Blue Witch

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This is an evergreen shrub up to three feet high and wide, displaying purple flowers about one inch in diameter. It can be found in chaparral habitat and low-elevation oak woodlands in California and parts of Baja California and Arizona.

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It has bright purple or blue frilly flowers with thick yellow anthers at the center. The flowers close into spherical buds overnight. Its dark gray-green oval-shaped leaves grow on hairy green stems. All parts of the plant are toxic to people and some animals. However, it is very attractive to insects.

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Though the main bloom period is spring and summer, some flowers will occur for most of the year. When a Blue Witch flower finishes blooming, it bears small round green fruits which turn purple when ripe and resemble tiny eggplants.

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While beautiful to look at, it is also a tough shrub which can grow in rocky and clay soils and springs up in areas recovering from wildfires or other disturbances.

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This plant is also known as Purple Nightshade, Purple Witch and Parish’s Nightshade – it was neat to encounter it while hiking on Mount Hamilton during my visit to California.

Third Eye Herp

Green-winged Teal

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While driving to Point Reyes National Seashore, I noticed a group of waterfowl in a waterway, so I decided to check them out.

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This is the smallest dabbling duck in North America. Males have a cinnamon-colored head with a bright green crescent that extends from the eye to the back of the head. In flight, both sexes flash deep-green wing patches.

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The females are light brown, with plumage much like a female Mallard. They lay an average of 8-9 eggs.

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These birds have closely spaced, comblike projections around the inner edge of their bills. They use them to filter tiny invertebrates from the water, allowing the ducks to capture smaller food items than other dabbling ducks.

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The Green-winged Teal is very common and widespread, occurring in marshes, rivers and bays. In the Summer, it can be found in open country near shallow freshwater lakes and marshes.

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Green-winged Teal have an extensive wintering range, having been recorded as far north as Alaska and Newfoundland and as far south as northern South America.

Third Eye Herp

Sierra Fence Lizard

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While visiting Yosemite National Park I had my first-ever encounter with this subspecies of Fence Lizard. The habitat of this creature is covered with snow for much of the year.

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Though the weather was cool and there was still patches of snow on the ground, these reptiles were out catching the sun’s rays. Sierra Fence Lizards prefer open sunny areas and are often seen basking in the sun on rocks, fallen logs, trees, fences and walls.

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These medium-sized lizards are usually about six inches in total length and are covered in spiny gray, tan, or brown scales with a pattern of darker waves or blotches.

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Their favored habitats include grassland, sagebrush, broken chaparral, woodland, coniferous forest, farmland and even some urban areas. Here they bask, defend their territories, and feed on beetles, ants, flies, caterpillars and spiders.

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A protein in the Sierra Fence Lizard’s blood can kill the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, the most common tick-carried disease in the northern hemisphere. When disease-carrying ticks feed on the lizard’s blood, the disease-causing bacteria are killed and the ticks no longer carry the disease.

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It was neat to encounter yet another subspecies of this widespread and adaptable reptile while on my visit to California.

Third Eye Herp

California Broad-necked Darkling Beetle

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The term “darkling beetle” refers to several genera within the insect family Tenebrionidae which includes about 20,000 species. These genera are also referred to as “pinacate beetles.”
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These insects are found worldwide, but are most commonly encountered in the deserts of the western United States, with as many as 450 species in California alone.
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Known commonly as “stinkbugs,” some beetles in this genus emit noxious odors in the chemical class quinones from the ends of their abdomens or behind their heads as a defensive mechanism.

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Many types of this beetle do “headstands” to ward off predators – whether they have the ability to produce bad odors or not.

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Typically they can be found under stones, around decaying matter, or walking right out in the open. I mainly find them under plywood boards that I lift while looking for snakes.

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This is one of the largest species of Darkling Beetles I have encountered. At home I keep two other species and raise them for their larval state: the mealworm, which is used to feed pet reptiles, birds and amphibians.

Third Eye Herp