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    • June 10, 2019

    Darlingtonia californica in a field and Pinguicula macroceras in soil

    Photo credit: Kristi Lazar
    Photo caption: Left: Darlingtonia californica (CNPS List 4), Right: Pinguicula macroceras (CNPS List 2B.2)

    Not all carnivores are in the order Carnivora – in fact some are plants! Carnivorous plants are plants that have adapted to trap insects as a nutritional supplement, to compensate for the nutrient-poor soils they usually grow in.

    Most people are familiar with the Venus flytrap, which is native to the Carolinas, but there are other pretty cool carnivorous plants growing right under our noses here in California. CNDDB tracks several species of carnivorous plants which you may not have thought to look for in California – one species of sundew (Drosera anglica), one species of butterwort (Pinguicula macroceras), three bladderworts (Utricularia intermedia, U. minor, and U. ochroleuca), and our only native pitcher plant (Darlingtonia californica).

    The California pitcher plant has large balloon-like leaves with a tiny exit hole, lined with slippery secretions and downward-pointing hairs, so that any insects unlucky enough to crawl inside cannot find their way out again and eventually die. Sundews and butterworts catch insects by secreting a sticky fluid and digestive enzymes onto their leaves, trapping insects like flypaper. Bladderworts have small round traps with lids growing from modified stems that float in the water or are buried in wet soil. These traps have trigger hairs at the opening so that when small organisms touch the hairs, the lid snaps open and sucks them in!

    You can find these plants in the wild in bogs and seeps in the northern Sierras and on the North Coast. And remember to fill out an link opens in new windowOnline Field Survey Form if you see one of these neat plants!

    Categories: Taxon of the week
    • May 29, 2019

    snail on a rockToday, we celebrate snails-- an essential, endangered, and understudied component of our state’s terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Non-marine mollusks, including freshwater and land snails, are the most imperiled group of animals on our planet: 41% of recorded extinctions from 1500-2004 were of non-marine mollusks. Unrecorded extinctions may be significantly higher, as the conservation status of less than 2 percent of mollusk species has been adequately assessed (link opens in new windowFurnish 2007, 2014).

    Aquatic mollusks have been devastated by over a century of dams, diversions, water pollution, and other anthropogenic impacts. Conserving freshwater mollusks, including snails, is critically important to the health of our rivers and streams, as these species play a vital role in reclaiming water quality.

    snail shellApproximately 240 land snails (and slugs) are native to California, including many endemic species. "Terrestrial snails are important components of our forests and woodlands," says ecologist Len Lindstrand. "They decompose litter, recycle nutrients, build soils; and provide food and calcium for birds, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, and other invertebrates." Land snails can be found in desert environments as well, as attested by snail expert Dave Goodward. Finding these species takes patience; to conserve precious body moisture, they emerge from cover only when conditions are right, often at night. Finding the snail is just the beginning of the challenge: "Telling the different species apart is maddeningly difficult," says Goodward. He found the "lovely snail" pictured below in the Piute Mountains of Kern County. It was similar to a badger shoulderband, but may prove to be an undescribed, narrowly endemic species.

    outstretched snailCurious to learn more about these enigmatic creatures? Try looking up the work of our state’s foremost land snail expert Dr. Barry Roth, who co-authored the link opens in new windowChecklist of the Land Snails and Slugs of California. For a list of snails and slugs tracked in CNDDB, check out the link opens in new windowSpecial Animals List on our website. Happy trails!

    Photo 1: Monadenia troglodytes wintu by Len Lindstrand
    Photo 2: Trilobopsis roperi by Len Lindstrand
    Photo 3: Helminthoglyptha sp. By Dave Goodward

    Categories: Education and Awareness, Taxon of the week
    • May 6, 2019

    pair of horned lizardsWhat’s the strangest thing you’ve done in the pursuit of scientific knowledge? Oliver Hay tasted blood squirted from the eye of a live horned lizard specimen sent to the Field Museum from California in 1891. While we advise against going to such lengths, we do recommend getting to know the horned lizards, genus Phrynosoma (from the Greek: toad-body). Known colloquially as “horned toads” or “horny toads” due to their round, flat body shape, spiny scales, and bony horns encircling the head, horned lizards have many unique traits worthy of study.

    Of the 22 species in the genus Phrynosoma, 4 occur in California. Phrynosoma mcallii, the flat-tailed horned lizard, is federally endangered and is restricted to sandy habitat in the Colorado Desert. P. blainvillii, coast horned lizard, is a California Species of Special Concern found in the south and central Coast Range, and inland to the Sierra foothills. P. platyrhinos, the desert horned lizard, is found throughout the Colorado and Mojave deserts (southern subspecies) and in eastern Modoc and Lassen counties (northern subspecies). Finally, P. douglasii, the pygmy short-horned lizard, is a tiny species whose range barely dips into the northeastern corner of our state.

    side view of a horned lizardHorned lizards are relatively easy to observe; rather than fleeing predators, they may rely on a variety of avoidance mechanisms including camouflage, partial burial in sand, or defensive postures that make them difficult to swallow (but impressive to photograph—see photo at left). Of the California species, only P. blainvillii is known to exhibit the blood-squirting defense mechanism, so keep that in mind the next time you reach for a horned lizard. Many Phrynosoma species depend on ants as their primary food source, a factor which may be contributing to their decline in regions where invasive insects are replacing native harvester ants.

    Have you witnessed any incredible horned lizard behavior? Send us your observations of P. mcallii and P. blainvillii via our link opens in new windowOnline Field Survey Form-- and feel free to attach photographic evidence; your picture could be featured in our next Photo of the Month!

    Photo credit: California Department of Parks and Recreation (Eric Hollenbeck), Joseph Belli

    Categories: Education and Awareness, Taxon of the week