Chalcedon Checkerspot

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I sometimes come across this colorful and very cool little butterfly while on my visits to California. It it relatively small, with a wingspan of less than two inches.

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It is a highly variable species, with the wing upper surface being black to dark brown and a characteristic yellow and red checkerspot pattern.

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The Chalcedon Checkerspot is widespread in the western mountains from Mexico to Alaska and ranges west to the Pacific Coast. It is a habitat generalist, though I most often see it in open fields.

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It can also be found in streamsides, forest clearings, sagebrush flats, desert hills and alpine areas. Males often remain perched on their caterpillar host plants, like Monkey Flower, as a strategy to encounter females.

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This is an enjoyable creature to see on my visits to the Golden State.

Third Eye Herp

Giant White Wakerobin

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This spectacular wildflower was easy to spot in the overcast, rainy Pacific Northwest forest. This largest and showiest type of trillium is frequently cultivated in wildflower gardens.

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The species is endemic to the western United States, ranging from west central California through Oregon to Washington. It is found in diverse habitats, such as the moist slopes of mixed deciduous-coniferous forests, among shrubs, thickets and along stream banks and river beds.

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This plant has an elegant appearance in low-growing clumps of large green leaf-like bracts and brilliant white flowers. Scientifically known as Trillium albidum, this is a very long lived genus, with some species known to live for multiple decades. In the wild, most species take 7-10 years to produce flowers from seeds.

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Giant White Wakerobin’s seeds are mainly dispersed by ants, which transport the seeds to their homes in order to consume part of the seed coat. This plant also spreads underground through rhizomes.

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As its common name suggests, it is one of the earliest blooming of California native flowers and a herald of spring.

Third Eye Herp

Flattop Crab

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This was a tiny, but super cool find while tidepooling on the California coast. A member of the Porcelain Crab Family, it shares the general body plan of a squat lobster, but their bodies are more compact and flattened – an adaptation for living and hiding under rocks.

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These are quite fragile animals and often shed their limbs to escape predators, hence the family name “Porcelain Crab.” What struck me the most about this creature was its oversized claws which it uses to defend its territory.

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Flattop Crabs are an example of carcinisation, whereby a noncrab-like animal (in this case a relative of a squat lobster) evolves into an animal that resembles a true crab. They can be distinguished from true crabs by the apparent number of walking legs (three instead of four pairs) and the long antennae located on the front outside of the eyestalks.

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These crustaceans feed by combing plankton and other organic particles from the water using long bristle-like structures on their mouthparts. At a a shell size of less than one inch across, its prey is quite small, mainly consisting of diatoms.

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The Flattop Crab can be found in the lower intertidal of sheltered waters. Its range extends from southeastern Alaska to southern California. It prefers areas with strong currents and can be found under rocks, especially those embedded in gravel or sand under seaweed and mussel beds in both exposed and sheltered shores.

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This was an awesome find on my Golden State adventure.

Third Eye Herp

Leather Star

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While tidepooling on the California Coast, I came across this sea star that was unlike any I’d ever seen before. Instead of being spiny and hard, it was soft and smooth.

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Leather Stars usually have five wide arms. Their upper surface is blue-gray and mottled with red and orange. Their texture is smooth and slippery to the touch, somewhat like wet leather.

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This animal feeds largely on sea anemones, sea cucumbers and Purple Sea Urchins. Occasionally they may eat sponges, hydroids and other marine invertebrates.

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The Leather Star sometimes lives symbiotically with the scaleworm Arctonoe vittata. This worm lives in the tube foot grooves of the sea star.

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Unlike many other sea stars, Leather Stars swallow their prey whole and digest it internally. They can grow to about 12 inches in diameter and have a distinctive smell that resembles garlic and sulphur.

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In order to hunt for food, the Leather Star has sensors at the end of each arm that can detect prey.

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Sea stars can reproduce sexually and asexually. They reproduce asexually by dividing their bodies and regenerating missing parts. The decapitated starfish limb can grow into a new sea star, so long as a part of the central body portion is attached.

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Leather Stars are found from Prince William Sound, Alaska to San Diego, California. They live on rocky shores and in clean harbors on pilings and sea walls.

Third Eye Herp