Thursday, May 31, 2007

California Ground Squirrel

Scientific name: Spermophilus beecheyi
Common name: California Ground Squirrel
Range: Baja California, California, Oregon, and now extending into Washington
More information: (includes further links at bottom of entry)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Diabolical Ironclad Beetle

Scientific name:Phloedes diabolicum

Common name: Diabolical Ironclad Beetle
Native range: Southwestern US
More information: Peter J. Bryant's guide to the Natural History of Orange County, California. See also Field Guide to California Beetles (Evans & Hogue), here at

I was taken aback a few weeks ago when I first encountered this bug (I moved here from Illinois five months ago). At first, rather foolishly, I thought it might be a large piece of soot that had rained down from the Catalina wildfire. You can imagine my surprise when its legs emerged and it began to move!

It was playing dead, as it's doing in the above photos as well. This, I've read, is a stereotypical behavior of ironclad beetles when encountered.

According to Evans & Hogue, they will easily feed on oatmeal in captivity, but they are probably fungivores in the wild. (I also heard a report that they will easily feed on carrots as well, and that seems to be doing the trick so far, for mine.)

It's reported by beetle collectors that the exoskeletons of ironclad beetles are so hard that it's difficult to drive a mounting pin through them.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Silky Oak

Scientific name: Grevillea robusta
Common names: Silk-Oak; Silky Oak
Native range: eastern Australia
More information: Characteristics and requirements at Worthwhile Wikipedia entry as well.

The attractive yellow-orange flowers you see on the Silky Oak are in fact sepals, not petals. The Silky Oak flower has no petals!

Some guests of mine recently bought a pair of wildly exotic flowers for me as a gift for my hospitality: "Pincushion Protea" (Leucospermum cordifolium), a South African member of the Protea, or Sugarbush family. They knew that these were flowers I'd seen before, and been enamored with, but had been unable to identify. (I hadn't even heard of the Protea family!)

Imagine my surprise when I scaled a wall this morning to take the above photo of the Silky Oak flowers. They have a basically similar look as the Pincushion Protea! (To understand, see the above link to Pincushion Protea). I noticed this, but lacking confidence in my still premature knowledge of plant families, I decided the similarity was probably just superficial ("analogous", as the evolutionary biologists say).


Silky Oak is in fact a member of the Protea Family, along with a mere 1,200 or so other species. According to the Wikipedia entry on the Protea, "The Proteaceae family... is an ancient one. Its ancestors grew in Gondwanaland, 300 million years ago. Proteaceae is divided into two subfamilies: the Proteoideae, best represented in southern Africa, and the Grevilleoideae, concentrated in Australia and South America and the other smaller segments of Gondwanaland that are now part of eastern Asia." Read more from this entry, and find out why Linnaeus named this family after the Greek god Proteus.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Matilija poppy

Scientific name: Romneya coulteri
Common names: Matilija poppy; tree poppy
Native range: Limited to southern California and northern Baja, see range map!
More information: See this entry at; also Wikipedia entry.

I noticied these blooming for the first time just this last week, near the intersection of Street of the Golden Lantern and Crown Valley Parkway, on the border of Dana Point and Laguna Niguel.

They are truly eye-catching!

I wouldn't have immediately recognized them if it weren't for the unbelievably realistic illustrations of A.R. Valentien, the early 20th century painter whose California plant portraits makes me want to own all of them and stare at them for hours!

See Valentien's illustration of the Matilija poppy. Other Valentien illustrations can be found here.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Toyon (California holly)

Scientific name: Heteromeles arbutifolia
Common names: Toyon; California holly; Christmas berry
Habitats: coastal sage scrub, chaparral, oak woodland
More information: See (This entry cites some interesting facts!)