Monarch Butterfly

Scientific: Danaus plexippus
Spanish: Mariposas monarca
Mutsun: Siwluluk

Diet: Milkweed (caterpillars), Pollen (butterflies)
Habitat: Migratory throughout North America
California Status: Species of Greatest Conservation Need

Clustering To Keep Warm
Monarch butterflies migrate thousands of miles, farther than any other insect, to overwinter in warm areas. They cluster for warmth and protection, September to March. Locally they can be seen in Natural Bridges Beach State Park, Lighthouse Field and in the trees behind the Museum. 

In 2020, the number of monarchs overwintering in California dropped to less than 0.01% of the historic levels. For every 2,250 monarchs there were 30 years ago, there is only one left flying today. You can help increase monarch populations by supporting the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation’s Western Monarch Action Plan priorities based on where you live.

For those living within 5 miles of the Central California Coast:

  • Protect and restore overwintering habitat, such as the monarch grove at Natural Bridges State Beach
  • Plant pesticide-free native nectar plants
  • Do NOT plant milkweed (Asclepias spp.), none of which are native to the Central Coast

For those living in Central and Southern California, west of the Sierra Nevada range and more than 5 miles from the coast:

  • Protect and plant pesticide-free early season native milkweed, such as narrow leaf milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis), and nectar plants


Scientific: Procyon lotor
Spanish: Mapache
Mutsun: SaSran

Diet: Seeds, nuts, fish, frogs, invertebrates
Habitat: Forests, marshes, urban and suburban areas
Status: Least Concern

Bandits Or Just Well Adapted?

Raccoons are now common in urban areas, attracted to the availability of food found in our gardens, garbage cans, and pet food bowls. These intelligent animals can solve complex problems, which helps them thrive in urban environments.

What features might help racoons succeed in urban areas?


Scientific: Canis latrans
Spanish: Coyote
Awaswas: Mayyán, Wakshes

Diet: Deer, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and sometimes plants
Habitat: Widespread throughout North America
Status: Least Concern

Features in Folklore
Many Native American tribes, especially those in the West, have featured coyote figures in their stories and mythologies. Coyotes are cast as tricksters, warriors or thieves, but many tales take note of their intelligence and adaptability. 

Friend or Foe?
Coyotes often inhabit the wildland urban interface. Over 500,000 coyotes have been killed in California since 1891, mostly under the guise of protecting livestock. However, coyotes may do more good than harm to people by eating other animals that are considered pests.

What are some small mammals that might be the prey of coyotes and harmful to people, farms, and ranchland?

Western Gray Squirrel

Scientific: Sciurus griseus
Spanish: Ardilla gris occidental
Awaswas: Hiré

Diet: Nuts and seeds
Habitat: Woodlands, coniferous forests, suburban greenspaces
Status: Least Concern

Western gray squirrels live in Santa Cruz all year long. They use their long tails for balance as they run and leap among branches. Squirrels store acorns and nuts in shallow holes or caches in the ground but do not always re-find their stores, which can sprout into new trees. They mostly eat seeds and are known to steal from people’s bird feeders, making them a common neighbor for humans. They nest up in trees in “dreys”, which are made out of twigs and lined with moss or fur. Their alarm call sounds like a bird chirp and it is used to warn others of a predator or danger in the area. 

Fun Facts:

  • Squirrels can live up to 8 years old.
  • Their teeth never stop growing – they can grow up to 6 inches per year. Their teeth are never that long though because they are constantly wearing them down when they eat hard seeds. 
  • Squirrels are rodents and belong to the Family Sciuridae.
  • A group of squirrels is called a scurry.

Urban Wildland Interface

Our Animal Neighbors

Whether our homes are in woodlands, farms, or cities, other animals live all around us! Some animals are very adaptable, and are able to survive or even thrive near humans. What kinds of wild animals do you see everyday? How do they make a living as a neighbor to humans?

Learn More

Visit Local Urban Wildland Interfaces