You’ll never hear me complain about the rain here in Southern California — the wetter the better. We were spoiled this past winter and the evidence is hard to miss. For months now, the hillsides have been dotted with an explosion of color. The peak of flowering has passed, but it was a great spring to traipse around Orange County parks and observe the bounty –lupines, shooting stars, CA buttercup, and popcorn flowers to name just a few.
If you haven’t had a chance to explore, don’t worry! Many wildflowers are still going strong and you have a bit more time before the summer heat kicks in. Here are just a few lovelies I saw yesterday on a hike through El Moro Canyon in Crystal Cove State Park:
I spent the past couple of days exploring the intertidal with my biology students. No matter how many times I visit this coastal system, I am always fascinated by how much beauty and how much biology there is to observe. Especially when I go with students whose “oooohs” and “ahhhhhs” remind me once again of how amazing the natural world is.
Here in So Cal, we are lucky to have so much coastline to explore. Crystal Cove State Park in Laguna Beach has 3.2 miles of pristine coastline that is perfect for exploring tidepools and sandy coves, or just relaxing on the beach.
Life in the intertidal is no day at the beach. Organisms need to cope with being exposed to air and sunlight during low tides and submerged with water during high tides. They also have to be able to withstand the incessant pounding of the energy-filled surf and compete with other organisms who are looking for a prime piece of real estate. Animals have evolved suites of adaptations in responses to these environmental challenges. Here are a few of my favorites (oh so hard to just pick a few….more to come in future posts!):
Ochre Sea Stars (Pisaster ochraceus) are common inhabitants on rocky beaches all the way from Baja California to Alaksa. Students are often very excited to find these creatures and remark “Awwww…..how cute!!”. I agree, but quickly remind them what voracious predators these animals are. The ochre sea star is a major predator of mussels, barnacles, limpets and snails. We found this guy here mid-meal: the animal is using its hundred of tiny tube feet to latch on to the shells of this mussell, tugging until they open. The sea star then extrudes its stomach out of its body into the opened shells and digests the mollusk in place. Once it is satisfied with its meal, the stomach is brought back inside the body and the partially digested food is moved to a second stomach (pretty “cute”, huh?).
A few more quickies:
Do not disturb this California Sea Hare (Aplysia californica: a hermaphroditic marine gastropod mollusk); it is capable of squirting you with a reddish-purple ink from a gland in its mantle cavity (much like an octopus does).
These small aggregating sea anemones (Anthopleura elegantissima) are often mistaken for debris covering the rocks. In fact, they are almost always covered with sand and shell pieces, which may conserve moisture, prevent sun damage during exposure, and help in hiding from predators.
Where’s Waldo? Green algae, brown algae, mussels, barnacles, sea stars and more!