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Ben Lomond Wallflower
Ben Lomond Wallflower

Mount Hermon June Beetle
Mount Hermon June Beetle

Silverleaf Manzanita
Silverleaf Manzanita

Band-winged Grasshopper
Band-winged Grasshopper

Ben Lomond Spineflower
Ben Lomond Spineflower

Ben Lomond buckwheat
Ben Lomond buckwheat
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August 24, 2011

Deborah McArthur, Nature Connection: Only in Santa Cruz

The kids were playing in the veggie garden. My son dug in the dirt with the green plastic shovel between the tomatoes and chard. Our neighbor friend loaded wood chips in the yellow bulldozer on the path. My daughter was busy making a fairy house with moss and leaves by the bench.

"There's a big bug on me," our neighbor said as he stood up, looking over his left shoulder. A beetle the size of a walnut shell clung to the threads of his shirt. The kids gathered around to gawk and admire. Orange and white shirt stripes matched the markings on the beetle's head and wing covers. The bulky bug hissed.

We put the beetle on a stick and examined it closer. Hooks and hairs on its six legs gave it a prehistoric look. Its thick antennae supported leaf-like clubs that stood out at right angles resembling a football goalpost.

I recognized the insect. I had just been studying the Santa Cruz Sandhills habitat to prepare for our school programs and docent training. I recalled the photo of the Mount Hermon June beetle from a Santa Cruz Land Trust newsletter article. This beetle in my garden had similar characteristics.

Is this an endangered species in our garden? Just the idea made me feel special.

"Kids, this could be an endemic species to Santa Cruz, an animal found only here in our county and nowhere else on Earth." I found myself using the teachable moment.

Endemic. A pretty big word and concept. It means exclusively native to a place. Like a koala is endemic to Australia. Lemurs are endemic to Madagascar. And Santa Cruz has seven species endemic to the Sandhills. Their names reflect our regional diversity: Mount Hermon June beetle, Santa Cruz kangaroo rat and wallflower, Ben Lomond spineflower and buckwheat and the Boony Doon manzanita.

The Sandhills are unique. Fifteen million years ago, the sand was on the ocean floor. Now it creates a community that is a dramatic contrast to the fog-loving redwoods and evergreen forests of our region. The sand drains rapidly and provides hot, dry conditions that the Sandhills species love. There are also amazing fossils in these hills.

We need to protect what is unique to Santa Cruz. Our Sandhills community is being lost and fragmented, mostly by sand quarrying and development. Fewer than 4,000 acres of this habitat exist today. Our endemic species need educated neighbors and the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History is doing its part. We have a new school program that takes seventh-grade classes to the Morgan Preserve in Scotts Valley for a Sandhills Exploration program. We're recruiting volunteer docents to help lead these field trips. Register online at www.santacruzmuseums.org or call 420-1135 for information and be a part of what is only here in Santa Cruz.

Deborah McArthur is education manager at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History. She can be reached at deborah@santacruzmuseums.org.

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Site Assessment Qualified Biologists:

Entomological Consulting Services, Ltd.
104 Mountain View Court
Pleasant Hill, CA 94523-2188
Richard A. Arnold, Ph.D.
Phone: 925-825-3784

Jodi M. McGraw, Ph.D.
Population and Community Ecologist
PO Box 883
Boulder Creek, CA 95006
Phone: (831) 338-1990

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