If you’re a nature enthusiast in the South Bay Area, you’ve likely explored the parks and preserves near Coyote Valley. These replenishing open spaces are great for hiking, resting outdoors, checking out wildflowers and catching a break from city life. Sandwiched between San Jose and Morgan Hill, you might also be familiar with the roads and rail line that run through the region. But it’s not just commuters and outdoorsy people who make use of this landscape. Here, amid vast acres of core habitat, a community of native plants and animals make their homes.
You may know that bigger critters like mountain lions and bobcats are crucial to maintaining our ecological communities. But we can’t forget about smaller mammals, amphibians and insects. That’s why we’re drawing your attention to six species we’re protecting in Coyote Valley. These little guys have a key part in the grand, interconnected scheme of things.
Nestled between the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Diablo Range, Coyote Valley serves an essential role. It provides rare, valley floor habitats for diverse creatures. What’s more, wildlife traverse its vital corridor to seek food, shelter, and mates. Species need to move freely between mountain ranges to avoid local extinction. This is why we must preserve as much of the landscape as we can!
The work ahead presents an exciting challenge. Led by the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority, we’re securing a long-lasting future for the valley’s rich biodiversity. Our team agrees on one possible sign of success – for these species to persist over generations without humans stepping in to help.
The southwestern pond turtle lives along the West Coast, from San Francisco to Baja California. While they thrive in streams, ponds, lakes, and wetlands, they also nest in terrestrial habitats. This makes Coyote Valley an ideal home for these 6-to-8-inch-long turtles, since it accommodates both their on-land and in-water needs. Southwestern pond turtles feast on insects, tadpoles, frog eggs, dragonfly larvae and fish, as well as plant material such as algae and tule.
Fun Fact: Southwestern pond turtles can live up to 50 years!
Despite their long lifespans, southwestern pond turtles are not rampant reproducers. Females do not reach sexual maturity until they are 10-15 years old. Once capable of reproducing, they only produce 6-10 eggs per year. If threats to southwestern pond turtles go unchecked, such as disease or climate change, the loss of just a few turtles could result in severe population decline. As a focal species at Coyote Valley, we’re ensuring that the habitat provides for a stable population of western pond turtles.
With such a unique appearance, you can’t miss an American badger! These furry creatures are short and stout, with a smaller head compared to the rest of their body. Their ears stick out, and a distinctive white stripe splits the middle of their face. From the tip of their nose to the end of their short and stubby tail, American badgers are about 2.5 feet long and weigh about 15 to 20 pounds. As carnivores, they tend to eat other small burrowing animals, such as ground squirrels. Still, they don’t shy away from eating snakes, birds and reptiles, if the opportunity arises.
Fun Fact: Badgers are expert diggers, and though they spend most of the time on land or in underground dens, they can also swim and even dive underwater!
American badgers rely heavily on their underground burrows. Their large claws allow them to dig into the earth to create temporary dens, which they use for foraging, sleeping, food storage and as a nursery. Female badgers give birth inside dens and wean the babies in the same space for several weeks. At Coyote Valley, we’re making sure that American badgers have the real estate necessary to keep on digging, uninterrupted. Badgers are highly sensitive to roads and highways, so it’s important to keep as much of their habitat intact as possible.
Could you guess the California red-legged frog’s defining feature? If you said red legs, you’re right! Well, mostly. Some frogs’ legs are more of a salmon pink or a brownish gray. California red-legged frogs are the largest native frog in the western United States. Ranging from two to five inches, these colorful amphibians would likely fit perfectly in the palm of your hand. Their ideal habitat involves slow-moving or still water, such as ponds or streams, though they also enjoy tall vegetation and shrubs that provide protection from predators and the California heat.
Fun Fact: California red-legged frogs enjoy eating pretty much anything they can fit in their mouths, mainly insects, but sometimes smaller amphibians.
The California red-legged frog is federally listed as a threatened species. This unfortunate status is caused, in part, by habitat loss due to development on their natural wetland habitats. Invasive species such as crayfish and bullfrogs also threaten our native frogs. In a place as cared for as Coyote Valley, we’re able to better protect and monitor the red-legged frog’s habitat – so long as we continue to protect it. Being native to California, it’s important to preserve these interesting creatures who call our state home!
Butterflies are known for their beauty, but the Bay checkerspot butterfly truly exceeds expectations. Their wings show off a brilliant mosaic of white, black and orange in a checker-like pattern. Medium in size for a butterfly, they’re still quite small, at about two inches long with their wings spread. With a lifespan of one year, they stay busy, feeding on native plants and nectar, mating, and reproducing. Native to the Bay Area, the Bay checkerspots experienced a dramatic population decline in the 1980s. Efforts were taken to re-introduce and protect the species, and numbers have again risen in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.
Fun Fact: Bay checkerspot butterflies love Serpentine rock, which is host to many rare plants that they can help pollinate.
When we protect natural land, we can reduce the threat of urban development on Bay checkerspot butterflies. Fortunately, the reintroduction of these spectacular creatures was successful, and we have another chance to protect the species. However, habitat degradation, invasive species, and the risk of wildfire are remaining threats. Especially being near highways, nitrogen deposition can negatively affect serpentine habitats, threatening the butterflies’ ability to thrive. At Coyote Valley, we hope to maintain a preserve that mitigates these threats and promotes a thriving population of Bay checkerspot butterflies.
You’ve probably heard of the state flower, the state bird and even the state rock! But did you know that California has a state bat? It’s true! Just last year, the pallid bat took up this distinguished post. As omnivores, they enjoy foraging as much as hunting (an immunity to scorpion venom is helpful for hunting big bugs). They are tan with white underbellies, large ears and a pig-like snout. The species enjoys dry habitats with rocky areas for roosting, making Coyote Valley a prime location.
Fun Fact: At full length, these bats have a wingspan of about 16 inches (picture the diameter of a large pizza), but weigh about as much as a pencil.
Pallid bats provide a natural pest control to agriculture efforts, so protecting the species also protects the health of our food systems. They enjoy feeding on potato bugs, beetles, cockroaches and other larger insects, which is good news for those of us who don’t want an excess of bugs crawling around. Protecting these bats is highly important, due to their slow reproductive rates. Usually, the bats raise only one pup per year. With a low birth rate like this, the population is very vulnerable to sudden decline, which human disruption or habitat loss could contribute to.
Crotch’s bumblebees sport the typical fuzzy black and yellow of an average bee, but boast a bulkier body. Though only about a centimeter long, these bumblebees drift gracefully from plant to plant in the grasslands and shrublands that they love to call home. They’re native to California, but have been spotted in Baja California and Nevada.
Fun Fact: When taking breaks from feeding on nectar and staying busy as pollinators, Crotch’s bumblebees nest underground. They often reside in abandoned dens left by burrowing animals (such as the American badger!).
Crotch’s bumblebees have a specific taste in climate, and find the most ideal habitat in the hot, dry grasslands of California. Unfortunately, due to rapid urbanization and loss of habitat, their population has seen a significant decline. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has petitioned to list the species under the California Endangered Species Act, but in the meantime, we hope to monitor and protect populations in Coyote Valley and beyond.
As we conclude, let’s give it up for the awe-inspiring biodiversity that Coyote Valley holds! As you can see, each species has its own special story and collection of traits – from their reproduction methods to their habitats and food preferences. While making their homes in Coyote Valley, they face unique threats and opportunities. They play essential roles in nature and add vibrance to our cultures. What’s most exciting is that there’s still so much we can learn about our fellow inhabitants and how we can best coexist with them. As we strive to protect them, let’s embrace the spirit of being good neighbors in this shared region of ours.
Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 87,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more