Wed 13 Dec 2006
I found this garter snake one morning warming itself in the sun on my driveway. Common garter snakes come in innumerable variations and are found in fields, forests and wetlands nationwide. Like this snake, adults average about four feet long. In West Marin, their diet typically consists of tadpoles, slugs, and earthworms. But unlike other snakes, they don’t eat insects. When first born, the snakes are prey for bullfrogs. Hawks and foxes eat adults.
Pacific tree frog hiding out in leaves from my persimmon tree.
Pacific tree frogs’ chirping is so dependable that Hollywood typically uses it whenever the sound of frogs is needed in a movie, even if it’s set in Africa.
The website NaturePark.com reports that the tree frog’s “color varies from almost a bronze brown to a light lime green. Individuals can change color in green and brown tones in a few minutes. This color change is related to the temperature and amount of moisture in the air, not the background color as in most other amphibians and reptiles. This color change gives it the protection of camouflage as it hops and crawls about on low leaves, branches and on the ground in open forests and forest edges looking for flying and crawling insects to eat.”
I photographed three lizards on the wall of my cabin and then was unable to find any naturalist either in town or at the Point Reyes National Seashore who could identify the green lizard at lower left.
I also checked the website wildherps.com operated by herpetologist John Sullivan of Pacific Grove. When I didn’t see the green lizard on his site, I emailed Sullivan photos of the three and asked for help. His answer: “I believe all three of your lizards are actually Western Fence Lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis). They have a fair amount of color variation, and the green one is within the range of colors I’ve seen.”
Charlotte’s Web (below) — Every fall I can count on some garden orb weaver each evening stretching a web from my eaves to the railing of my deck near the front-door light.
“The building of a web is an engineering feat,” as Wikipedia aptly notes. The orb weaver “floats a line on the wind to another surface. The spider secures the line and then drops another line from the center, making a ‘Y’.
“The rest of the scaffolding follows with many radii of non-sticky silk being constructed before a final spiral of sticky capture silk.”
“Orb weavers are three-clawed spiders, and “the third claw is used to walk on the non-sticky part of the web.
“Characteristically, the prey insect that blunders into the sticky lines is stunned by a quick bite and then wrapped in silk. If the prey is a venomous insect, such as a wasp, wrapping may precede biting.”
Possums are found throughout West Marin wherever ponds, creeks, marshes, and even drainage ditches provide riparian habitat.
I photographed this possum when it stopped on my deck to wash its paws.
West Marin’s possums originated in the Deep South where “common opossums” are commonly called possums, thanks to a linguistic phenomenon known as aphesis.
“The common opossum,” writes Point Reyes Station biologist Jules Evens in The Natural History of the Point Reyes Peninsula, is “the only marsupial native to North America [but] is not native to Point Reyes or the Pacific Coast. After the first known introduction into California at San Jose about 1900 (for meat, delicious with sweet potatoes), opossums spread rapidly southward: by 1931 they were common on the coastal slope from San Francisco Bay south to the Mexican border. Point Reyes avoided the onslaught until about 1968.” They are nocturnal omnivores, eating plants, earthworms, slugs, insects, and roadkill.