Wildlife on the Ranch
It is truly amazing to see all of the different species of animals that live or pass through the ranch. We have seen the tracks and scat of mountain lions, but have not actually seen one. Wild pigs have been spotted and we frequently see golden eagles soaring overhead. Watch this page for the animals we capture by camera.
We work closely with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Alameda County Resource Conservation District (ACRCD) to conserve the wildlife on the ranch. Go here to read about some of the conservation projects going on at the ranch.
We don’t often see the Alameda whipsnake also known as the Alameda striped racer around the ranch. This one was found during a study conducted by Swaim Biological, Inc. of the different species of snakes we have on the ranch. They fast moving and are active during the day. They range in length from 3 to 3.9 feet. They eat insects, lizards, snakes, birds, and small mammals. They prefer lizards, which they grasp in their mouths and swallow alive.
Bay Area Blonde Tarantula
We only see Bay Area Blond Tarantulas on the ranch during September and mid October. The tarantulas live in a burrow lined with silk for most of its life. They can grow to 4 inches in length. Tarantulas eat insects, other arachnids, small reptiles and amphibians. When a male tarantula is about 7 years old, he will leave the burrow at dusk and dawn to find a mate. They will travel more than three-quarters of a mile searching for a mate. During their mating trek they are often crushed by cars or eaten by coyotes. Their defense consists of sharp hairs on the abdomen that using his hind legs, he can flick into the face of predators. The hairs are barbed and when embedded in human soft tissue can cause a irritating itch. Unfortunately the barbed hairs won’t protect him from his most dangerous adversary: a female wasp called a tarantula hawk. She can subdue him with a sting, drag him to her burrow, and lay a single egg on his paralyzed body. Some days later, the larva would then hatch and consume the tarantula alive. Tarantulas eat insects, other arachnids, small reptiles and amphibians. After the mating season ends the male dies. Female tarantulas can live more than 30 years.
We saw this California kingsnake in our monarch restoration garden in October 2020. We are very happy when we see kingsnakes on our ranch because they are resistant to venom and will kill and eat rattlesnakes. Kingsnakes are non venomous and get the name king from their penchant for hunting and eating other snakes. Besides eating snakes, kingsnakes also feed on rodents, birds, and amphibians.
Kingsnakes are prey to many predators which include coyotes, opossums, hawks, owls, and skunks. If they can escape their predators, kingsnakes can live 10 to 12 years.
During the winter months and spring we find the California newts under logs and around the various ponds and creek on the ranch. The California newt is native to California and is found in the coastal counties of California and in the Southern Sierra Nevada. Adult newts range from 5 to 8 inches long. Their skin is tougher than salamanders and the glands in their skin secrete a potent neurotoxin, which is hundreds times more toxic than cyanide. The neurotoxin is strong enough to kill vertebrates, including humans, but only when ingested. Due to their toxicity, the California newt have few predators. Garter snakes are the most common predator. The newts eat earthworms, snails, slugs, bloodworms, mosquito larvae, and crickets.
California Red Legged Frog
We find these gems under logs next to our large vernal pool. The California Red Legged Frog is an IUCN vulnerable species, and a federally listed threatened species of the United States, and is protected by law. The main cause of the population decline is habitat loss and destruction, but introduced predatory species, such as American bullfrogs, might also be a factor. We hope the bullfrogs in the pool do not wipe them out.
California Tiger Salamander
Sightings of the California Tiger Salamander on the ranch are few and far between, but we have seen them. The California Tiger Salamander can grow to lengths of 7 to 8 inches. They have a stocky body and a broad, rounded snout. They are black with yellow or cream spots. These salamanders depend on vernal pools, other seasonal ponds, and stock ponds for reproduction. Adults migrate at night from upland habitats to aquatic breeding sites beginning with the first major rainfall of fall and winter, and return to upland habitats after breeding. Adults spend the majority of their lives in burrows created by other animals, such as ground squirrels and gophers. They eat very little, but when they do eat, they eat earthworms, snails, insects, and fish. The California Tiger Salamander population has dramatically decreased due primarily to the loss of habitat and predators, such as the American bullfrog, which we unfortunately have an infestation of in our large ponds.
We find California toads around our ponds, Nancy’s house, and our barn. Nancy found this guy in her house. The adult toad ranges in length from two to five inches. The California toad eggs number over 16,000 per female and are laid in strings in shallow water.
We don’t often see coyotes around the ranch, but we know they are there. We find their scat and hear them howling at night. The coyote is smaller than its close relative the wolf. Coyote males weigh 18 to 44 pounds and females 15 to 40 pounds. Their fur is predominately light grey and red, but varies geographically. Coyotes living living in high elevations have more black and gray in their coats. Coyotes eat deer, rabbits, rodents, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates. They also eat fruit and vegetation.
Foothill Yellow-Legged Frog
Foothill yellow-legged frogs are usually found near water and are mostly active during daylight. They dive to the bottom of the stream and hide in rocks or debris when threatened, using cryptic color and markings to blend in with the stream substrate. Their diet consists of a wide variety of invertebrates including aquatic, terrestrial, and flying insects, spiders, snails, and grasshoppers. Tadpoles, young, and adult frogs are preyed upon by garter snakes, and possibly small mammals. Tadpoles might also be preyed on by some aquatic invertebrates. Rough-skinned newts eat egg masses as do a variety of introduced trout and warm water fishes. Some large fish also consume adult frogs.
We had no idea there were night snakes on the ranch until a study of snakes was performed on the ranch. The researchers performing the study found this night snake in one of their traps. As you can probably guess from their name, the night snake is nocturnal, however, they are also active at dusk and dawn. The night snake is venomous and uses its venom to subdue its prey. The venom is not a threat to humans. The night snake’s main prey is lizards, but they also eat baby rattlesnakes, salamanders, frogs, and large insects.
Northern Pacific Rattlesnake
Rattlesnakes are the most feared creature on the ranch. Thank goodness some of the other snakes and birds on the ranch eat them. This guy was found by Nancy’s chicken coop. Northern Pacific Rattlesnakes are usually around 36 inches long. Most are greenish brown or greenish gray with many dark brown blotches along their back. Like all rattlesnakes, they have a flat triangular head and a rattle at the end of their tail. The Northern Pacific Rattlesnake uses very deadly venom to kill its prey. Their prey consists of small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and ground nesting birds. Many females often gather in one single den to give birth. They give live birth from 4 to 21 young. Each time a rattlesnake sheds its skin, a new segment is added to its rattle. The Northern Pacific Rattlesnake prefers drier regions, but avoids deserts. They live in prairies, grasslands, brush, woods, along streams, rock ledges, and caves. They can be found from southwestern Canada through the western United Sates, to northern Mexico.
Pacific Gopher Snake
Gopher snakes are one of the most commonly seen snakes in California and are often mistaken for a rattlesnake. They can be distinguished from a rattler by the lack of black and white banding on the tail and the gopher snake’s head is narrower than a rattlesnake. To defend itself, the gopher snake puffs up its body and curls into a strike pose. It’s strike is often closed mouth and uses it’s nose to warn off predators. They will also shake their tails, confusing predators to think it is a rattlesnake. Gopher snakes are 36 to 84 inches in length. They can live 12 to 15 years. They can climb and swim. Typical prey of the gopher snakes include small mammals, birds, lizards, smaller snakes, frogs, insects, and eggs.
About three years ago we saw our first roadrunner on the ranch. This one is usually seen around Nancy’s house. Roadrunners are a species of fast-running ground cuckoos. They range in size from 22 to 24 inches. They can run 15 to 20 miles per hour and can fly to altitudes of 10 feet, but fly badly. Their diet consists of grasshoppers, crickets, caterpillars, beetles, spiders, rodents, lizards, and snakes. Roadrunners are one of few animals that preys on rattlesnakes. They live in arid lowlands or mountainous shrubland or woodland. They are non-migratory and stay in their breeding area year-round. This is the first roadrunner we have seen on the ranch. We have seen a roadrunner or two in the same area about four miles down the road from the ranch for several years.
Since skunks are nocturnal we don’t often see them on the ranch. Skunks can become infected with rabies and if we see a skunk out during the midday, we usually assume it is rabid. The skunk in the photo was captured by a game camera near our large pond. Skunks are members of the weasel family. They known for their ability to spray a liquid with a strong, unpleasant smell when they feel threatened. All skunks are striped, even from birth. Skunks eat both plant and animal material, changing their diets as the seasons change. They eat insects, larvae, earthworms, grubs, rodents, lizards, salamanders, frogs, snakes, birds, moles, eggs, berries, roots, leaves, grasses, fungi, and nuts. Skunks dig up yellow-jacket nests in summer, after the compacted soil under oak trees dries out and cracks open, which allows the yellow-jackets to build their nests underground.The great horned owl is the skunk’s only regular predator.
This commentary is going to read like a scene from a horror movie. If you are prone to nightmares, you might want to skip this one. The tarantula hawk is a wasp that preys on tarantula spiders. The poor tarantulas live in fear of these wasps. The female stings a tarantula between the legs, paralyzes it, and then drags the paralyzed tarantula to a specially prepared burrow. Once in the burrow, she lays a single egg on the tarantula’s abdomen. When the wasp larva hatches, it makes a hole in the tarantula’s abdomen and feeds on the paralyzed tarantula, avoiding the vital organs as long as possible to keep the spider alive. After the wasp larvae pupates and becomes an adult it emerges from the abdomen. The sex of the wasp larvae is determined by fertilization. A fertilized egg will produce a female, an unfertilized egg will produce a male. The male tarantula hawks do not hunt. Both the male and female wasps feed on the flowers of milkweed. The photo of this tarantula wasp was taken in our pollinator garden on the flowers of a narrow leaf milkweed plant. The wasps are not very aggressive, but they will sting and apparently the sting is very painful. Because they have large stingers, most predators avoid these wasps; however, one of the few that will prey on them are roadrunners.
Western Fence Lizard (Blue Belly)
The western fence lizard is a common lizard in the western states with California being the heart of the range of this lizard. The mature lizards measure in length up to about 7 to 8 inches. The abdomen of the adult lizard is blue and these lizards are more commonly known around our parts as the “blue belly” lizard. You will often see these lizards sunning themselves on rocks and fences. They eat spiders and insects. The female lizards lay eggs, with older females producing three to four clutches of eggs per season. They lay their eggs from May to July in pits they have dug in damp soil. From our experience if you grab the lizard by the tail, the tail will drop off. The tail will eventually grow back. Studies have shown that Lyme disease is lower in areas where the blue belly lizard resides. When ticks carrying Lyme disease feed on the blue belly’s blood, a protein in the lizard’s blood kills the bacterium in the tick that causes Lyme disease. The infection inside the ticks’ gut is cleared and the tick no longer carries Lyme disease.
Western Monarch Butterfly
Western monarchs breed west of the Rocky mountains and primarily overwinter in sites along the Pacific Coast of California. In the spring the monarchs leave their winter habitat and disperse across the west. Unfortunately the monarch butterfly is on the path to extinction. Currently there are fewer than 0.01% of monarchs than there were in the 1980’s. In the winter of 2020/2021 fewer than 2,000 monarchs were counted in California’s overwintering sites. Read what we are doing to help save the western monarch.
Western Pond Turtle
We have a large pond on the ranch and there’s at least two western pond turtles living in it. The turtles are elusive and we don’t often see them, which is why this is such a poor photo. Sometimes we see the tops of their little heads in various places around the pond, but if we’re lucky we will see them basking in the sun on a log sticking out of the water. The western pond turtles are omnivorous and eat insects and aquatic invertebrates. They will sometimes eat tadpoles, fish, and frogs. Plant foods include filamentous algae, tule, lily pads, and cattail roots. Young turtles are carnivorous and do not eat plant matter until they are about three years old. Raccoons and coyotes are the biggest threat to the turtles in our pond. Turtle hatchlings are eaten by bullfrogs and it is very unfortunate that we have a problem with an infestation of non-native bullfrogs in the pond. During really dry years our pond dries up during the summer, however, the western pond turtle can spend more than 200 days out of water. The females lay eggs in a nest that can be up to 1/2 mile away from the water. The nest is covered with soil and vegetation, making it difficult for detection.
Conservation Status: IUCN Vulnerable
Species Documented But Not Photographed
The following species were documented on the ranch during an assessment, but we have not yet captured them by camera.
- American Badger
- California Roach Fish
- Coast Horned Lizard
- Golden Eagle
- Grasshopper Sparrow
- Pallid Bat
- American Ba
- Rainbow Trout
- San Joaquin Pocket Mouse
- Stickleback Fish
- Western Bumble Bee
- Western Burrowing Owl