Yellow Monkeyflower

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I sometimes come across this wildflower while visiting California. It is a member of the figwort family, the same family as Snapdragons, which I grow in my garden. The resemblance is clear.

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Yellow Monkeyflower is found in a wide range of habitats, but prefers wet places, including the splash zone of the Pacific Ocean, the chaparral of California, the geysers of Yellowstone National Park and alpine meadows. I see them the most in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where it can be quite misty.

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This plant can grow as high as three feet. The flowers have red or maroon spots on the wide, hairy throat of the lower lip petal. Its coarsely toothed leaves are edible and can be eaten raw or cooked; they are sometimes added to salads as a lettuce substitute, though they have a slight bitter taste.

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Over the years, Yellow Monkeyflower has been a model organism for studies of evolution and ecology. There may be as many as 1,000 scientific papers focused on this species.

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It’s genus, Mimulus, comes from the Latin word that refers to “mime,” a reference to the funny clown-like face the flower resembles. “Monkeyflower” is another reference to the shape of the flower.

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Funny or not, this eye-catching bright yellow-flowered plant is a welcome sight while on my travels.

Third Eye Herp

Coast Garter Snake

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Without a doubt this is the most commonly encountered serpent when I’m on my outings in California. Here’s one of several that I found this week while visiting The Golden State.

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This reptile is highly variable in appearance, with the colors between its yellow stripes brown or olive, with a pattern of dark spots, intermixed with a suffusion of red, orange or rust coloring.

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It inhabits a range of ecosystems and elevations – I have found it at sea level as well as at the top of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

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Despite its subspecies name terrestris, it is often found near water. Open sections of conifer forests, fields, foothills and along creeks and at the edges of ponds are some of the spots where I’ve found them.

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Reflecting the diversity of habitats frequented by these snakes, a wide variety of foods are eaten, including fish, amphibians, leeches, slugs, earthworms, lizards, snakes, small mammals and birds.

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This snake occurs in a narrow coastal strip from the southern part of California up until southern Oregon; hence the common name “Coast Garter Snake.”

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Like other Garter Snakes in the United States, this species gives birth to live young in mid to late Summer.

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Though commonplace, I enjoy seeing this classic feeding generalist that is adaptable to take advantage of they variety of prey that exists in California’s highly variable climatic conditions.

Third Eye Herp

Devil Stripe-tailed Scorpion

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While exploring the desert, I often come across this creature, which lives primarly in Arizona and occupies a wide variety of habitats, from sandy deserts to grasslands to mountains.

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Like other scorpions, it has a long tail equipped with a venomous stinger used for defense and to subdue struggling prey (usually insects). It also is equipped with pincers to catch prey and tear it to pieces.

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Although the sting of this very common scorpion is reportedly quite painful, it is not dangerous to people with normal reactions and the pain soon vanishes.

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Scorpions have been found in fossil records, including coal deposits from the Carboniferous Period. They are thought to have existed in 425-450 million years ago. These arachnids have changed little in the hundreds of millions of years since they first climbed from the primal seas and took their place among earth’s first terrestrial arthropods.

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Devil Stripe-tailed Scorpions are sturdy and medium-sized. They usually are under rocks during the day. Like all scorpions, they are nocturnal and venture from their shelters at night to forage for prey.

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A stout tail with darkly-marked ridges running lengthwise and a total body length of about two inches are identifying characteristics of this desert ground dweller.

Third Eye Herp

Mojave Fringe-toed Lizard

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Hiking Kelso “Singing” Sand Dunes in California is an odd sensation. It feels like you are walking up an escalator that is going down as the sand shifts under your feet.

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The largest dune field in the Mojave Desert also offers a chance of hearing a low, rumbling “song” that can not only be heard, but can also be felt vibrating through the ever shifting ground.

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Although the environment at first seemed barren and lifeless, a bit of movement caught my eye. Then it was gone. A little while later I saw a similar movement and this time carefully watched where the creature buried itself.

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The Mojave Fringe-toed Lizard is a flat-bodied lizard with smooth, sand-colored skin featuring a pattern of small black spots. Their habitat is restricted to areas containing fine wind-blown sand dunes, the margins of dry lake beds, desert washes, and hillsides. Large, triangular-shaped fringes on their rear toes are used for speed and mobility in the sand.

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This reptile feeds on small invertebrates that dwell close to the sand’s surface, such as ants, beetles, grasshoppers, and scorpions. They also eat seeds, leaves, grasses, and flowers.

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This is a speedy, ground-dwelling lizard that runs on its hind limbs when at top speeds. When threatened it often runs a short distance and then wriggles under the sand, chisel-shaped snout first. This was a really neat place to encounter a really neat lizard!

Third Eye Herp