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  • January 7, 2021

Santa cruz long toed salamander on damp leaf litter
Ambystoma macrodactylum croceum
– Santa Cruz long-toed salamander
Submitted by Noah Morales

Noah spotted this juvenile Santa Cruz long-toed salamander crossing a road and some train tracks northwest of Watsonville in Santa Cruz county. This salamander sub-species is endemic to California and can be found under rocks, logs, or wood around the Monterey Bay coast in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties. It is listed as endangered under both the federal Endangered Species Act and California Endangered Species Act, due to loss of habitat to land development. Adults spend most of their lives underground, using tunnels created by burrowing mammals to get around, only coming out during breeding season. These creatures may be tiny, but they are completely carnivorous! Their diet consists of small crustaceans, worms, spiders, and other invertebrates. Larger Santa Cruz long-toed salamander larvae have also been known to cannibalize smaller larvae. Currently, CNDDB has 26 occurrences across their native range. Many thanks to Noah for snapping a picture of such a rare and incredible species!

Veratrum fimbriatum flower stalk with buds and white lacy flowers
Veratrum fimbriatum
– fringed false-hellebore
Submitted by Ayla Mills

This month’s amazing find was discovered by Ayla Mills in Mendocino County. Ayla is an ecologist working for Prunuske Chatham, Inc. on natural resource assessment, vegetation monitoring, and reporting for parks and preserves throughout the North Bay. She shows her passion for California’s native plants through her experience in invasive plant research, native plant propagation, and her participation in California Native Plant Society conferences as well as Jepson Herbarium workshops.

Veratrum fimbriatum was first listed in the CNPS Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants in 1974 and is currently considered a California Rare Plant Rank 4.3 species (plants of limited distribution; not very threatened in California). It is found growing in mesic bogs and fens, coastal scrub, meadows and seeps, as well as North Coast coniferous forests. The flowering structure is known as a panicle, meaning it has several branching points with flowers off each branching point. In V. fimbriatum the flowers are deeply fringed which is one of the defining characters for this species. These fringed blooms can be found in late summer from July through September. Thank you, Ayla, for sharing your amazing photo and the passion and experience you contribute to rare plant conservation!

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  • December 16, 2020

Three photographs of California native plants.
CDFW photos by Katie Ferguson

This spring, Sacramento City College will offer a virtual version of their field botany course. This is a valuable opportunity for those new to botany to learn about the flora of California, and for veteran botanists to brush up on the basics.

In this course students will learn how to identify many common plant families and species and learn how to use the Jepson Manual for plant identification. There will be a weekly in-class meeting via Zoom as well as pre-recorded videos. The instructor will also distribute plant specimens so that students can get hands-on experience with dissection and keying.

If you are interested in learning more about California’s beautiful and diverse flora, 2021 might be an ideal time to take this field botany course thanks to the flexible nature of virtual learning. If you have any questions about this course, please contact Lisa Serafini at

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  • December 8, 2020

Newt standing among leaf litter on trail
Taricha rivularis
– red-bellied newt
Submitted by Sheila McCarthy

Sheila was in eastern Sonoma county when she came across this critter crossing a trail. Red-bellied newts are a California Species of Special Concern and are endemic to California. You can find them in redwood and coastal forests from southern Humboldt county to Lake and Sonoma counties. There has also been an isolated population confirmed in Santa Clara county. They are mainly terrestrial but will breed in streams. When rain starts in the fall, adults will start to move around, find food, and eventually head to streams to reproduce. Red-bellied newts have poisonous secretions that come out of their skin to protect them from predation. If they are eaten in large quantities, they can kill most animals and even humans! However, their main predator, the common gartersnake, has a high resistance to tetrodotoxin and can consume them without harm. This newt species has an impressive longevity too – estimated between 20 and 30 years! Their diet consists of many types of invertebrates and they are usually active at night and late afternoon. Agriculture and urban development pose a threat because of the alteration and degradation of streams these processes require. The development of natural areas can also bring more vehicle traffic which poses a serious threat to this small species, especially during migrations to breeding areas. Currently, the CNDDB has 136 red-bellied newt occurrences throughout its range. Many thanks to Sheila for snapping a great shot of this tiny but mighty species!

California sawgrass flowering in rocky ravine
Cladium californicum – California sawgrass
Submitted by Joy England

This fascinating grass was discovered by Joy England and Duncan Bell in Inyo County. Joy and Duncan went out looking for this grass as part of California Botanic Garden’s effort, working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to conduct status assessments of native species considered at risk of decline. For any questions on the status assessment effort, please contact the principal investigator: Naomi Fraga, Director of Conservation Programs, California Botanic Garden at Cladium californicum was first listed in the CNPS Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants in 2006 and is currently on California Rare Plant Rank 2B.2 (plants rare, threatened, or endangered in California, but more common elsewhere; moderately threatened in California). In California it is found growing in meadows, seeps and alkaline or freshwater marshes and swamps throughout the central coast and southern California. Outside of California it can be found across Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and as far east as Texas. Blooms of C. californicum can be found throughout the summer from June to September. Thank you Joy for your work checking on the status of this amazing grass and thanks to both Naomi and Joy for their continued work protecting California’s native plants!

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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  • November 23, 2020

History Hunters logo

Did you know that CNDDB tracks plant species that are extinct or extirpated in California? The link opens in new windowCNPS Rare Plant Inventory ranks 28 plants as 1A (extinct in California) or 2A (extirpated in California but more common elsewhere). The CNDDB maintains records on these species, with details on the locations where they used to occur and the threats that led to their extinction.

So why continue to track these plants if they’re not around anymore? One reason is that there’s always a chance the species could be rediscovered in the future! It’s actually pretty easy for a small population of a very rare plant to escape notice for years or decades – the seeds could be waiting for just the right conditions to sprout, or the plant could be growing on private land inaccessible to botanists searching for the species.

Several plants listed as extinct in past editions of the CNPS Rare Plant Inventory have since been rediscovered. The Mount Diablo buckwheat (Eriogonum truncatum) was last seen in 1936 and presumed extinct, since introduced annual grasses had invaded its preferred habitat. In 2005, a UC Berkeley graduate student link opens in new windowrediscovered the Mount Diablo buckwheat on land recently acquired by Mount Diablo State Park.

Photos of Eriogonum truncatum specimen and flowers
Left: 1934 specimen of Mount Diablo buckwheat. Right: 2014 photo of rediscovered Mount Diablo buckwheat.
Courtesy of link opens in new windowHarvard University Herbaria link opens in new window(CC BY-NC) and link opens in new windowLech Naumovich link opens in new window(CC BY-NC-SA)

The Franciscan manzanita (Arctostaphylos franciscana) was believed to be extinct in the wild after the last known San Francisco populations were destroyed by development in the 1940s. In 2009, botanists found link opens in new windowone Franciscan manzanita shrub growing on a roadside slated for construction, and rushed to transplant it to a safe location. Most recently, a grass species last collected in Baja California in 1886, Sphenopholis interrupta ssp. californica, was rediscovered earlier this year in San Diego County.

Even if a species is truly extinct, preserving records of where it used to occur helps us paint a full picture of California’s conservation landscape, failures and all.

If you’re interested in becoming a botanical history hunter, and possibly rediscovering an extinct species yourself, check out the link opens in new windowCNPS Rare Plant Treasure Hunt! Every year, CNPS organizes volunteers to revisit and rediscover historical rare plant populations all over California. If you do find a botanical treasure, be sure to share your discovery with the CNDDB.

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  • November 10, 2020

A closeup of a hand holding a very small western pond turtle that has retracted halfway into its shell.

Emys marmorata – western pond turtle
Submitted by Zachary Abbey of Padre Inc.

Zachary came across some juvenile western pond turtles along Santa Monica Creek in Santa Barbara County. This turtle species is endemic to the western United States ranging from the Puget Sound lowlands in Washington to Baja California. Western pond turtles are small to medium sized with brown and green coloring and black spotted pattern on their heads and legs. They spend almost their entire lives in or close to water, but don't be alarmed if you see one roaming on land! Western pond turtles sometimes leave their aquatic habitats to search for food, habitat, or mates. During the winter months, western pond turtles hibernate underwater and breathe underwater using the process of cloacal respiration. Cloacal respiration allows these turtles to pump water through the cloaca (located at the rear of the turtle) to sacs lined with blood vessels that act like gills. There, oxygen diffuses in and carbon dioxide is released. Western pond turtle populations face many threats including historical commercial harvests, wetland drainage projects, and invasive species like the red-eared slider and bullfrog. Currently, the CNDDB has 1398 mapped occurrences. Thank you, Zachary, for submitting this observation!

A split view of the whole Sierra bolandra plant on the left, and a closeup of the tiny bell-shaped flower on the right

Bolandra californica – Sierra bolandra
Submitted by Dana York

This inconspicuous little flower was discovered by Dana along the Sierra Nevada mountains in Mariposa County. Bolandra californica was first listed in the 1974 first edition of the CNPS Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants as rare but not endangered and is currently considered a California Rare Plant Rank 4.3 (limited distribution in California; not very threatened in California). It is found growing in rock crevices of montane coniferous forests throughout the central Sierra Nevada mountains. The flower grows in a panicle or branching flowering structure where the lowest or outermost flowers bloom before the highest or central flowers. These flowers can be seen blooming through the summer from May to August. Thank you, Dana, for this amazing find, and for all the work you do helping all the rare and endangered plants in California!

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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  • November 6, 2020

Closeup of a moist Shasta sideband snail on pavement

Every type of organism deserves our respect, especially those who were already ancient before the dinosaurs first arrived on the scene.

When hearing "snail" most people think of a typical non-native garden snail. Nature is much more interesting than that. California boasts at least 240 named species of land snails, some of which are known only from a handful of field collections. 71 of these snails are considered imperiled and are tracked by CNDDB. Each of these species survives using staggeringly complicated biochemistry and carries along with it a long history of evading extinction by adapting at a snail’s pace.

Since snails are often found in cool, moist environments, many of these species will face increased pressures in the coming decades due to climate change. Some of California’s snail species will likely go extinct before ever being described. The people who are remembered as the legends in a given field of science are often just the first people who decide to investigate a topic in detail. New snail discoveries are made by curious amateurs. If you want to do some cutting-edge conservation science, you may find delving a bit into malacology quite rewarding.

The Shasta sideband snail (Monadenia troglodytes troglodytes) was originally known from a set of shells found in a cave with ice age fossils of extinct creatures such as the Shasta ground sloth. The 1933 publication that first described the shells said they belonged to an extinct species. Later research determined these snails are very much alive. They are restricted to limestone outcroppings in the vicinity of Shasta Lake. The US Forest Service now includes M. t. troglodytes on its list of sensitive species and NatureServe categorizes it as Critically Imperiled.

The Shasta sideband shown here was found in 2017 only a few steps away from a paved public road. The next time you’re in snail country, walk slow and keep your eyes open. You never know what you might find! If you spot anything rare, be sure to share your findings with CNDDB through our Online Field Survey Form.

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  • October 22, 2020

A view of the many rows of storage cabinets in CAS-IZ

Calling all time travelers! The California Academy of Science’s Invertebrate Zoology Department (CAS-IZ) has launched a new crowd-sourcing effort to transcribe specimen labels from key collections.

CAS-IZ’s Invertebrate Time Machine is the most recent addition to the Notes from Nature transcription project hosted on Zooniverse, one of the most widely-used platforms for "people-powered" research. Christina Piotrowski, CAS-IZ Collections Manager, emphasized the urgency of the undertaking: "On our changing planet, there's an ever-increasing need for scientists to study the hundreds of millions of natural history specimens housed in global museum collections. Like a huge biological time machine, these diverse specimens provide 'snapshots' of Life on Earth through time and space in ways no other resource can. Museum collections have long been accessed by researchers to answer critical global questions, but we must now bring these museum specimens 'off the shelves' by digitizing their data, increasing global accessibility to irreplaceable snapshots of our ever-changing natural world."

Since 1853, CAS has led the way in biodiversity research. Their collections are an invaluable resource for the scientific community at large, and to CNDDB in particular. This is a chance for all of us to give back, and lend a hand to this venerable California institution.

Start transcribing today on the link opens in new windowInvertebrate Time Machine home page, and enjoy your epic travels!

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  • October 12, 2020

A tiny vernal pool fairy shrimp on a burlap sack

Branchinecta lynchi vernal pool fairy shrimp
Submitted by Sean M. O’Brien of Helm Biological Consulting

Sean discovered some vernal pool fairy shrimp in a vernal pool east of the city of Madera. These creatures may be tiny but have a large list of interesting features! They were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1994. They grow to be less than an inch in size and use their many legs to swim on their backs. These legs also aid in their breathing and feeding. They use their legs to free algae and plankton from the water body surfaces. They produce a thick gluey mixture and combine this with their food before eating it. Even with many legs, vernal pool fairy shrimp are defenseless and only live in temporary bodies of water where aquatic predators cannot survive. Vernal pool fairy shrimp are endemic to Oregon and California and have suffered population declines due to the destruction and degradation of vernal pools for the sake of urban and agricultural endeavors. Currently, the CNDDB has 791 vernal pool fairy shrimp occurrences that span from Shasta County to San Diego County. Great job, Sean, for capturing a picture of this tiny but mighty species!

A bright purple Jones' bush-mallow flower with velvety stem and leaves

Malacothamnus jonesii – Jones’ bush-mallow
Submitted by Jason Dart and Kristen Anderson

This mallow is a favorite of butterflies and pollinators as well as hummingbirds attracted by all the little insects. This, along with its velvety grey color, makes it a sought-after plant in native nurseries but it can also be found in the wild along the southern California coast in chaparral and cismontane woodland. Jason Dart and Kristen Anderson found the plant growing in the wild in San Luis Obispo County and submitted their observation to the CNDDB. Malacothamnus jonesii was originally listed in the 1974 first edition of the CNPS Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants as rare but not endangered and is currently considered a California Rare Plant Rank 4.3 plant (limited distribution in California; not very threatened in California). These delicate pink flowers can be seen blooming from as early as March through the summer into October, so there is still a little time to see them. A very big thank you to both Jason and Kristen for all the important work you share and this awesome photo!

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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  • October 7, 2020

A collage of rare plants and animals surrounding the words CNDDB California Natural Diversity Database, Conservation Through Information

Does the CNDDB ever seem like a black box? Confused about when to use which of our products? Locked down by the pandemic and hungry for something new?

Since we have also been working from home and unable to meet with our users in-person, this seemed like the right time to revise some training material. We have just released a modernized version of our CNDDB overview video. It covers why we do what we do, how we process information, and what products we make available to others. This video will help you get the most from your CNDDB access, with an awareness of some pitfalls and misconceptions about our products. Even our most seasoned subscribers will likely learn a thing or two.

While we recommend that all users of our database are familiar with all of the content in this video, if you only have a few minutes to spare or just want to know about a particular topic, you can click on a link to jump ahead to the relevant section in the video.

Check it out on our training webpage!

A carousel of PowerPoint slides from the CNDDB Training video

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  • September 28, 2020

Please join our next Conservation Lecture Series talk that focuses on natural history training. As natural history training has declined in formal education, it has increased among lay audiences. While it continues to address traditional practices and topics such as field observations of organisms and their behavior, it’s increasingly tackling a wider range of issues and topics including conservation and restoration, climate change, traditional ecological knowledge, and even the environmental justice. In addition, the rise in participatory science has dramatically increased the number of ways in which the public can meaningfully engage in science, yet significant challenges remain including large gaps in participation from black and indigenous people and a perennial lack of funding. This lecture describes the unique collaborative approach the California Naturalist program uses to deliver natural history training in this complex milieu and answers the questions: Why are people interested in natural history training? and How does it relate to the work of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife?

Gregory “Greg” Ira is the Director of the UC California Naturalist program based at the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources office in Davis, California. After completing his Bachelor’s in Environmental Studies from Prescott College in Arizona, and Master’s in Asian Studies from the University of Hawaii (through the East-West Center’s Environment and Policy Institute), he worked for six years in the Philippines integrating conservation into the context of rural development. From 2000-2015 he served as the Director of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Environmental Education, where he established a statewide environmental education program (Learning in Florida’s Environment) for middle school students in Florida’s State Parks.

Science Institute logoDate: Tuesday, September 29, 10:30 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
Register to view online.

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