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Saturday, March 26, 2016

New Spring Finds at Tejon Ranch by Dr. Mike White, Conservation Science Director

Spring 2016 at Tejon Ranch is off to an exciting start!  Lots of great work by our partners continues to demonstrate not only how important the Ranch is for protecting California’s biodiversity but also that it is an important place to better understand how our biodiversity originated. For example, you may remember that Dr. Jim Parham from California State University Fullerton posted a blog on his work with legless lizards in the genus Anniella back in August

Jim and his colleague Dr. Ted Papenfuss from the Berkeley Museum of Vertebrate Zoology have been studying legless lizards to better understand how the different species are distributed across California and related to each other in order to better understand the factors that drove the evolution of these species.  Last year we found a juvenile legless lizard under a coverboard (actually a piece of cardboard on the ground), but juveniles can’t be positively identified without looking at their DNA.  This year we went back to the same spot and found another adult legless lizard that has been positively identified as (drumroll please…) the Bakersfield legless lizard (Anniella grinnelli)!  We also found a Bakersfield legless lizard along the Caliente Creek drainage at the edge of the northern part of Tejon Ranch, and another juvenile legless lizard at the Panofsky property also along Caliente Creek

Bakersfield legless lizard (Anniella grinnelli).  Photo by Todd Pierson

Bakersfield legless lizard.  Photo by Alex Krohn.

As explained by Jim in his blog, the Bakersfield legless lizard was only known to occur in two locations north and northwest of Tejon Ranch.

Previous distribution map with new locations of Bakersfield legless lizard shown as purple stars.

These new records extend the known range of the Bakersfield legless lizard over 15 miles to the extreme southern end of the San Joaquin Valley.  In addition, the Bakersfield legless lizard that Jim found along Caliente Creek extends the range of the species up that drainage as well.  Interestingly Jim and Ted have found the Southern California legless lizard (Anniella stebbinsi) along Caliente Creek near the Caliente Post Office, a mere 6 miles from the new Bakersfield legless lizard record on Caliente Creek. And it gets better.  The Panofsky property lies between these two locations, so the juvenile legless lizard that we found on Panofsky will allow us to further refine our understanding of the distribution of these species in this region and where one species transitions to another.  The Tehachapi Pass traversed by Caliente Creek is an interesting area that connects the Great Central Valley to the Mojave Desert and the rest of Southern California.  It looks like the contact point between the Southern California and Bakersfield legless lizards could be at Tejon Ranch!

Another animal we found under the legless lizard coverboards was a long-nosed snake (Rhinocheilus leconte), a first for me. The gorgeous long-nosed snake is the only member of its genus, which is endemic to North America (found nowhere else in the world but North America).  The long-nosed snake burrows through the sand like the legless lizard and may prey on legless lizards.
Long-nosed snake (Rhinocheilus leconte) pretending to be a rattlesnake.

In other news from the spring, Nick Jensen continues to make significant new plant finds at Tejon Ranch.  Nick added a new native plant from the morning glory family, spreading alkaliweed (Cressa truxillensis), to the Ranch list.  However the really cool find in the same area was the San Joaquin Valley endemic Lost Hills crownscale (Atriplex coronata var. vallicola), which is a California Native Plant Society List 1B.2 plant (plant considered rare, threatened, or endangered in California and elsewhere).
Lost Hills crownscale (Atriplex coronata var. vallicola).  Photo by Nick Jensen.
 And just to give you a taste of what is starting on the Antelope Valley side of the Ranch.  A few photos of the wildflower bloom from this past week.
Hillside daisies and Phacelia on clay soils in the western foothills.
Nonnative filaree (Erodium spp.) puts on a show in Canyon del Gato Montes.
California poppies and hillside daisies.
Hillside daisies and Phacelia brighten the landscape where clay soils occur.

As you can see, Tejon Ranch continues to slowly reveal her hidden gems, and our knowledge grows with each of those revelations.  We hope that you will join us in experiencing, exploring, and enjoying, as well as protecting, enhancing and restoring Tejon Ranch.  Check out our website for upcoming activities!