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Reptiles and Amphibians of the West with Charles Hood

California is home to almost eighty species of “herps” — reptiles and amphibians. Get to know some of our common and uncommon neighbors, while digging into groundbreaking research about how lizards communicate (and explore the world) in wavelengths of color invisible to the human eye. From gila monsters to the common fence lizard of your backyard, the world of reptiles and amphibians will come alive during this presentation with Charles Hood, author of the new book Sea Turtles to Sidewinders and A Californian’s Guide to the Birds Among Us, and PhD candidates Jose Gabriel Martinez Fonseca (Northern Arizona University) and Erin Westeen (UC Berkeley).

Resources

Charles Hood is a Fulbright scholar, a former National Science Foundation Artist-in-Residence in Antarctica, and an author of Wild LA.

José Gabriel Martínez-Fonseca is a Nicaraguan biologist and wildlife photographer who has worked with amphibians and reptiles for over 12 years. He is currently a PhD student at Northern Arizona University.

Erin Westeen has done extensive fieldwork across western North America and the Neotropics and is currently a PhD candidate at UC Berkeley, where she studies spiny lizards.

Collections Close-Up: Old Time Oology

All of our collections are special, but some of them are egg-squisite. The study of eggs and nests, historically referred to as oology, is a rich vein in the story of natural history museums. Museum egg collections have played a large role in critical conservation conversations, and continue to be relevant for contemporary research. True to this larger history — from mighty ostrich to minuscule hummingbird eggs, from 19th century birders to current digitization projects — eggs are an important part of your local natural history museum.

During this Collection Close-Up webinar, join Collections Manager Kathleen Aston on an exploration of our egg collection from the 1880s to the 1980s and beyond. We’ll also look at how birds feature in our current priorities, from community science to youth education.

Resources

About the series

Zoom into the stories, secrets, and science of our collections during monthly webinars with Collections Manager Kathleen Aston. This live event is an extension of our monthly Collections Close-Up blog, with added insights and intrigue. Members are invited to participate in this program before it is made available to the general public as well as ask questions directly of Kathleen.

Not yet a Member? Join today!

Your support helps us steward our collections and offer educational programs that connect people with nature and science. Memberships start at just $15/year.

How Everyone Can Contribute to Pollinator Conservation with the Xerces Society

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation is an international nonprofit organization that protects the natural world through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitats through scientific research. They focus on pollinator conservation, endangered species conservation, and reducing pesticide use and impacts.

For this talk, Maddy Kangas, Monarch Butterfly Conservation Planner with the Xerces Society, will share:

The status of pollinators, including monarch butterflies, and need for conservation action
Monarch biology and habitat requirements
Land management practices to protect pollinators
Examples of pollinator habitat projects
How you can get involved (community science programs and more)
Additional resources and Q&A 

Resources

About the Speaker

Maddy Kangas serves as a Monarch Butterfly Conservation Planner and NRCS Partner Biologist for the Central Coast of California as part of the Xerces Society, providing technical assistance on monarch conservation and habitat creation for producers, landowners, and land managers. Her previous work has included integrated pest and pollinator management, habitat restoration, and community outreach and education. Maddy completed her master’s degree in natural resources and environmental sciences at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where she researched both native bee community composition and pest insect presence within agriculturally based pollinator habitat restorations.

This program is in support of our new exhibit, Pollinators: Keeping Company With Flowers, on view January 15-March 6. Sponsored by 90.3 KAZU, Kenneth S. Norris Center for Natural History, and UCSC’s Center for Agroecology.

Pollinators and Urban Community Gardens with Stacy Philpott

Pollinators are essential to our environment, but habitat loss, pesticide use, and introduced diseases are causing issues for these creatures all over the world. During this talk, Stacy Philpott will share her research from the past decade exploring how urban garden and landscape management influence pollinators. We’ll tour urban gardens near Santa Cruz and learn about some of the factors that lead to successful pollination and pollinator diversity, as well as issues with parasites and pathogens.

About the Speaker

Stacy Philpott is a Professor of Environmental Studies and Director of the Center for Agroecology at UC Santa Cruz. She is an agroecologist interested in community ecology, ecosystem services, urban agroecology, and interactions between agriculture, conservation, and farmer well-being. Stacy has worked for more than 20 years to understand how farm management and the landscapes surrounding farms influence diversity of insects, plants, and birds on farms, and the ecological interactions among species. She has worked in tropical agroforestry systems in Mexico and Indonesia, annual cropping systems in Nicaragua, and in urban agricultural systems in Michigan, Ohio, and California. She has written more than 140 research articles and book chapters. 

This program is in support of our new exhibit, Pollinators: Keeping Company With Flowers, on view January 15-March 6. Sponsored by 90.3 KAZU, Kenneth S. Norris Center for Natural History, and UCSC’s Center for Agroecology.

Climate Stewardship: Taking Collective Action to Protect California with Adina Merenlender

Across California, communities are addressing wildfires, climate justice, urban heat islands, ocean temperature rise, and other climate issues in an effort to make natural, working, and urban landscapes more resilient. During this talk, author Adina Merenlender will share stories from her recently published book, Climate Stewardship: Taking Collective Action to Protect Californiawhich highlights the real work being done by everyday citizens throughout the state to address climate change.

RESOURCES

SANTA CRUZ STEWARDSHIP GROUPS

About the Speaker

Adina Merenlender is a Cooperative Extension Specialist at University of California, Berkeley, and is an internationally recognized conservation biologist known for land-use planning, watershed science, landscape connectivity, and naturalist and stewardship training. She has authored more than 100 published works in the field of conservation science.

Merenlender started the California Naturalist Program and served as its founding director, which to date has graduated over 4,000 certified California Naturalists. Building on the success of this program, Merenlender helped start the first public education and service program on climate stewardship, including writing Climate Stewardship: Taking Collective Action to Protect California with Brendan Buhler. The two programs provide collective impact on ecological health through community and citizen science.

Ancient Scorched Seeds and Indigenous Land Stewardship with Rob Cuthrell

Archaeologists can analyze charred seeds and other plant remains to learn about relationships between people and the natural world deep into the past. This talk will describe how a collaborative research project between Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, State Parks, and academic researchers utilized this type of information to explore how Indigenous peoples on the coast of San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties used prescribed burning to steward local landscapes. Guided by these findings, Amah Mutsun Land Trust is working to revitalize Indigenous-based stewardship of open spaces today.

Resources

Learn about the Amah Mutsun

Learn about Amah Mutsun relationships with fire

Resources mentioned in the talk

About the Speaker

Rob Cuthrell is a researcher in archaeology and historical ecology who has studied relationships between Indigenous people and landscapes west of the Santa Cruz Mountains for over a decade. Currently, Rob works as a consultant for Amah Mutsun Land Trust managing a native plant propagation and restoration project on Año Nuevo Point.

This program is in support of the exhibit Seeds: Nature’s Artful Engineering, on view at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History through November 28.

Fossil Walruses and Other Ancient Life in the Monterey Bay with Dr. Robert Boessenecker

Though our coast today is inhabited by sea lions, harbor seals, and elephant seals, none of these species existed in California 3-5 million years ago. Instead, fossils from the Purisima Formation tell a very different story of strange walruses and early fur seals that inhabited our coast. These include the ancestor of the modern northern fur seal (today a rare visitor to Monterey Bay), the bizarre “double tusked” walrus Gomphotaria, and the toothless walrus Valenictus. Several discoveries made by local collectors and paleontologists represent new species — and you’re going to hear new data and findings never reported before during this presentation.

Join us on National Fossil Day for this member-exclusive presentation with longtime friend of the Museum, Dr. Robert Boessenecker.

Dr. Robert Boessenecker

“I grew up in Foster City on the peninsula, disappointed as a dinosaur nerd kid that there weren’t much in the way of dino fossils from California – which I mistook for “no interesting fossils at all”. Once in high school I visited some shark tooth sites in Scott’s Valley and became obsessed with marine mammal fossils none of the fossil collectors could identify. As an undergraduate student at Montana State University, I started collecting and researching a marine mammal fauna I discovered in Half Moon Bay; I continued with my master’s thesis at MSU on the preservation and stratigraphic context of Purisima Formation fossils, and then went to University of Otago in New Zealand to do my Ph.D. on early baleen whales from much older rocks down under. I have been at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, studying early baleen whales and dolphins, and once again researching Purisima Formation sharks, fish, birds, turtles, and marine mammals.”

-Dr. Robert Boessenecker

About the series

Zoom into the stories, secrets, and science of our collections during monthly webinars with Collections Manager Kathleen Aston. This live event is an extension of our monthly Collections Close-Up blog, with added insights and intrigue. Members are invited to participate in this program before it is made available to the general public as well as ask questions directly of Kathleen.

Not yet a Member? Join today!

Your support helps us steward our collections and offer educational programs that connect people with nature and science. Memberships start at just $15/year.

A Guide to the Rocks of Santa Cruz County

Santa Cruz is an area of geologic interest with a complex history of processes that shaped the coastline, bluffs, terraces, and mountains we see today! Wind, waves, earthquakes, fires, and other natural forces have changed and shaped the landscape for millions of years, though humans have only been able to document those changes in the recent past.

Jump To: Formations | Rock Types | Minerals | Resources


Geologic Formations

The above map shows the distribution of different rocks in Santa Cruz County. Each color represents a different kind of rock and, in turn, a particular age. Many of these rocks represent formations.

A geological formation is a basic rock unit that geologists use to group rock layers. Each formation must be distinct enough for geologists to tell it apart from surrounding layers and identify it on a map. A formation can consist of a variety of related or layered rocks, rather than a single rock type. There are over 14 geologic formations in Santa Cruz County. Most of these formations were created through movement of the crust because of tectonic uplift at the subduction zone off the California coast.

Most of the county is underlain by granitic rock. It formed about 100 million years ago from molten rock which cooled very slowly at a depth several miles below the earth’s surface. Since then, this area has been covered by the sea much of the time. Sand, mud and other sediment was deposited on the seafloor and was eventually compressed and hardened into sedimentary rock which was uplifted to form the Santa Cruz Mountains. Many of the sedimentary beds, which were originally horizontal, have been tilted, folded or partly eroded away. In some areas major faults have offset the rocks.

A large fossil in grey rock on the beach.

3 formations are known for fossils in this region:
Purisima Formation (3-7 Ma)
Santa Cruz Mudstone (7-9 Ma)
Santa Margarita Formation (10-12 Ma)

Learn more in our Fossil Guide.

Rock Types of Santa Cruz County

The three basic types of rocks- igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary– occur in Santa Cruz County. All are composed of minerals. Some consist of primarily one mineral, as in the case of marble, while others are an aggregate of many different minerals, as in the case of granite and conglomerate. 

Each rock type in the Santa Cruz area represents a different chapter in this region’s geologic past, and each has its own unique story to tell. The rocks of this area are mostly covered by soil and vegetation, so geologists must rely on scattered outcrops in creek beds, quarries, road cuts and sea cliffs in order to piece together the geologic history. 

Granite, Empire Grade Road

Igneous rocks formed from molten rock called magma. Plutonic rocks, such as granite, gabbro and alaskite, cooled very slowly, solidifying deep below the earth’s surface. This provided time for larger crystals of quartz, feldspar, mica and other minerals to form, giving the rocks a coarse texture. Volcanic rocks, such as basalt, cooled quickly at the earth’s surface and are very fine grained.

Marble, UCSC Quarry

The metamorphic rocks of this area are a geological enigma. They predate the granite rocks and were originally sedimentary rocks such as limestone, shale and sandstone. These were respectively metamorphosed into marble, schist and quartzite by the intrusion of magma about 100 million years ago. How much earlier these rocks were laid down as sediment, however, remains a mystery.

Mudstone, HWY 1 North of Santa Cruz

Sedimentary rocks in the Santa Cruz area originated for the most part from sediment such as mud, sand and gravel that was deposited on the sea floor. Over millions of years chemical alteration and pressure from burial hardened the sediment into rock. These rocks overlie the igneous and metamorphic rocks of this region and are of a younger age. 

Minerals

Minerals are the naturally occurring crystalline substances that make up the rocks around us. Minerals such as quartz, feldspar, and calcite are the most common constituents of rocks in this area. Dozens of other mineral species occur here, but in small amounts. Large, well-formed crystals- the kind most sought after by collectors- are scarce. 

Several minerals in this region have proven to be of great economic importance. Cinnabar (the chief ore of mercury) has been mined extensively at the New Almaden on the east slope of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Calcite (in the form of marble) has long been quarried near Santa Cruz for the manufacturing of lime and cement. 

Benitoite is the California state mineral. This unusual blue crystal was first discovered in 1907 in San Benito County. While benitoite is found in a few places around the world, San Benito County is the only place in the world where gem quality benitoite crystals are found.

Learn more in our Collections Close-Up.

Resources

Explore other resources for better understanding geology, paleontology, and the landscape of the Santa Cruz region.

Geology at the Museum

On exhibit at the Museum

  • Specimens of common minerals from the region
  • Specimens of common rocks from the region
  • A detailed topographic geologic map of the county
  • Garden: Take a stroll around the Museum’s Garden Learning Center and see if you can spot fossils and other large rock samples.
  • Activities for kids: Multiple dig boxes features Santa Margarita Formation fossils of sand dollars and casts of a fossil sea cow.

Bring rocks home

Rent a kit to explore local rocks at home. Kit rentals are $10 per week and can be requested here (you do not need to be a teacher to request a rental).

Explore Online Rock Resources

Shop the geology and paleontology section of our online store

Books and Papers

Santa Cruz Top 5 Geologic Must-Sees

Santa Cruz is an area of geologic interest with a complex history of processes that shaped the coastline, bluffs, terraces, and mountains we see today! Use this map as you walk, bike or ride your way across the county and explore some of the geologic must-sees our area has to offer. Visit our online Guide to the Rocks of Santa Cruz County to dig even deeper into the geology of the region.

Hiking With A Purpose: Post-fire community science with Josie Lesage

After fire, ecosystems can experience many changes. There can be increased risk of erosion and novel species can invade new areas, but fire can also reveal plants that have been waiting years for this natural disturbance to stimulate their seed banks — and there is still much to learn.

As the Santa Cruz community recovers from the impacts of the CZU Lightning Complex fires, we can look to other communities for guidance on where to go from here and how community scientists can help.

Join us for an online presentation from Josie Lesage of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden and learn about their response to the Thomas Fire that burned through Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties in 2017-2018.

About the Mapping Recovery Project

The Mapping Recovery project leveraged the enthusiasm of over 100 volunteers who surveyed plants and erosion in the Thomas and Whittier fire scars. The project gathered over 5000 data points on the locations of plants in these fire scars, significantly expanding the known locations of many common invasive species, while also identifying populations of some rare or new invasive species. This data is being used to develop a map of priority intervention areas where restoration of native habitat is most needed and will be most beneficial to the ecosystem in the future.

About the Speaker

Josie Lesage works to understand, protect, and restore California habitats using ecological theory as a guide. She has a Ph.D. in Environmental Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she studied long-term management and community change in California’s coastal prairies. As the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden’s Applied Ecologist, she is interested in understanding how local ecosystems respond to disturbance and restoration intervention, and in building a community of volunteer scientists to steward our local habitats. She is currently involved in several projects related to invasive plant management and ecosystem recovery following fire. Her favorite plants are in the genus Castilleja


Interested in becoming a community scientist? Join us for an iNaturalist training in the Museum’s Garden Learning Center on September 11.