southern California to the Canada–United States border.

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Most members of this genus have pink or purple flowers, but those of this species are bright yellow, making it easily recognizable.

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Yellow Sand Verbena grows on beach dunes and sand dunes of coastal bars and river mouths along the immediate coastline. It is an important plant in helping to stabilize dunes to resist erosion.

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It bears attractive neatly rounded heads of small, bright golden flowers. The individual flowers have no petals; rather, they are composed of yellow bracts forming a trumpet shaped around its stamens.

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This plant is seen exhibiting psammophory, a method by which plants save themselves from herbivores by attracting sand to themselves, making them difficult to be eaten.

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Yellow Sand Verbena’s leaves are succulent-like, in common with many other coastal plants and are about as long as wide, growing on short, thick stalks. Its roots are edible and traditionally eaten by the Chinook Indians.

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A member of the Four O’clock Family, this wildflower is also known as Coastal Sand Verbena.

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Northern Clingfish

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A tadpole in the ocean? That was the first thought that went through my head upon finding this fascinating fish. Most Clingfish species have tapering bodies and flattened heads, appearing somewhat tadpole-like in their overall shape.

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These fairly small to very small fishes are widespread in tropical and temperate regions, mostly near the coast, but a few species in deeper seas or fresh water. They are thought to primarily feed on tiny crustaceans.

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Clingfish are named for their ability to firmly attach themselves to surfaces, even in strong water currents or when hit by waves. This ability is enabled by their sucking disc, which is located on the underside at the chest and is formed by modified pelvic fins and adjacent tissue.

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Most species shelter in shallow reefs or seagrass beds, clinging to rocks, algae and seagrass leaves with their sucking disc. The sucking disc can be remarkably strong, in some species able to lift as much as 300 times the weight of the Clingfish.

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A Clingfish’s suction cup does double duty. When the tide goes out, a Clingfish’s pool might be left high and dry. But the cup holds in moisture, so the fish can still breathe.

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They often live in places exposed to strong currents and wave action and some are amphibious. As long as this intertidal-living species is kept moist by splashing waves, it can survive for up to three to four days on land.

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Most Clingfish species have a cryptic coloration, often brown, grey, whitish, black, reddish or green shades, and in some cases they can rapidly change color to match their background. This was a super cool find while tidepooling in the Golden State.

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Striped Kelpfish

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While tidepooling in the Bay Area of California, I came across this super cool creature that looks like seaweed.

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The Striped Kelpfish has an elongated and compressed body. It is brown, green or red in color and can be weakly striped or mottled in darker colors. It reaches a maximum length of 9 inches, with females being larger than males.

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These neat fish are found in intertidal zones within algae beds including in tidal pools and within seaweed and the kelp canopy mid-water at depths up to 30 feet.

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Kelpfish are known to change colors to adapt to their surroundings, they do this to hunt for their food, which is other small fish, crustaceans and mollusks…or to avoid becoming eaten.

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They are considered to be an important component of the food chain preyed upon by a large variety of fish, sea birds and marine mammals.

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The Striped Kelpfish is native to the Pacific Coast of North America from British Columbia, Canada to Baja California, Mexico.

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Penpoint Gunnel

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This was an exciting find while tidepooling in California. The creature’s color can be varying shades of green, maroon or brown. It is commonly 4 to 8 inches long, though it can grow up to 18 inches. It is most easily identified by the dark bar below each eye.

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This is an elongated fish with long, low fins that tends to camouflage itself by matching the color of the seaweed where it hides. While Penpoint Gunnels cannot change color, they appear to be able to recognize and select the vegetation for which their color is a good match.

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In addition to hiding in seaweed, they also hide under rocks – including rocks out of the water at low tide. These fish are capable of breathing air while out of the water. The “penpoint” refers to the first spine of the anal fin. It is large and grooved like a fountain pen point.

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Like most Gunnels, the Penpoint Gunnel feeds on small crustaceans and mollusks. This North American Pacific Coast fish ranges from Kodiak Island in the Gulf of Alaska to Santa Barbara Island in southern California.

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Of all the cool creatures that I encountered on my California visit, this one was my favorite.

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