Here are some interesting and fun facts about the ten species and plants of Wildcat Creek Watershed that appear on the sidewalk stickers along the Urban Nature Loop in North Richmond. These illustrated stickers are part of our Safe Routes to School project. Click on each sticker to learn more!
Common Name: Orange Bellied Newt
Scientific Name: Taricha torosa
Chochenyo Name: Paalatmin
Spanish Name: Triton de california
Description: The California newt is mainly known for its unique orange color on the bottom of its belly, which is why it is also called the Orange Bellied newt. Find them in wet forests, especially oaks, shrublands, grasses, and near creeks. The newt’s adult length is 5 to 8 inches, tail included, and can live up to 15 years in the wild. It is essential to know that the skin of the adult newt produces a very potent toxin, so avoid touching it.
What they eat: The California newt’s typical diet is earthworms, snails, slugs, woodlice, bloodworms, mosquito larvae, and crickets. Adult newts may eat their eggs and larvae.
Why it is important: Newts help control aquatic insects, including mosquitoes. Their presence is an indicator of healthy wetlands and forests.
Status: Not considered endangered at the moment, but the habitat loss, mainly due to human land alteration, threatens newt populations.
Common Name: European Cross Orbweaver Garden Spider
Scientific Name: Araneus Diadematus
Chochenyo Name: Tirasmin
Spanish Name: tejedor de orbes cruzados
Description: These spiders are known for their distinctive white cross-shaped markings on their abdomen, which is how they got their name. Their name also suggests Cross Orbweaver got introduced from Europe to North America. They are not harmful to humans or native spiders. Cross Orbweavers are relatively small, and the females are almost twice as large as the males (females grow up to 0.80 inches in body length, and males are at about 0.50 inches).
Despite their small size, these spiders are known for their impressive ability to spin webs, sometimes as large as 2 feet in diameter. They create a new web every day! They tend to sit in the center of their web with their head down to reach it quickly once an insect gets tangled. If it feels threatened or in danger, it may first use its legs to shake violently and shimmy its web to startle the threat in hopes of causing it to leave. If that does not happen, the spider will drop to the ground and return to its web’s center when it feels safe again. Cross Orbweavers typically live for around one year. After mating, females will lay 300 to 800 eggs in a sac, which they will guard until the eggs hatch. Once the spiderlings emerge, they will disperse and build their webs, continuing this species’ life cycle.
What they eat: Cross Orbweavers are carnivores and primarily feed on insects, including flies, mosquitoes, moths, and other small insects. Once trapped, the spider immobilizes the prey with its venom before consuming it.
Why it is important: Cross Orbweavers and spiders generally control pests around homes and gardens. They get rid of flies and mosquitoes in your home, and they keep your garden protected from plant-harming insects.
Common Name: Chicken Hawk
Scientific Name: Buteo jamaicensis
Chochenyo Name: ‘ililik
Spanish Name: Halcón de cola roja
Description: The Red-Tailed Hawk is a bird of prey found throughout North America. It is one of the most common hawks on the continent and is easily identifiable by its unmistakable red tail feathers. These birds have a wingspan of about 4 feet and weigh around 2.5 pounds. They are larger than most other hawk species and have a broad, rounded wingspan that helps them soar effortlessly in the sky. Red-tailed Hawks live for 10 to 15 years in the wild but can live up to 25 years in captivity. These birds mate for life – once they find a partner, they will remain together for the rest of their lives.
What they eat: Red-Tailed Hawks are carnivorous and feed on small mammals such as rodents, rabbits, and squirrels. They are also known to hunt reptiles, birds, and insects. These hawks are skilled hunters and can spot their prey from a great distance. They use their sharp talons to catch their prey.
Why it is important: Red-tailed hawks play a crucial role in the ecosystem. They are apex predators, meaning they are at the top of the food chain and help control other animal populations. By preying on rodents, snakes, and other small mammals, they help to keep their populations in check, which in turn helps to regulate the ecosystem.
Status: Currently not endangered. Hawks are protected by law under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918; therefore, it is illegal to harm red-tailed hawks.
Common Name: Mallard Duck
Scientific Name: Anas platyrhynchos
Chochenyo Name: šaakani
Spanish Name: Pato Mallard
Description: The Mallard Duck is one of the world’s most recognizable and widespread species of ducks. Males, or drakes, have a bright green head, yellow bill, brown chest, and gray wings, while females, or hens, are brown with an orange and brown bill. A flock of mallards is called a Sord. They can grow between 19 and 25 inches long, with a wingspan of 31 to 38 inches. Mallard Ducks typically weigh between 1 and 3 pounds, with males slightly larger than females.
The average life expectancy in the wild is around 2 to 5 years. When a predator comes near, the mother pretends to be dead to be a distraction to protect their ducklings. A group of ducklings is called a brood. Ducklings stay in the nest until they are about one month old.
What they eat: The Mallard duck is an omnivorous bird. They eat grasses, nuts, insects, tadpoles, frogs, earthworms, and small fish.
Why it is important: Mallards help control the overpopulation of pesky insects that can be invasive. When they fly between sites where they feed and roost (they can travel up to 20 km in less than half an hour!), they transport and disperse seeds and spores and help cultivate plants.
Status: Not endangered. These ducks are very common because they adapt well to their environment.
Common Name: Monarch Butterfly
Scientific Name: Apocynum cannabinum
Chochenyo Name: šiwluluk
Spanish Name: Mariposa Monarca
Description: Monarchs are known for the Monarch Butterfly Migration. Millions of monarch butterflies travel from Canada and the United States to Mexico yearly, covering up to 3,000 miles. Their average life span is around two months, so it takes 3-4 generations to complete the migration trip. The wingspan of this butterfly is about 4 inches. The weight of monarch butterflies is extremely low; they weigh from 0.0095 to 0.026 oz., which sounds unreal.
What they eat: Monarch butterflies primarily feed on the nectar of flowers. They are especially attracted to the milkweed plants as caterpillars. When the monarch caterpillars hatch, they exclusively feed on the leaves of the milkweed plant, which is why it is commonly referred to as the “host plant” for the monarch butterfly. Adult monarch butterflies sometimes consume other liquids such as tree sap and fruit juice, but nectar from flowers, mainly milkweed nectar, is their primary source of nutrition.
Why it is important: Monarch butterflies are excellent pollinators. Therefore, they help to maintain the ecosystem’s balance. Additionally, monarch butterflies are an indicator species, which means that their population health can help scientists to understand the condition of other species and the overall health of the environment.
Status: Endangered. Monarch butterfly populations have been declining in recent years due to various factors. One of the biggest threats to monarchs is habitat loss, as human development and agriculture destroy their primary food source and breeding grounds. Additionally, pesticides and herbicides can harm monarchs by killing off the plants they rely on.
Common Name: Anna’s Hummingbird
Scientific Name: Calypte Anna
Chochenyo Name: Hummingbird
Spanish Name: Colibri de anna
Description: Anna’s Hummingbird is a beautiful and unique bird species in western North America. These birds have a striking appearance with brilliant iridescent feathers that shimmer in the sunlight. Hummingbirds are small in size, measuring approximately 4 inches. Their nests are also tiny, about the size of a golf ball. They have a lifespan of about eight years. They move extremely fast – their wings can beat up to 80 times per second during flight! This gives them the ability to hover and sustain their position in mid-air.
What they eat: They primarily get their energy from collecting the nectar from flowers but also eat small insects and spiders.
Why it is important: These animals are important because they are pollinators. They pollinate the area where they collect nectar from flowers.
Status: Anna’s Hummingbirds are currently not endangered. They are comfortable around humans and are commonly observed in gardens and urban areas. They are vulnerable to threats such as habitat loss and predators, including the house cat.
Common Name: Toyon
Scientific Name: Heteromeles arbutifolia
Chochenyo Name: Tuyuk
Spanish Name: jugueteon (Toyon)
Description: Toyon is a beautiful plant native to California, belonging to the rose family. It is a perennial shrub, meaning it lives more than a year, and an evergreen shrub, meaning it is active throughout the year. It can grow up to 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide. Toyon is also known as a Christmas berry because it produces bright red berries that ripen in late fall and last through winter, making it a popular decoration during the holiday season. Its small and white flowers bloom in late spring or early summer. People should not eat the Toyon berries raw because they can hurt the digestive system.
Why it is important: The Toyon berries are a crucial food source for wildlife, including birds, mammals, and insects. The bright red berries the plant produces are vital for many species, especially during the winter when other food sources may be scarce.
It is an important cultural symbol, particularly for Native American tribes in California. The berries were used medicinally and as a dye for textiles. The plant is used for basket weaving, as the branches are flexible and durable.
The toyon plant also plays an important ecological role by helping prevent erosion and providing shelter to smaller plants and animals.
Status: Stable. It is a resilient plant, and in some cities in California, it is protected under the law because of its cultural significance.
Common Name: Ringneck Snake
Scientific Name: Diadophis punctatus
Chochenyo Name: lišumša
Spanish Name: Serpiente de cuello redondo
Description: The Ringneck Snake is a small, slender snake species in North America. It is well-known for its distinctive ring-shaped patterns around its neck, which are typically yellow or orange and contrast sharply with its dark-colored body. The Ringneck Snake is typically 10 to 15 inches in length. Females are often larger than males.
When threatened, ringneck snakes may engage in a peculiar defensive behavior: they coil their tail, exposing the bright underside with the distinct ring, and may flip over to display it. They lay their eggs in damp places, such as under logs or in rotting vegetation. Ringneck Snakes are generally non-venomous and not considered dangerous to humans.
What they eat: They are typically active at night and feed on small prey, including insects, earthworms, and other small invertebrates. They are also known to eat small lizards and other snakes occasionally.
Why are they important: They are a food source for many predators, such as birds, mammals, and other snakes. They also play an important ecological role by contributing to the biodegradation of leaves, sticks, and other organic matter.
Status: Stable, due to their large population and wide range of habitats.
Western Fence Lizard
Common Name: Western Fence Lizard
Scientific Name: Sceloporus occidentalis
Chochenyo Name: ‘ipihwa
Spanish Name: lagarto de valla occidental
Description: The Western Fence Lizard is common in many places in America, but they are typically known for their distinctive blue belly. These lizards can reach a length of 8 inches and have an average lifespan of 5-7 years. They have specialized proteins in their blood that can kill bacteria that cause Lyme disease in ticks, which makes them less likely to carry the disease. When threatened, Western Fence Lizards can scurry fast to evade predators.
They are agile climbers who quickly dart up trees or other surfaces to escape danger. Like many lizards, Western Fence Lizards can shed their tails as a defense mechanism when grabbed by a predator. The detached tail can continue to wiggle, distracting the predator while the lizard makes its escape.
What they eat: These lizards feed on insects like beetles, ants, spiders, and flies. They are known for their big appetite!
Why it is important: One of the crucial functions of Western Fence Lizards is their role in controlling the population of insects and other small invertebrates. By consuming these insects, they help to reduce their populations and prevent them from causing damage to crops and gardens.
Status: Stable. This lizard population has no major threats at present due to their tolerance of a wide range of habitats.
Common Name: Steelhead
Scientific Name: Oncorhynchus mykiss irideus
Chochenyo Name: Paysar
Spanish Name: Trucha arcoiris
Description: Steelhead trout are anadromous, meaning they start their life in freshwater (in streams and creeks), and when they are large enough, they swim to the ocean, where they spend most of their life. They return to freshwater to lay their eggs.
The body of the steelhead trout is silvery, and black dots and a red or pink stripe run horizontally down the sides of the body. The silver color and its round head give the steelhead its name. Steelhead can weigh up to 55 lb and reach 45 inches in length. Their typical lifespan is 4 to 6 years, though some can live up to 11 years and are iteroparous, meaning they spawn multiple times in their lifetime.
What they eat: The steelhead trout feast on zooplankton (small aquatic animals) when they are small, and in adulthood, they feast on other fishes and some rodents.
Why are they important: Steelheads provide a source of food for larger aquatic animals and also to land mammals, including humans. They were an essential source of food for Native American tribes in California.
Status: Endangered. Steelhead trout can no longer migrate between their spawning (hatching) location in rivers and the ocean. In today’s California, each and every creek, river, and waterway has at some point a barrier – bridge, dam, or urbanized channels and development, hydroelectric power projects, that inhibits their ability to pass.