Archive | March, 2014

Staying Safe in Tick Territory

An average-sized tick

An average-sized tick

Exploring outdoors is a fun way to stay active, engaged and curious about local wildlife and ecology. Camping, hiking, fishing, or even just walking along trails can provide a person with exercise and mental stimulation, but it is also important to be aware of the potential dangers of outdoor exploration. We have addressed safe hiking practices, and wildlife awareness here on the blog, but there is one more topic that needs to be discussed: ticks.

Like spiders, ticks are arachnids. They have eight legs, and they are often misunderstood and mistaken as scary or dangerous. Ticks get this reputation because of their food choice, which is blood. Ticks only feed three times in their two-year lifespan; during metamorphosis from larva to nymph, from nymph to adult, and as adults to lay eggs. They will generally feed on small rodents like squirrels and mice, but as adults they find larger food sources like deer, horses, and humans. Ticks are also known to transmit Lyme disease, a debilitating illness that sometimes causes facial paralysis and inhibits brain function.

A normal tick bite is not usually dangerous to humans, and at the worst may cause itchiness and irritation. Most of the tick species found here in California are not known for passing harmful bacteria to humans, but it is still a good idea to be informed about possible dangers. Deer ticks (also known as black legged ticks), which carry and transmit Lyme disease, are rarely found in California, and are much more common in the eastern United States. However, the Western black legged tick is one that does occupy our region, and can transmit Lyme disease. These ticks like to hang out in moist or humid regions because it is a good environment for metamorphosis. Coastal and sierra foothills are popular breeding grounds for these arachnids, and if you plan to explore these areas it is a good idea to know about tick bite prevention and treatment.

A tick bite feels like a sting, or pinch, and is sometimes so subtle that it goes unnoticed. The bite of a Pajahuello tick, which is commonly found in our area, can be quite a bit more painful because its bite causes an inflammatory response in humans. However, this tick is not known to cause Lyme disease. If you are bitten by a tick, there are numerous ways in which you can remove the tick from your body, but the safest way is to pull it off with tweezers. Here is a helpful web page which explains how to effectively remove a tick:

This tick is full of blood.

This tick is full of blood.

After spending time outdoors, it is always a good idea to do a ‘tick check.’ Check all areas of your body for signs of a tick. They like to hang out in warm areas like your underarms or around your ankles if you are wearing socks. Don’t forget to check your hair! It is important to check for and remove ticks soon after your outdoor adventure because if left unchecked, there is a greater risk of contracting Lyme disease. A tick must be present on the body for a period of twenty-four hours in order to transmit the disease, so it is best to remove the tick before that time in order to minimize risks. If you notice a ring or bullseye around the bite site, you should see a doctor.

In order to prevent tick bites in the first place, it is a good idea to wear long sleeves and long pants when spending time in the wilderness. Stay on the trails and don’t stomp through leaves or grasses, as these are the areas where ticks lay their eggs.You may also want to apply insect repellent to your skin or clothing to keep ticks away. Another way these arachnids sometimes find their way to you is by attaching to your backpack, clothing, or pets. Make sure to check thoroughly before bringing all of your stuff indoors.

Keep yourself prepared and informed about ticks, and you will feel much more confident in your outdoor exploration. You will also know what to do in the event of a tick bite if it occurs on you or a member of your family.



Works Cited

Ticks. Center for Disease Control and prevention. (Accessed 3/25/14)

Ticks Commonly Encountered in California. (Accessed 3/25/14)

California Wildlife Breeding Season

Spring is characterized by warmer weather, more abundant foliage and plant life and this time of year usually brings a new generation of wildlife. Animals have adapted to nest and breed in the Spring time because there is more food, and the young are already vulnerable. If you have been exploring outdoors recently, you may have noticed that California’s wildlife areas have already started buzzing with the sounds of new birds, mammals, and insects. Here are a few animals that you may find around our local ecosystems that are currently nesting, or will soon begin the breeding process.

Brown Pelicans (adult and juvenile)

Brown Pelicans are a local species of pelican that is slowly recovering from a large population decrease. Years ago, the birds were affected by DDT, a pesticide that causes eggs to be brittle and break very easily. Since the 1970’s DDT use has been almost eliminated and the affected species have bounced back in numbers. The only known breeding colonies for Brown Pelicans in the Western U.S. are Anacapa Island and Santa Barbara Island. The breeding season can last from January through October. Both parents play a role in nesting and taking care of the chicks. The male chooses a nest site and brings the female supplies to build it. Being large birds, the nest has to be big enough to allow both parents to sit inside. this can mean a nest up to 30 inches wide!


Southern Alligator Lizard

The Southern Alligator Lizard is another species that will begin breeding this Spring. Alligator lizards are a common species in California. You may have seen them in grasslands, chaparral, or open forest. They also like to hide under rocks, and in brushy urban areas. Alligator lizards have a round elongated body, a long tail (almost twice the length of their body), and short legs. They are also good swimmers, and can escape from predators by getting into water. These lizards will mate in late Spring and the eggs will hatch in early Summer. Baby alligator lizards hatch from the eggs fully formed and almost entirely independent.





Coyotes are another local animal that is in the midst of breeding season. From January to March, coyotes are ready to expand their packs with new pups. Generally having a 60-day gestation, coyote pups will be born from March to May in carefully selected dens. Both parents take care of the pups, and other breeding females from the pack will also nurse each others’ young. Coyotes are carnivores, usually feeding on squirrels, gophers and other small prey, but during breeding season they are more voracious hunters. This is the time of year when it is wise to bring your cats and small dogs indoors. Urban carnivores are more likely to go after pets during breeding season because they have to sustain themselves as well as their young. Coyote pups wean after about a month of nursing, and after that they are fed regurgitated food from both parents.

All of these animals play vital roles in their respective ecosystems. During breeding season it is best to leave wildlife alone. Animals, especially mammals are much more protective if their young are nearby. It is also best to steer clear of nests and dens of any animal because it could be their only refuge from predators.


Works Cited

California Alligator Lizard. California Herps. (Accessed March 10, 2014)

California Brown Pelican. National Parks Service. (Accessed March 10, 2014)

Coyote. National Geographic. (Accessed March 11, 2014)

The Best of California Wildflowers

Spring will be here before we know it! And we know that Spring brings numerous blooming wildflowers to our hillsides, coastal areas, and deserts. March through May is the best time of year to see, study, and enjoy blooming wildflowers in Southern California. There are three main areas where wildflowers grow in California; chaparral, mountains and deserts. Here is a simple guide to what you might find in our area this Spring.

Chaparral: These coastal areas are mostly shrubland communities with Medeterrainean climates. Chaparral can be found in dry coastal regions along the California Coast in places like San Diego, Malibu, Santa Barbara, and many areas in between. Here is an article about chaparral ecosystems. The wildflowers which bloom in the chaparral each year are beautiful and diverse in color, size, and type.

Deserts: The Mojave and Sonoran deserts are also prime places to spot wildflowers in the Spring. Depending on rainfall and wind, among other factors, the amount of wildflowers can vary drastically. During a good rainfall year, the flowers are numerous and dot the sandy deserts with color and vibrance.

Mountains: Mountain environments are great places for travelers seeking spectacular views and colorful photos of wildflowers in California. These ecosystems support diverse species of trees and other plants because of variations in elevation, rainfall, and temperature.

Purple Nightshade (Solanum xanti)

Purple Nightshade, also known as Chaparral Nightshade, grows in woodlands, forests, and chaparral ecosystems. The plants can grow to be up to 35 inches tall, and produce toxic green berries and purple flowers. The toxicity acts as a defense against deer and other chaparralian plant eaters that might destroy it. The flowers bloom from early Spring to Summer and can be seen from February to July. They are beautiful to see in person, just make sure not to eat them!

Bushmallow (Malacothamnus)

Bush Mallow plants are common in chaparral coastal sage scrub ecosystems. From April to July, the six-foot-tall perennial shrubs produce an abundance of small flowers, which grow along long stalks. The flowers can range from a light pink to a deep pink, or sometimes purple color, which is known to attract hummingbirds and butterflies.

Western Morning Glory (Calystegia occidentalis)

Western Morning Glory flowers are native to California and can be found in chaparral, foothill woodlands, and yellow pine forests. The plants grow to be about 18 inches tall, and produce funnel-shaped flowers. These vines are also popular among gardeners who want to grow native plants. They can be potted or grown in the ground and are relatively low maintenance. Stick around for late Spring and early Summer, as these flowers generally bloom from May to July.

Desert Primrose (Oenothera deltoides)

Desert Primrose flowers can grow to be three inches wide. They grow in open sandy deserts and dunes and have pale white petals with yellow centers. The bright centers of these flowers attract native bees and promote pollination. the flowers are in bloom for most of the year, from March to September. The plants grow relatively close to the ground, and when flowers are not in bloom, the rest of the plant is scarcely visible.

Desert Globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)

Desert Globemallow are plants which also flower for most of the year, beginning in February and lasting until November. The orange flowers form in clusters on the ends of stems, and can be up to three feet tall. this plant can grow in many places because it can withstand dry soil and exposure to full sunlight. It is most commonly seen in the deserts of California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah.

Desert Dandelion (Malacothrix glabrata)

Desert Dandelions bloom from March to June in most deserts and desert-like climates in California. The yellow or white flowers, which are about 1.5 inches wide, are related to common sunflowers, and have similar narrow petals. In particularly wet years, desert dandelions bloom in massive numbers and can be seen covering the desert floors.

Greater Periwinkle (Vinca major)

Greater Periwinkle is an invasive species of vine that is native to Europe and Northern Africa. It was brought to California by early settlers, and has since staked out quite a territory in riparian ecosystems near the mountains in California. The vine grows low to the ground and expands laterally, rooting as it expands, making it difficult for any other species to occupy the same area. The bluish-purple flowers are around two inches wide, and bloom from January to May.

Sticky Monkey-flower (Mimulus aurantiacus)

Sticky Monkey Flowers grow on a shrub, or subshrub reaching a maximum for four feet tall. the flowers can range in color from white to red, but are most commonly yellow and orange. These flowers are common in forests and woodlands, but because of their hardiness, can also grow in chaparral and drier areas. The name Sticky Monkey comes from the green sticky leaves which grow as part of the shrub. The flowers bloom from March to August, and are known to attract bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies.

California Poppies (Eschscholzia californica)

California Poppies grow in most areas of California. As the state flower, poppies are notoriously known to cover mountains and hillsides in California, but also range from Washington to Baja California. The flowers bloom from April to July, and range in color from white to orange. This is a popular bloom for gardeners, and when maintained, the plant itself can reach five feet tall. Currently, the seeds of the poppy are used in cooking, but historically the plant was used to make medicine and cosmetics.

We highly recommend visiting areas throughout California to see the wildflowers. It is always a good idea to check with the Bureau of Land Management  to find out about the bloom conditions before taking a trip to see California Wildflowers. Because of the ongoing drought, there may be scarce opportunities to view the wildflowers this year. However, there are some great places dedicated to preserving wildflowers such as:

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve

The Flower Fields

Hungry Valley 


Works Cited

 The Calflora Database [a non-profit organization]. Available:   (Accessed: Mar 04, 2014).

Peak Blooming Periods for California Desert Wildflowers. Bureau of Land Management. Available: (Accessed March 03, 2014)