Monthly Archives: May 2015

Everything Poops

A bison makes a big poop. A fox makes a small poop. No matter what the animal is, from you to me, and everything in between, all animals poop. All animals are heterotrophs, meaning they must consume other organisms or products for nourishment. Leopard sharks are carnivores, mule deer are herbivores. No matter what they eat, both must excrete the waste products, or in other words, they must poop.

One animal poop of particular interest on the island is that of the Catalina island bison. Bison produce large stools, called chips or pies. On the mainland, many decomposers – such as dung beetles – have adapted over thousands of years to breakdown bison chips with relative ease. They utilize the nutrients in the bison pies for sustenance. However, on Catalina island, the bison are relatively new to the ecosystem (they have only been here since 1924), therefore decomposers have not developed the adaptations needed to consume the large quantities of feces. For this reason, the bison chips take much longer to degrade on the island than on the mainland. They can be found scattered throughout the landscape of Catalina, marking where the bison have been foraging.

You may be thinking, why are we talking so much about poop? It’s gross and smelly and I don’t want to get anywhere near it. If that’s the case, then I have some bad news for you. You many be inadvertently putting whale poop on your body everyday if you happen to use certain perfumes. Many perfumes contain a substance called “ambergris”, which is the waxy, and musky smelling fecal matter of the sperm whale. After dining on the squishy and delicious meat of a giant squid, the sperm whale encounters the problem of digesting the squid’s hard and sharp beak. As a means to protect itself, the whale coats the potentially hazardous beak in a thick greasy substance as it passes through the digestive tract. Known colloquially as “Black Pearls” for their dark appearance, these time-hardened whale poops are worth more than your average excrement. Some can be sold for almost $200,000!

Though not as physically large as whale poop, the environmental impact of bird poop, called guano, is immense. Guano is very rich in nitrogen and acts as a fertilizer for coastal plants and algae, helping sustain a healthy and balanced ecosystem. Washed into the ocean via waves or rain, the nitrogen from guano is absorbed by photosynthesizers and used to grow. When plant and algae density increase, fish come to take shelter under their canopy. A surge in fish populations attracts more birds which hunt the fish. More birds with full bellies means more bird poop on the coastal rocks; thus, the nitrogen cycle begins again.

Scat. Chips. Pies. Ambergris. Fecal Matter. Stool. Feces. Doo Doo. Excrement. Manure. Number 2. Dung. Guano. Though we have lots of names for it, remember that no matter what we call it, everything poops. Stay tuned for more Scat Raps!

Written by: Max Veenema

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Episode Four:

Can I Eat That? Catalina’s Edible Plants

Catalina is already in full bloom with new growth. Each week brings more flowers, grasses, and shrubs to the hillsides, making every hike a treasure hunt of new plants to discover. With the right knowledge base, a hike on Catalina can become a culinary exploration of many of California’s edible plants. Some of these plants can be eaten as a snack on the trail; others might be prepared as part of an evening meal; all are delicious. Here are some of the more common edible plants found around Catalina:

IMG_4157 (1)Miner’s Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata): Miner’s Lettuce is a California native and is found in many moist, shaded areas on the island. Its leaves are edible and can be eaten sauteed or raw, like spinach. During the California gold rush, the lettuce served as an important source of vitamin C for miners who wished to stave off scurvy.

Messages Image(759678131)Blue Dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum): Blue Dicks, or Wild Hyacinth, is a perennial herb that is native to Southern California and much of the Southwest. While the bluish-purple flowers are not known to be edible, the Blue Dicks’ corm, a swollen underground stem that provides the plant with water and nutrients, has historically been harvested by indigenous peoples of the Southwest. The corms can be eaten boiled or roasted, and they served as a hearty source of starch in the diets of many Native Americans.

IMG_4164Catalina Cherry (Prunus ilicifolia ssp. lyonii): Catalina Cherry, or Island Cherry, is a fruit tree native to the Channel Islands. Its cherries have a tart-sweet flavor and a large pit. The trees commonly bloom in the Spring and fruit in the Fall. Cherry Cove is home to the largest Catalina Cherry grove on the island.

IMG_4149Bladder Pod (Isomeris arborea): Bladder pod is a native shrub and a member of the mustard family. Both its flowers and large seed pods are edible, but they have a very strong flavor when eaten raw. When cooked, the plant takes on a mild, sweet flavor. Native southern Californian and Mexican tribes often mixed the flowers and seeds with onions and served them on top a tortilla.

IMG_4076 (1)Bermuda Buttercup (Oxalis pes-caprae): Bermuda Buttercup, otherwise known as sourgrass, is a yellow flower that is invasive to Catalina. The leaves, stem, flowers, seeds, and roots are all edible, but don’t make it a mealtime staple! Oxalic acid gives the plant a tart flavor that is perfect for a refreshing, mid-hike snack, but it can be toxic in high quantities.


Catalina Quail: Endemic & Entertaining

The Catalina California Quail (Callipepla californica catalinensis) are endemic to the Channel Islands, meaning they are only found here! With their round bodies and curled plume protruding from their heads, they are both adorable and intriguing. They can often be found in a small flock, called a covey, to feed or take a dust bath in loose soil. On Catalina Island, quail are usually found in the hillside or feeding on the side of a trail in camp. They primarily eat seeds and leaves, including Toyon berries!


Quail Cover photo

Catalina California Quail are currently considered a Bird Species of Special Concern (year round), priority 3. The timing and amount of annual rain and the types and abundance of plants are the variables that affect quail success the most. The biggest threats to quail habitat have been the removal of invasive herbivores and wild boars, the increase of feral cat populations and long-term fire suppression methods. These factors have increased the growth of dense scrubs and woodland, which is not suitable for quail to live in or eat. Multiple solutions have been proposed to help generate more suitable habitat for the quail on Catalina Island.

One of our favorite things about the Catalina California Quail is how it moves. Quail prefer to run instead of flying, their head plumes bobbing back and forth as they move. There is nothing better than seeing a covey of 15 quail running at top speed with their heads bobbing! Whenever the pitter-patter of small feet is heard, we turn to look for quail running down the road. The sight always makes us let out an “aww” and a laugh at the same time. So much so that we decided to try and imitate our favorite feathered friends! Hope you enjoyed the video!

Holdfast: The Anchor of Algae

Algae and kelp are like the trees and shrubs of the aquatic world except for one important factor, THEY’RE NOT PLANTS!  Kelp is in fact in the Kingdom Protista meaning that among other things it does not use roots to absorb nutrients nor does it have a vascular system to transport those nutrients to its various structures. The part of kelp most similar in appearance and location to the roots of plants is called the holdfast. This spaghetti like structure has a primary function of securing the organism to the sea floor; holding it “fast” in all but the most turbulent conditions.

Algae Close Up

Because of the way kelp holdfasts are tangled and tasseled, they make the perfect protected place for young ocean animals to get their start in the world. If you were to find an uprooted holdfast floating at sea or on the beach you would be likely to spot more than a few species of animals. Everything from brittle stars to isopods to tube worms, tiny sea hares, kelp crabs and baby octopus can be found in these miniature nurseries. Scientists believe you could find over one hundred species in a single holdfast!

Some holdfasts like those of the giant brown kelp are expansive and winding while others, like that of the sea palm, are more puck-like and perfectly adapted to cement firmly onto rocks and other hard substrate. This tight grip allows kelp to stay stationary for a long time.  While the blades of kelp only live about a month or two, holdfasts can live and grow for up to ten years or more!

More information on kelp and holdfasts can be found at this link: Additional Kelp and Holdfast Information

Endangered to Enduring: Catalina Fox

The Catalina Island Fox is an endemic species to Catalina, meaning it is only found here. Living on an island for many years have caused the Catalina Island Fox to become 25% smaller than its mainland relative, the Grey Fox. This is a common microevolution that happens to animals living on islands, and is explained by a scientific principle called “Foster’s Rule”. Foster’s Rule (or the Island Rule) states that animals grow larger or smaller over generations depending on the resources available to them. Therefore, because there is a limited amount of lizards, berries, mice, and birds for the foxes to eat, they have dwarfed in size over the years to adapt and endure. The smaller foxes need less food to survive, and as a result they are the ones to pass on their genes to the next generation.

Though the foxes adapted to live on an island, they almost went extinct when an outbreak of Canine Distemper Virus nearly infected the entire population. In the late 1990’s, around 1,300 foxes roamed Catalina Island, however in 1999 a census showed that only 100 foxes remained. This staggering drop in the population was caused by the spread of a highly contagious virus called canine distemper virus. Quickly, the Fox Recovery Program was established by the Catalina Island Conservancy and the Institute for Wildlife Studies to aid in the revival of this beloved species. The plan combined vaccination, relocation, and captive breeding in order to let the foxes establish themselves again. The recovery program has been so successful, it has been proposed that the Catalina Island Fox be removed from the endangered species list. With a population over 1,700 in 2015, the fox appears to have made a tremendous recovery!

The Catalina Island fox population has made a journey from being healthy and established, to critically endangered, and back again. Their dramatic recovery shows what can happen when we, as humans, are aware of the impact we have on our earth, and are willing to step in to make things right.

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