San Diego Creature Snowy Egret

Have you ever seen paintings of ladies, sultans, or military officers with white fluffy feathers on their heads? Where do they come from?

San Diego Creature Snowy Egret feathered hats
Snowy Egret feathers in hats.

Some of these kinds of feathers can be seen on a creature found in San Diego called the Snowy Egret. In the early twentieth century, the Snowy Egret was hunted for their long breeding plumes, or feathers. It was fashionable for ladies to wear the feathers on their hats. Aigrettes, or a headdress consisting of white egret’s feathers, studded with diamonds and rubies, also decorated the turbans of Ottoman sultans or the ceremonial chamfron. A chamfron is the protective armor worn on a horse’s head. An aigrette also used to be worn by certain ranks of officers in the French army.

Adult Snowy Egrets are entirely white apart from the yellow lores (the region between the eyes and nostrils of birds, reptiles, and amphibians.) between the long black bill and the eye, black legs, and bright yellow feet. The nape and neck bear long, shaggy plumes known as aigrettes. Young snowy egrets have duller, greenish legs.

These beautiful birds eat fish, crustaceans, insects, small reptiles, snails, frogs, worms and crayfish. They catch their food in shallow water, usually running fast, or sprinting after schools of minows. Snowy egrets may also stand still and wait to ambush prey. 

Now protected in the United States by law, under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, this bird’s population has come back and is now listed as being of “least concern.”

San Diego Creature Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) an entirely white apart bird from the yellow lores between the long black bill and the eye, black legs, and bright yellow feet. At the Southern Wildlife Preserve San Diego River, San Diego, CA, USA.

We found this Snowy egret on the bank of the San Diego River near the Southern Wildlife Preserve.

San Diego Creature Snowy Egret County Map
San Diego County sightings map.
Snowy Egret San Diego creature map
Detail of San Diego Creature Map.

San Diego Creature Snowy Egret Stats

Common Name: Snowy Egret
Latin Name: Egretta thula

Description: Adult snowy egrets are entirely white apart from the yellow lores between the long black bill and the eye, black legs, and bright yellow feet. The nape and neck bear long, shaggy plumes known as aigrettes. Immature snowy egrets have duller, greenish legs.

Size: 22.1-26.0 in (56-66 cm)

Weight: 13.1 oz (370 g) 

Wingspan: 39.4 in (100 cm)

Habitat: wetlands of many types; marshes, riverbanks, lakesides, pools, salt marshes and estuaries.

Fascinating Fact: They were once hunted for their feathers.

Status: Least concern
International Union for Conservation of Nature 

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Pelecaniformes
Family: Ardeidae
Genus: Egretta
Species: E. thula


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The San Diego Creature Project is an animated children’s program created by kids, for kids. Follow three brothers, their cousin, and their dog Ryan as they solve creature mysteries with science and learn about life in Southern California.


Sources:

Knopf, National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, 1997. p.369
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/4940-Egretta-thula (Retrieved 01SEP2020)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snowy_egret (Retrieved 01SEP2020)
https://birdsoftheworld.org/bow/species/snoegr/cur/introduction (Retrieved 01SEP2020)
https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22696974/93595536 (Retrieved 01SEP2020)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aigrette (Retrieved 01SEP2020)
Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). “Aigrette“. Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 436
https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/snowy-egret (Retrieved 02SEP2020)
https://eol.org/traitbank (Retrieved 02SEP2020)
https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Snowy_Egret/id (Retrieved 02SEP2020)

Western Spiny Brittle Star

What would you do if you could grow new arms and legs like a Western Spiny Brittle Star?

Latin Name: Ophiothrix spiculata

Western Spiny Brittle Star
Western Spiny Brittle Star at Cabrillo National Monument.

You might have noticed that this small Western Spiny Brittle Star has lost part of a leg. In time this arm should regenerate or regrow. We found this guy in the tidepools at Cabrillo National Monument.

Sea stars have a remarkable ability to regenerate, or regrow, their arms and tube feet. Most kinds of sea stars need at least part of their central disk to be intact in order to regenerate arms, but a few tropical species can grow an entire body from just a severed limb. Regeneration of arms is not a fast process; it can take up to a year for larger sea stars.

Western Spiny Brittle Star diagram
Western Spiny Brittle Star diagram

Western Spiny Brittle Star Stats

Description: Spiny.  Orange, yellow, tan, brown, green, variously patterned. Long, thorny spines on margins of arms and disk.

Size: Disk diameter ¾ in (19 mm), arm length 6 in (15 cm)

Habitat: water depth 0.35 m Under rocks, in crevices and mats of algae or invertebrates; from low-tide line to water 660 ft (2012 m) deep

Range: Kelp holdfasts and clumps of bryozoans and worm tubes are often writhing masses of Western Spiny Brittle Star arms. 

Diet: Brittle stars are mainly detrivores (detritus-eaters); they eat decaying matter and plankton. Some brittle stars can also kill small animals. They push their stomach out through their mouth (which is located on the underside of the disk of the brittle stars) and digest the prey (there is no anus).

Fascinating Fact: Western Spiny Brittle Star’s anchor themselves with spines of one or more arms. They then extend their other arms into the water for filter feeding.

Fascinating Fact: If a brittle star’s arm is cut off, it will regenerate (regrow).

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Echinodermata
Class: Ophiuroidea
Order: Amphilepidida
Family:  Ophiotrichidae
Genus: Ophiothrix
Species: Ophiothrix (Ophiothrix) spiculata


Follow Us to Find Out More Cool Creature Stuff!

The San Diego Creature Project is an animated children’s program created by kids, for kids. Follow three brothers, their cousin, and their dog Ryan as they solve creature mysteries with science and learn about life in Southern California.


Sources

Inchworms on the Tomato Plants

Inchworms San Diego creature project

Wow, Those Inchworms Eat a Lot of Leaves

Inchworms San Diego creature project
Inchworms on wood chips.

In early June we found a few inchworms on the sage plants. Then we notice that the basil was being eaten. Then we noticed that the baby tomato plants were really being eaten… some plants didn’t make it.

Of course we decided to research them and figure out what species of insect they are. Did you know that in inchworm isn’t a worm, it’s a caterpillar!

After scowering the internet, we still weren’t sure what kind these inchworms were. Since they’re caterpillars we knew they go through a process called metamorphosis. A metamorphosis is a change of form or character. It’s when a caterpillar changes to a moth or butterfly.

Of course, we decided to keep them in a terrarium, and fed them juicy leaves. They ate a lot of leaves and pooped a lot! We had to change the terrarium every day to keep it clean for them.

One day they formed cocoons, and then we waited, and waited, and waited to see what they turn into.

Tune in to find out!

The San Diego Creature Project is a children’s television program created by kids, for kids. Follow three brothers, their cousin, and their dog Ryan as they solve creature mysteries with science and learn about life in Southern California.

Curious about a butterfly or moth? You can go to Butterflies & Moths of North America and find out more.

Great Blue Heron

What’s the biggest, or tallest, heron in North America? 

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron

Standing at 39-52 in (99-132cm) tall, it’s the Great Blue Heron. This bird is about the height of an average 9 yr old in San Diego. (https://www.cdc.gov/growthcharts/data/set1clinical/cj41l021.pdf ). That’s a tall bird!

The Great Blue Heron can be found on many lakes, ponds, rivers, and marshes around San Diego. They tend to wade in the water or stand on the rocks and branches next to the water. They stand very still. When a fish or frog swims by the Great Blue Heron quickly spears it with it’s long sharp bill.

We found this Great Blue Heron on the San Diego River near the Southern Wildlife Preserve, a wonderful place to walk or ride a bike and see wildlife. Herons have been spotted up the coast from Imperial Beach to Mission Bay to Oceanside Harbor. They’ve also been sees as far inland as Sweetwater Reservoir, Lower Otay Lake, and Lake Morena.

If you’ve been lucky enough to see one of these great birds flying over the water it’s a majestic sight.

 

Kids Activities: Coloring pages for Thanksgiving.
Kids Activities: Coloring pages for Thanksgiving.

Get the California Ground Squirrel Coloring page along with a few other local creatures. And have fun coloring and learning.

Great Blue Heron Stats

Description: Large mainly greyish heron with pale or yellowish bill. Flies with its neck folded.
Size: 39-52 in (99-132cm)
Wingspan: 5ft 10in (1.8m)
Habitat: Lakes, ponds, rivers, and marshes
Range: Coastal Alaska, south-central Canada, and Nova Scotia south to Mexico and West Indies. Winters as far north as southern Alaska, central United States, and southern New England.
Fascinating Fact: largest North American Heron
Status: Least concern

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Pelecaniformes
Family: Ardeidae
Genus: Ardea
Species: A. herodias


Follow Us to Find Out More Cool Creature Stuff!

The San Diego Creature Project is an animated children’s program created by kids, for kids. Follow three brothers, their cousin, and their dog Ryan as they solve creature mysteries with science and learn about life in Southern California.


Sources

Knopf, National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, 1997. P.367

https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/4956-Ardea-herodias

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_blue_heron

https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22696998/93597223 (Retrieved 06Sept2020)

Wild Turkey

Have you seen a live turkey walking around in the forest?

Wild Turkey Colored Page
Wild Turkey Colored Page

Ryan, our dog has! Ryan frequently finds Wild Turkies when he’s training in Cuyamaca State Park. In the Spring you can frequently see a hen, or mother turkey, and poults, or young turkeys walking in a line together. He never chases them but he does like sniff them out and watch them walk by.

“Turkeys have many vocalizations: “gobbles”, “clucks”, “putts”, “purrs”, “yelps”, “cutts”, “whines”, “cackles”, and “kee-kees”. In early spring, males older than a year old (sometimes called gobblers or toms) and, occasionally to a lesser extent, males younger than a year old (sometimes called “jakes”) gobble to announce their presence to females and competing males. The gobble of a wild turkey can be heard up to a mile away. ” Expedia

Kids Activities: Coloring pages for Thanksgiving.
Kids Activities: Coloring pages for Thanksgiving.

Get the California Ground Squirrel Coloring page along with a few other local creatures. And have fun coloring and learning.

San Diego Creature Wild Turkey Stats

Common Name: Wild Turkey

Latin Name: Meleagris gallopavo

Description: As adults they generally have blackish and dark body feathers. Adult males have a large, featherless, reddish head, red throat, and red wattles on the throat and neck.

Size:  Males end up being about 39–49 in (100–125 cm) long

Weight:  Adult males can be 11 to 24 lb (5 to 11 kg) 

Habitat: Wild turkeys prefer hardwood and mixed conifer-hardwood forests with scattered openings such as pastures, fields, orchards and seasonal marshes.

Status: Least Concern

Scientific Classification

Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Galliformes
Family: Phasianidae
Genus: Meleagris
Species: M. gallopavo


Follow Us to Find Out More Cool Creature Stuff!

The San Diego Creature Project is an animated children’s program created by kids, for kids. Follow three brothers, their cousin, and their dog Ryan as they solve creature mysteries with science and learn about life in Southern California.


Sources

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, California State Parks  (Retrieved 13NOV2020)
iNaturalist: Wild Turkey (Retrieved 13NOV2020)

Acorn Woodpecker

The Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) does a really cool thing!

Acorn Woodpeckers in a tree
Young Acorn Woodpeckers in a tree.
Acorn Tree
Acorn Tree close-up.

These young Acorn Woodpeckers (above) seem to be waiting on Mt. Laguna for a snack to be brought to them. The Acorn Woodpeckers are known for a very cool behavior. They save acorns for the winter! These birds create granaries trees or “acorn trees” by drilling holes and placing acorns in them to eat later. A single tress can have up to 50,000 holes in it and be used for several generations, or grand parents, parents, and children that come after them. And you thought squirrels were the only ones that hid nuts… 😉

Another cool fact is that these birds work together in groups 10+ Acorn Woodpeckers. Frequently, older brothers and sisters will help the mother and father with the new chicks. They all work to defend food stores and nesting territories, or area of land, year-round. They nest in cavities, or large holes, in old trees.

Get the Acorn Woodpecker Coloring page along with a few other local creatures. And have fun coloring and learning.

Acorn Woodpecker Stats

Common Name: Acorn Woodpecker

Latin Name: Melanerpes formicivorus

Description: a medium-sized woodpecker with straight, spike-like bills and stiff, wedge-shaped tails used for support as the birds cling to tree trunks.

Length: 7.5-9.1 in (19-23 cm)

Weight: 2.3-3.2 oz (65-90 g)

Wingspan: 13.8-16.9 in (35-43 cm)

Fascinating Fact: These birds collect and store acorns in holes in granaries trees or “acorn trees.”

Scientific Classification

Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Piciformes
Family: Picidae
Genus: Melanerpes
Species: M. formicivorus


Follow Us to Find Out More Cool Creature Stuff!

The San Diego Creature Project is an animated children’s program created by kids, for kids. Follow three brothers, their cousin, and their dog Ryan as they solve creature mysteries with science and learn about life in Southern California.


Sources

iNaturalist: Acorn Woodpecker (Retrieved 13NOV2020)

Audubon Society (Retrieved 14NOV2020)

All About Birds (Retrieved 14NOV2020)

Wikipedia (Retrieved 14NOV2020)

 

 

 

 

California Ground Squirrel

Have you seen these creatures running around in parks and digging holes?

California Ground Squirrel
California Ground Squirrel

What are they, and what are they doing with these holes? These creatures are known as California Ground Squirrels. And these holes they are building aren’t just holes. It’s their home! These are also known as burrows. These burrows can be made by the squirrels, but can be occupied by different creatures. They can be occupied by a rattlesnake, a weasel, and more!

We spotted the squirrel above on the rocky bank of the San Diego River, in the Southern Wildlife Preserve. He/she sat there calmly looking at us while we took the picture. Cool!

Like all creatures, California Ground Squirrels have a mating season. The mating season is usually in the early spring and lasts for about 3-4 weeks. After the squirrels have given birth, the baby squirrel stays with the parents for about 8 weeks. A California ground squirrel can only live for about 6 years of age.

Like every living thing in the world, California Ground Squirrels have a habitat. A habitat, or place where the creature lives, is a very important part of the creature. This creature is in many natural habitats, like the coastal shore, or the forests. These creatures can mainly be spotted near a coast, but can also be sighted farther away from the shore, like in places with trees.

These California Ground Squirrels mainly are herbivores, or animals that only eat plants. These creatures eat mainly seeds, grain, nuts, and sometimes roots. The California ground squirrel has cheek pouches, or a place to store extra food. These cheek pouches can hold food that can be eaten at later dates.

Kids Activities: Coloring pages for Thanksgiving.
Kids Activities: Coloring pages for Thanksgiving.
CA Ground Squirrel Coloring Page
Download the California Ground Squirrel Coloring Page

Get the California Ground Squirrel Coloring page along with a few other local creatures. And have fun coloring and learning.

San Diego Creature California Ground Squirrel Stats

Common Name: California ground squirrel

Latin Name: Otospermophilus beecheyi

Description: The California ground squirrels upper parts are mottled, containing a mixture of gray and white. Around the eyes are a whitish color, and around the tummy area is a yellowish gray.

Size: Body: 30 cm (12 in) Tail: 15 cm (5.9 in)

Weight: 280-738 g (9.9-26.0 oz)

Habitat: Earthy banks are more preferred for burrow homes
Fascinating fact: The tail swishing from side to side is called tail-swishing, which helps deter a snake during a snake attack

Status: Least Concern

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family: Sciuridae
Genus: Otospermophilus
Species: O. beecheyi


Follow Us to Find Out More Cool Creature Stuff!

The San Diego Creature Project is an animated children’s program created by kids, for kids. Follow three brothers, their cousin, and their dog Ryan as they solve creature mysteries with science and learn about life in Southern California.


Sources:

iNaturalist (Retrieved 21AUG2020)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_ground_squirrel (Retrieved 21AUG2020)

 

Want a Goliath Worm for a Pet?

Goliath Worm or Tobacco Hornworm

Latin Name: Manduca sexta | For a fun activity check out our  FREE CRAZY Moth Coloring Pages.

San Diego Creature Goliath Worm
Goliath Worm

Would you keep a Goliath Worm as a pet? What if it turned into a moth with a wingspan of almost 4 inches, or 10 cm across its wings?

Goliath Worm Tomato Plant
Tomato from the plant where we found the Goliath Worm.

The Goliath Worm is sometimes kept as a pet by children throughout its range. We found this Goliath Worm on one of the tomato plants in our garden here in San Diego. It’s about 2 inches long now and could grow to be 2.8 in (7cm). We’ll keep it, feed it lots of tomato leaves, and see it turn into a Carolina Sphinx Moth before we let it go.  

That tomato plant, by the way, was grown from a seed. The seed came from a store bought tomato, that was in our refrigerator when the Covid-19 stay-at-home orders started.

Carolina Sphinx Moth Diagram
Carolina Sphinx Moth with an almost 4 in (10 cm) wingspan.

These guys also have a really cool defense – Toxic Halitosis or poisonous bad breath.

“Way before people started inhaling nicotine in cigarette smoke, plants were using the chemical to defend themselves from animals. Nicotine is a poison, and an exceptionally deadly one. It targets proteins that tell our muscles to fire when they receive signals from our nerves. At high enough doses of nicotine, these proteins force muscles to constantly contract, leading to paralysis and death. And since the same proteins are found in every animal with muscles, nicotine can kill cows and caterpillars alike.” – Ed Yong, National Geographic, 30 Dec. 2013

The Goliath Worm is also known as the Tobacco Hornworm because they can eat tobacco leaves. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute found that these creatures’ bodies take some of the nicotine in the tobacco leaves and sort of exhale it through their skin. When a spider goes to have a look at the Tobacco Hornworm it gets hit with poisonous air around the caterpillar and decides to eat something else.  

The Tobacco Hornworm turns into a Carolina sphinx moth, or tobacco hawk moth (as an adult). It’s closely related to and looks a lot like the Tomato Hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata). Both kinds of caterpillars feed on tomato plants. You can tell them apart by the markings on their sides. Tomato Hornworms have eight V-shaped white markings with no borders, while Tobacco Hornworms have seven white diagonal lines with a black border. Also, Tobacco Hornworms have red horns, while Tomato Hornworms have dark blue or black horns.

Goliath Worm Sighting Map
Carolina Sphinx Moth sighting map

Goliath Worm Stats

Description: Goliath Worms or Tobacco Hornworms have seven white diagonal lines with a black border and red horns on their back end
Size: caterpillars grow up to 2.8 in (7cm)
Wingspan: 3.9 in (10 cm) (adult, moth)
Range: present through much of the American continent.
Diet: mostly tobacco leaves and tomatoes leaves (adult, moths are nectarivorous and feed on flowers)
Life cycle: Egg > Larva > Pre-pupa > Pupa > Adult (30 to 50 days)

Fascinating Fact:  Use a toxic halitosis defense 

Related Creatures

Moth Coloring Pages
Moth Coloring Pages

 

 

 


Follow Us to Find Out More Cool Creature Stuff!

The San Diego Creature Project is an animated children’s program created by kids, for kids. Follow three brothers, their cousin, and their dog Ryan as they solve creature mysteries with science and learn about life in Southern California.


Goliath Worm Sources

 http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/field/hornworm.htm (Retrieved 12Sep2020)
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/61505-Manduca-sexta (Retrieved 12Sep2020)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manduca_sexta  (Retrieved 12Sep2020)
https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/12/27/1314848111 (Retrieved 12Sep2020) Natural history-driven, plant-mediated RNAi-based study reveals CYP6B46’s role in a nicotine-mediated antipredator herbivore defense, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/phenomena/2013/12/30/toxic-halitosis-protects-tobacco-eating-caterpillar/ (Retrieved 12Sep2020)

 

 

 

Red Tuna Crabs

Tuna Crabs, SD Creature Project

Remember to Red Crabs or Red Tuna Crabs?

Tuna Crabs, San Diego Creature Project
Tuna Crabs

Every so often, maybe every couple of years, the beaches are covered with these small bright red crabs. They’re called Red Tuna Crabs, although they’re not tuna or crabs. These crustaceans look like crayfish, but they are a type of squat lobster—not a true crab. 

Ryan, our Vizsla dog, had a lot of fun when the crabs arrived at the Ocean Beach, Dog Beach here in San Diego. Ryan also happens to be red. That was when he started his new hobby… fishing! He didn’t eat anything he caught. He’d track them down, pick them up gently in his mouth (Vizslas have a soft mouth), and then put them back.

The OB Dog Beach is a wonderful place where dogs are allowed to run and play off leash. If you have a well behaved dog or a puppy that needs socialization, this is a great place to explore and learn.

Tuna crabs primarily inhabit, or live in the west coast of Baja California, Gulf of California, and the California Current. These creatures are unique in that it can live their whole life cycle (from larvae to adult) in the water column (surface to seafloor).

The omnivorous crustaceans eat phytoplankton, or really tiny plants, in open water, and larger adults crawl along the sea floor. Pelagic red crabs are not safe for humans to eat because they may ingest toxin-producing plankton, but lots of larger ocean creatures love to snack on them. 

Learn more about Red Tuna Crabs at:

 

The San Diego Creature Project is a children’s television program created by kids, for kids. Follow three brothers, their cousin, and their dog Ryan as they solve creature mysteries with science and learn about life in San Diego and Southern California.

#crustacean #oceanlife #beach

San Diego Creature Project