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  • March 30, 2020

Close up of a coiled up two-striped gartersnake

Thamnophis hammondii – Two-striped gartersnake

Submitted by Noah Morales

Noah found this two-striped gartersnake in Los Padres National Forest in Santa Barbara county. As seen in his photo above, these gartersnakes get their name from the light stripe along each side of the body. They occur along the central and south coast in California. They are typically found near water where they feed on aquatic prey including fish and amphibians. Two-striped gartersnakes are a CDFW Species of Special Concern and have disappeared or declined in portions of their range due to habitat loss and stream alteration. Many thanks to Noah for this awesome detection!

Close up of adobe lily flowers sprinkled with drops of rain

Fritillaria pluriflora – adobe-lily

Submitted by Ryan Elliott

This eye-catching flower was featured in our March 2nd Taxon of the Week. Ryan Elliott has since found more in Glenn County! Fritillaria pluriflora is named for the many stunning pink flowers each plant produces (pluriflora means "many flowered"). It was originally listed in 1974 and is currently considered as a 1B.2 (rare or endangered in California and elsewhere, fairly endangered in California) in the California Rare Plant Ranking system. Fritillaria pluriflora can be found in chaparral, cismontane woodland, as well as valley and foothill grasslands most often in adobe soils. It blooms early in the year, flowering from February to April, making it some of the first flowers to add color to the landscape. Thank you, Ryan, for this amazing photo and all the great work you do!

Do you have some great photos of rare plants or wildlife detections? Submit them along with your findings through our Online Field Survey Form and see if your photos get showcased!

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  • March 26, 2020

Today we tip our hat to stoneflies, aquatic insects in the order Plecoptera. Stoneflies have a worldwide distribution of over 3,000 species, around 160 of which occur in California. They’re a hugely important part of riparian food webs!

Stoneflies spend the first 1-4 years of their life underwater as nymphs (or naiads). The nymphs require well-oxygenated water and are highly sensitive to pollution. They undergo successive molts, finally emerging from the water for their final molt into adult form when conditions are just right. Adults are typically winged, though not strong fliers, and survive just a few weeks to mate and lay their eggs over water, beginning the cycle again. Ralph and Lisa Cutter’s film, link opens in new windowBugs of the Underworld, includes a beautifully-filmed stonefly’s-eye view of this life cycle.

Of the two stonefly species CNDDB currently tracks, the Lake Tahoe benthic stonefly (Capnia lacustra) is unusual in that it is wingless and spends its entire life cycle underwater, in the deep-water plant beds 30 to 90 meters below the surface of Lake Tahoe. UNR biologist Annie Caires documented an even more surprising adaptation during her studies of the species: live birth! link opens in new windowAn article in New Scientist shares more about Dr. Caires’ findings. Unfortunately, the studies also showed habitat and population declines for this unique organism.

At least seven of California’s native stonefly species have developed another astonishing behavior: communication by drumming! Certain species signal potential mates by tapping their posterior abdomens on resonant substrates, producing characteristic rhythms. Dedicated researchers have developed special equipment to record these unique drumming signals. John Sandberg, at CDFW’s Aquatic Bioassessment Lab at CSU Chico, takes his miniature stonefly recording studio into the field; his website includes instructions on how to build your own recording setup. If you’re not ready for that level of dedication, don’t worry: the website also has a page of downloadable link opens in new windowrecordings and videos of drumming for several species.

If you enjoy these sounds as much as we did, stay tuned for Dr. Sandberg and coauthor Luke Myers’ upcoming manuscript summarizing the known Nearctic signal description from 1977 to 2015. The manuscript, to be published in the online journal link opens in new windowIlliesia, will provide a starting point for all future research.

Let the incredible sounds and remarkable behaviors of these tiny animals be a reminder to us all to pay more attention to the insects around us! See the Special Animals List on our website for a complete list of the insects and other invertebrates we track. And don’t forget to report your observations on our Online Field Survey Form!

Close up view of stonefly live birth; small stonefly exiting a larger stonefly - © Annie Caires, all rights reserved
Live birth of Capnia lacustra nymph (Credit: Annie Caires)

Close up of two wingless stoneflies - © Annie Caires, all rights reserved
Wingless, aquatic adults of Capnia lacustra (credit: Annie Caires)

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  • March 24, 2020

A pebble plain scattered with quartzite pebbles and short unique plants

Big Bear Lake is a beautiful mountain lake in Southern California and a popular year-round resort destination. What many visitors to Big Bear Lake don’t realize is that this area is home to a relict Ice Age habitat type called pebble plains; the only place in the world where this ecosystem occurs. Pebble plains are flat open areas left over from when glaciers receded in the Pleistocene age and are named for the quartzite pebbles that are pushed to the surface of the clay soil by frost heaving. Pebble plains support a unique plant community comprised of 17 protected plant taxa and 4 rare butterflies. The plants that occupy the pebble plains are sometimes referred to as “belly plants” due to their miniature stature, but once you get close to them you can see that they are just as beautiful as their larger-sized counterparts.

Pebble plains are extremely fragile and the endemic plants are very slow growing so any damage to the soil or plants can be devastating to the ecosystem. A large portion of pebble plain habitat was lost when Big Bear Lake was created in the late 1880s and early 1900s, with additional habitat lost to development around the lake in the subsequent decades. Besides development on private lands, one of the biggest threats to the remaining pebble plain habitat is high-impact recreational activities, especially off-road vehicles. Agencies and conservation organizations have made efforts to curtail off-road vehicle use through use of barriers, fencing, and signage but trespassing still occurs.

March through June are great times to visit the pebble plains, see beautiful wildflowers, and experience this unique ecosystem that only California has to offer. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Baldwin Lake Ecological Reserve has a self-guided interpretive trail and visitor center that allows hikers to experience the pebble plains. The reserve is currently closed due to COVID-19 concerns but keep an eye out for its reopening in the coming weeks.

closeup of Castilleja cinerea (ash-gray paintbrush): a Federally Threatened plant species that inhabits pebble plain habitats

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  • March 20, 2020

Front view of a foothill yellow-legged frog half-submerged in flowing water, under a rock.
The blank stare of foothill yellow-legged frog (Rana boylii) as it rests in a stream. What is it thinking about?

Today we celebrate members of the order Anura which is composed of frogs and toads. What’s not to love about our froggy friends? These moist goblins have large protruding eyes and a wide mouth that make them expressive, and some would describe them as “ugly cute.”

Perhaps the most remarkable life history feature of frogs and toads is their metamorphic life cycle. They start off as water dependent lifeforms, tadpoles, that have a tail for swimming and gills for breathing. The tadpoles transform into their adult form, growing lungs and limbs that enable them to survive out of the water.

Unfortunately, living a double life does not make them impervious. Amphibians are seen as “canaries in the coal mine,” indicators of environmental health. Global amphibian populations are in decline, and about one third of species are believed to be threatened. In some cases, they are even disappearing from protected areas without clear explanations. The exact cause of the decline is unknown but thought to be a combination of diverse factors that include habitat destruction, introduced species, chemical contaminants, disease, and climate change.

California is home to a number of frog species, so keep an eye out for our froggy friends next time you find yourself at a pond or stream. The CNDDB tracks 16 species of frogs or toads. Help us keep track of them by submitting your observations to us!

Person with frog boots in a marshy pond
A frog fan explores a pond.

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  • March 19, 2020

History Hunters logo

Today is link opens in new windowTaxonomist Appreciation Day, an unofficial holiday which draws awareness to the incredibly important but often overlooked field of taxonomy. Taxonomists work to name, classify, and describe species, sorting organisms into groups based on shared traits and evolutionary history. Here at the CNDDB, we couldn’t do the work we do without taxonomists researching animal and plant families, writing descriptions of newly-discovered species, and reevaluating the work of past taxonomists to incorporate new data and methods. These behind-the-scenes efforts build a strong foundation for all species-based biodiversity conservation.

Many taxonomists over the past 150 years have had their hand in cataloguing and defining the species that make up California’s diverse flora and fauna. Today we’d like to highlight one taxonomist in particular: Alice Eastwood.

Portrait of Alice Eastwood
California Academy of Sciences, via link opens in new windowOnline Archive of California

link opens in new windowAlice Eastwood (1859-1953) was a self-taught botanist who worked her way up to becoming the herbarium curator for the California Academy of Sciences from 1894-1949. When the 1906 earthquake hit San Francisco, she risked her life to rescue the academy’s botanical type specimens, protecting them from earthquake damage and the subsequent fires ravaging the city, even as she lost her home and personal possessions. After the earthquake, she worked to rebuild the herbarium’s collections, going out on numerous collecting trips throughout the Western US and trading duplicate specimens with other herbaria until the herbarium’s collections were three times as large as they had been before.

Without Alice Eastwood’s tireless work, much of our knowledge of California’s flora would have been lost forever. She published over 300 scientific articles, described 395 plant species, and founded the journal Leaflets of Western Botany with her friend and successor John Thomas Howell. She was especially interested in studying the Arctostaphylos, Castilleja, and Lupinus genera, all of which are well-represented in the California flora.

Alice Eastwood’s contributions to California botany are all over the place if you know where to look, and she is immortalized by the many taxa bearing her name. Two plant genera are named after her—Aliciella and Eastwoodia—as well as 17 species. Seven of these are CNPS-listed rare plants tracked by the CNDDB: Aliciella ripleyi (Ripley’s aliciella), Aliciella trilodon (Coyote gilia), Arctostaphylos crustacea ssp. eastwoodiana (Eastwood’s brittle-leaf manzanita), Delphinium parryi ssp. eastwoodiae (Eastwood’s larkspur), Eriogonum eastwoodianum (Eastwood’s buckwheat), Fritillaria eastwoodiae (Butte County fritillary), and Sedum laxum ssp. eastwoodiae (Red Mountain stonecrop). If you come across one of these special plants honored to bear her name, take a moment to remember Alice Eastwood, and then fill out an Online Field Survey Form to tell us about your discovery. It’s what she would have done.

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  • March 18, 2020

As the coronavirus pandemic begins to affect our everyday lives, the CNDDB team is doing our part in “flattening the curve” and practicing social distancing by working from home. If you have any questions, please contact us via email. Email for data and species inquiries, and for subscription inquiries.

There will be limited network access, so we won’t be able to add and update as many EOs or spotted owl records as we normally would. Fortunately, we do have the Online Field Survey Form where you can submit your data. Data submitted through the Online Field Survey Form will be incorporated into the “Unprocessed Data from CNDDB Online Field Survey Form” [ds1002] in BIOS for all subscribers to access after our monthly distribution.

Blogs will continue to post; we have a couple of fun ones lined up for the next two days. Stay safe and healthy, everyone!

A small western toad peeking out the entrance of a burrow

A small western toad sheltering-in-place.

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  • March 13, 2020

Lange's metalmark perched on a small flower cluster

Did you know? March 14th is National Learn About Butterflies Day!
Thankfully, we have one of the world’s leading experts in Learning About Butterflies right here in California: Dr. Art Shapiro, at UC Davis.

For nearly 50 years, Dr. Shapiro has conducted bi-weekly monitoring at 11 sites along an elevational transect across Central California. --We’ll let that sink in for a minute.-- As of the end of 2006, Dr. Shapiro had logged 5476 site-visits and tallied approximately 83,000 individual records of 159 butterfly species and subspecies. And he hasn’t stopped counting. Even better, he and his team have made this extraordinary dataset accessible on link opens in new windowArt Shapiro’s Butterfly Site.

In addition to data access, Art Shapiro’s Butterfly Site hosts a wealth of educational resources and activities, with something to offer folks of all ages and levels of expertise. In honor of National Learn About Butterflies Day, check it out TODAY!

Dr. Shapiro graciously answered some questions to help us all on our Butterfly Learning journey:

  1. What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from your long-term study?
    Butterfly populations and faunas are constantly changing. At least some of the changes can be correlated statistically to short-term weather and long-term climate trends, land use and vegetation change, and pesticides. The importance of these factors varies according to location and species. Overall, butterfly faunas in low-elevation California are declining due (we think) primarily to land use and pesticides, while declines in the mountains are probably climate-driven. The only rigorous way to assess these phenomena is through long-term monitoring!
  2. Are there additional unanswered questions you have that you hope this research will help resolve?
    Many. We would like to understand the actual mechanisms underlying population change. For example, is climate change acting directly on butterfly physiology, through the host plants, or both? For the Monarch, which is sort of a "poster child" for butterfly conservation, are changes in its overwintering and breeding patterns being driven by climatic warming, host availability, or...?
  3. For the aspiring lepidopterists out there, what do you consider the most crucial or urgent needs for research going forward?
    We need reliable, consistently gathered data on what occurs where and in what numbers!
  4. What resources should the average, concerned citizen consult to learn what they need to know about butterflies?
    Lots of resources are available on-line. You can visit comprehensive websites (like mine) or search individual species names or regional faunas. On-line searching done intelligently opens the door to limitless resources. Good field guides (link opens in new windowlike mine for the SF Bay Area and Sacramento Valley, but quite a few others too) and popular or semi-popular books about butterflies can be extremely valuable. Remember there is much more to butterfly biology than just identification!
  5. How can we all contribute to butterfly research?
    Contribute to link opens in new windoweButterfly and other on-line resources. Get in touch with your local chapter of the link opens in new windowNorth American Butterfly Association and butterfly-oriented people at regional universities and museums to learn what is happening in your area and how you can get involved.

For a more comprehensive interview, read link opens in new windowDeborah Netburn’s Nov 2019 piece in the LA Times.

Go to link opens in new windowArt Shapiro’s Butterfly Site today. Bookmark it! And as always, please report your sightings of rare species on CNDDB’s Online Field Survey Form. The butterflies thank you!

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  • March 2, 2020

Closeup of an adobe lily that has three purple flowers, taken in Bear Valley, Colusa County.

With the approach of spring, the grasslands and oak savannahs of Northern California have turned vibrant again. It is time for a rare treasure to reemerge.

Fritillaria pluriflora, the abobe lily, is endemic to the east and west edges of the Central Valley and the surrounding foothills from Tehama County through Solano County. This species has a California Rare Plant Rank of 1B.2, meaning it is rare, threatened, or endangered in California and elsewhere, and moderately threatened in California.

Adobe lily grows in clay soils which are often influenced by serpentine. Its bulbs lie dormant several centimeters below the surface for most of the year, seeking protection from summer droughts, grazers, and the occasional wildfires which rush through its habitats.

Between February and April F. pluriflora come into bloom with a display of pink and purple flowers 2 to 3.5 cm in length. Some populations also include a white-flowered form.

Try exploring a quiet country lane this month. If you come across a cluster of these gems nodding in the breeze, don’t speak. Just breathe. Take it in. Imagine the shaggy mastodons who once ambled across fields of this same species of lily, in a land which would later be named California.

When you regain your composure, pull out your phone and collect some coordinates for the CNDDB. Fritillaria pluriflora should not go the way of the mastodon.

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  • February 28, 2020

A closeup of a fuzzy bumblebee harvesting from small white and purple flowers

Bombus crotchii – Crotch bumble bee

Submitted by Nancy Hamlett, Friends of the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park

Nancy was able to get a close-up shot of this Crotch bumble bee in the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park in Los Angeles County. Crotch bumble bees are an imperiled invertebrate species and their populations are said to be declining like many other pollinators. During the summer of 2019, the California Fish and Game Commission petitioned to list the Crotch bumble bee as an endangered species under the California Endangered Species Act making it a candidate endangered species. Studies have shown that over the last decade, the species has suffered steep population declines due to agricultural intensification and urbanization of its native range. Crotch bumble bees are native to the lower two-thirds of California but are thought to be extinct in their natural northern range. Nesting occurs underground for this species, so conservation actions include restoring high-quality habitat to include abundant nesting and overwintering resources. This is unfortunately only one of the many pollinators in peril, but the CNDDB is proud to aid in the fight to protect this species and the lands it uses to survive. Thank you, Nancy, for this great observation!

A patch of little white Calistoga popcornflower in a grassy field

Plagiobothrys strictus – Calistoga popcornflower

Submitted by Aimee Wyrick-Brownworth

This delicate plant was found by Aimee Wyrick-Brownworth in Napa County. It is listed as a 1B.1 (rare or endangered in California and elsewhere, seriously endangered in California) in the California Rare Plant Ranking system. Plagiobothrys strictus can be found found in alkaline areas near thermal springs in meadows and seeps, valley and foothill grasslands, and vernal pools. It blooms from March to June, so keep an eye out for these little white flowers in the next few weeks. Thank you Aimee for all the amazing work you send our way and all the great work you do!

Do you have some great photos of rare plants or wildlife detections? Submit them along with your findings through our Online Field Survey Form and see if your photos get showcased!

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  • February 21, 2020

Burrowing owl looking backwards towards the sky

Today's photos come from Sacramento poet Charles Smith. He notes, "[The photos] were taken at a rather well-known location by the side of the road in the fields east of Davis, where they nest despite severe habitat loss due to development pressures. While I don't get over there as often as I once did, my (unscientific) impression is that their numbers have continued to decline at this site."

We asked Charles if he had any burrowing owl poems, and he responded with the following excerpt from a longer piece. We think it conveys the sentiment of taking hope and courage from the resilience of the natural world.

From [ground|underground]:

I feel my body

& its discontents, physical
& otherwise


owls in the ground


Two burrowing owls, one grooming the other's neck

Have you seen any owls in the ground lately? Help document local burrowing owl populations via our Online Field Survey Form.

Charles Smith is a poet, photographer, and videographer living in Sacramento. The three pursuits sometimes commingle.

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