NEC Intern, Ivy Munnerlyn, brings us a weekly dose of information on creatures large and small. Follow us on social media @your_nec for more.
We’d like to introduce you to a small, slow inhabitant of the Redwood forest: The Pacific Sideband (Monadenia fidelis). These beautiful reddish-brown snails are remarkable for a few reasons. Most snails breathe through gill slits, but this guy has a lung! Pacific Sidebands are hermaphroditic — they have both male and female parts. This is normal for most snails, but Sidebands set themselves apart with their use of “love darts”.
When Sidebands think they have located a mate, they will engage in a lengthy mating dance. Once they have determined that they are suitable partners, they will shoot a harpoon-like dart made of cartilage or calcium carbonate into their partner. The dart contains hormones that make the mating more successful, but can sometimes pierce internal organs. Ouch!
The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is known all over the world by many names: Sea-Hawk, River-Hawk, and Fish-Hawk to name a few. It is one of the most widespread raptor species, and also one of the most specialized. It hunts almost exclusively over the water, with fish making up 99% of its diet. Ospreys have many adaptations for diving: nostrils that close, barbed scales on their feet that help grab slippery fish, and waterproofed feathers.
Ospreys are easily recognized from below because of their characteristic white belly and brown underwing. If you’re close enough to see its head, the brown eye stripe is also a dead giveaway! Ospreys appear in mythology, religion, and as cultural symbols worldwide. They are truly a one-of-a-kind bird!
You may be thinking…wait, that green stringy stuff is a creature? Yes! Lichens are a fascinating bunch — not quite plants, but not quite fungi either. In fact, they’re not a single creature at all! Most lichens are made up of one or more types of fungi and a green algae. The fungi provide the “body,” and the algae provides photosynthesis. Together, they are able to do much more than they would on their own.
Lace Lichen (Ramalina menziesii) is special in many ways. It’s unique hair-like appearance makes it easily recognizable. Plus, it’s the official state lichen of California! It’s a food source for deer, as well as a nest material for birds. You can spot this species almost anywhere in Humboldt, but one of the best places is at Ma-le’l Dunes.
Gopher snakes are a common sight all over the western half of the US. There are many subspecies of this beautiful reptile, including the Pacific Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer catenifer) which you can find right here in Humboldt! Don’t go searching for them in the Redwoods, though…they like to hang out in dry meadows and agricultural areas.
If a gopher snake feels threatened, it might hiss and shake its tail like a rattlesnake. But don’t worry! These guys aren’t venomous and will generally not approach humans. These snakes are often found near roads and houses, making them one of the most familiar reptiles to many people.