California Critters

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If you only knew how many wild critters I’ve run into my whole life, you would gasp in surprise. From the San Joaquin Valley to the foothills of Memory Creek ranch, native critters go a little crazy. My friend Jenny Grant told me years ago (after her close call with a Western Pacific rattlesnake) that rattlesnakes couldn’t be found in Tacoma. Nor, she told me later, any other creepy crawly critter. Just something she called “slugs.” I’m not sure what those are, but she said slugs are critters that love it wet and rainy, and they move mighty slow. Her little brother Gideon’s favorite past time is going after slugs with a salt shaker (since they love to eat Mrs. Grant’s plants). I reckon that’s one way to kill the things. Jenny told me that she once stepped on a slug in the dark. Oozy, gooey, slimy, and slippery. I think I would rather meet a rattlesnake or a tarantula.

A western Washington banana slug. They come in all sizes and ooze goo.

What kinds of creepy crawlers live near you? Share if you dare in the comments. Mrs. M will share that (like Jenny) she has stepped on a slug in the dark while going down a path to her parents’ cabin below. One of her worst experiences ever! Eww *shudder* And anybody who eats snails (escargot in French) is just eating a “slug without a shell.”

Enjoy this Friday Photo gallery of 12 wild California critters that Andi has encountered during her life. Note: Every one of these critters has been experienced first-hand by Mrs. M or her family in “Andi” country in California. Most pictures (with the exception of the fire ant) are mine or the Ross ranch’s. Why? Because nobody but nobody hangs around fire ants to snap their pictures.

Andi’s California (wild) Creepy Critters

These are listed from favorite creepy critter to least favorite. Happy Photo Friday!

Blue Belly Lizard

My very favorite! Cory gave me Pickles when I was six years old. I kept him for a long time, until he got too old and finally died peacefully. They are also called fence lizards because they like to sit on top of fence posts and sun themselves. They don’t live long that way. Something will eat them. This beautiful blue belly gives these lizards their name. Only the males, however, have this pretty blue neck.

Lizard

This is not a blue belly lizard, and I never figured out which kind it is. Probably the kind that the barn cats like to catch and eat. It’s soft with scales that are smooth, like a snake’s. Not hard like a horned lizard or anything. Anyway, it’s mighty hard to keep track of all the different kinds of lizards around here. Mother is always sweeping little lizards off the counters (and they are so fast you can’t catch them). Mr. Foster told the class (after he yelled at Cory to get his lizard outside!) that there are 60 different kinds of lizards in our state. No wonder I can’t keep them all straight.

Tarantula

Mother despises these creatures, but they are gentle giants and totally harmless. It’s fun to collect them up in the foothills during October. This is when the male tarantula comes out of his underground home to look for a female tarantula. I have kept a few tarantulas as pets, but they don’t last long. Mother insists they live in the barn. A town up in the foothills, Coarsegold, celebrates a Tarantula Festival every year!

King Snake

This king snake is pretty big, way bigger than the little king snakes Cory brings to welcome me back to school. King snakes are the best snake in California! Why? Because they are a mortal enemy of a rattlesnake. They are also friendly and make good pets. Clyde is a small king snake.

Valley Garter Snake

When Cory can’t find a king snake to bring me, he uses a garter snake. These snakes are so colorful–orange, black, yellowish. Cory hid this tiny one in my desk (See it lying on the big snake’s back?) But he held up the big one way past his head. It was heavy, and must have been five feet long and thick!

California Toad

I’d rather hold a big bullfrog, but Cory and Jack like toads. I . . . not so much. These toads come out in the evenings, especially when it’s wet, up through the gopher holes. One time, Cory and I kept grabbing them as they emerged, and we collected a bucket full. I let him have the whole pail. He took it back to town, and I never asked what he did with them. I did not want to know.

Bobcat

Do you see this bobcat’s short tail? He’s not as big as a mountain lion (not by a long shot), but he’s much bigger than the biggest barn cat. Look at his huge paws! This one went after our ducks one too many times. He got his poor paw caught trying to reach under the duck house and was trapped. Chad was glad, but I cried when he had to be shot.

I don’t like any of the rest of these creepy critters. And you will soon learn why not.

Big Brown Bat

One afternoon, Mitch called us outside. He was holding this gigantic bat in his gloved hands. (Is that a baby bat on the left?) Its wingspan was 18+ inches! Mitch spotted it asleep in the barn’s rafters. Mother told him to put it back. She said these bats are good bats. They eat their weight in bugs every night.

Valley Gopher

The only good thing about a gopher? Our barn cats will never go hungry. Between field mice and valley gophers, Bella and the other cats find plenty of fresh meat to feed themselves and their kittens. Everyone on the Circle C loves cats, and we can never have too many. Valley gophers are pests.

Lizard

Mitch found this fellow lurking in the horse barn. He was huge, probably close to 10 inches long. Maybe he’s just a giant blue belly, but nobody picked him up to check his belly. I think he’s too big to be a blue belly. He needs to go away! I see little lizards all the time. One of our cats, Cinderella, loves lizards best. She’s always carrying one around in her mouth.

House Scorpion

I thought scorpions lived in the desert, not in our house! Mother finds these tiny things (about 1/2″ long) hiding in piles of clothes. They are sneaky like that. I have been stung by these teensy-weensy scorpions but they don’t hurt any more than a bee sting. And they aren’t poisonous, just annoying.

Western Pacific rattlesnake

Ugh. I despise rattlesnakes. Hearing their rattle sets my heart racing. I know to freeze and then slowly, step by step, back away. Then I run get my brothers. Sometimes they shoot the snake but most often they grab a shovel and chop the head neatly off. Once Mitch brought me a rattle from the largest rattler he ever killed. I have that rattle in my treasure box.

Fire Ant

There is one California creepy critter that I despise worse than rattlesnakes. A fire ant is only 1/8 – 1/4 inch long. It bites and stings at the same time, hanging on until it’s pumped you full of venom. The sting and hurts for hours and even for days.

Note: full disclosure. Andi did not experience fire ants. They sneaked into the U.S. in the 1930s and have been spreading ever since. This description comes from the Ross ranch. Kristel hates fire ants so, so much and has been stung multiple times. Good thing she is not allergic, or she could die. “I want to yank my foot off, even three days later,” she says. They are that bad.

Published by Andi Carter

I'm the main character in the Circle C Adventures series. I live on a huge cattle ranch in 1880s California. These are my adventures.

22 thoughts on “California Critters

  1. We moved quite a few months ago from a home that had been in my mom’s family for like 50 years, but some of the greatest memories from that house are the animals we would find everywhere. Right behind our backyard was a nature preserve and train tracks, so we had a lot of visitors

    – We had tons of toads and frogs. In the summer, if went walking at night, you had to be careful not to step on any baby toads hopping around. We actually rescued a toad one summer after it lost half it’s back leg to a snake bite and rehabilitated it until it could hop and swim again. And another time, my older sister took care of a frog (she called it Spot) and trained it to sit, as well as another toad (We called him Morty) that continued to come back every summer.

    – Coyotes, deer, turkeys all walked our tracks at any time of the day. You could hear coyotes howling at night (once, a neighbors cat never came back). And bats came around in the summer.

    – Snakes come around, but only garter snakes and red belly snakes. We used to have a pool in our old house’s backyard, and would often find dead squirrels in it. There was also a ton of bugs. And we had a few salamanders and turtles

    But the scariest thing that ever happened were the wolf spiders. One time, a wolf spider was just swimming around in our pool, but the other happened when I was really little. My mom was carrying my little sister, and I was holding her hand and we were going down the stairs to the back door when my mom screamed really loud, and I looked up, and there was a giant spider on the door. Everyone ran up the porch stairs to the other door leading to the house and my dad grabbed bug spray and a fly swatter, then went back out. You could hear him spraying the spider and smacking it and occasionally he would call out: “IT’S STILL ALIVE!”

    Even though it was freaky at the time, it’s now one of my favorite memories (Sorry for the long comment!)

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  2. We have coyotes, deer that like to eat ALL our pretty flowers, fire ants (They hurt so much!), garden snakes and ticks. They all are a big nuisance.

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  3. That “unknown lizard” looks like the alligator lizards we have (except without the stripes). Besides that lizard and the big brown bat, I think all those animals live near me! We catch lizards here all the time.

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  4. I see a lot of squirrels and chipmunks in my backyard, and recently, feral cats have been roaming my neighborhood. A mom with two kittens lives under my porch. We’ve named the mom Kida, and the kittens Shadow (a black one) and Mustache (because he has markings on his face near his mouth). I’ve even seen some wilder animals you wouldn’t expect where I live in the suburbs. A family of opossums, a raccoon, a coyote (he was standing by the side of the road!) and even a doe and her fawn! She would leave the baby in our backyard during the day and come back at dusk to take care of it. It was so fun to watch “fawn daycare” from our window!
    As for nuisance critters, there’s mosquitoes, ticks, and lots of spiders. I don’t like when they get in my house, but when they do, I can sometimes get up the courage to kill them. It depends on how big they are. I have even seen silverfish in my bathroom. If you don’t know what silverfish are, they look kind of like centipedes, but they’re darker and faster and have antennae.
    Another story: we used to have a small toddler-size basketball goal on our back porch. When my siblings got too old to use it, my dad went out to remove it, and he found a nest of mice underneath it! We had to set out a bunch of traps.

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  5. We have ticks Ewww!!
    We also have brown recluse spiders!
    Scorpion’s, Huge Crickets, Oil beetles, Jumping spiders, Stink bugs, Fire ants, and a bunch of stray dogs everywhere!! We live in Oklahoma.😊

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  6. Oh my goodness!!! Like I hate bugs and snakes!
    We have garter snakes, thank God they’re harmless! Ticks uh! I hate them, a neighbor once had a lot of ticks on his leg…well he had so many had to get masking tape to get them off!! And of came HUNDREDS!! We also have huge crickets.

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      1. I used to live in Oregon (we just moved a couple of months ago) and I had never even seen a tick till we moved to Ok and now we are getting a bunch of them. And I had an aunt who lives in Washington😊

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      2. Ticks are mostly found east of the Cascades and we live up in the Okanagan… Hardly any in western WA. And if you lived in western OR you would not see any either.

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      3. We lived in Portland, Oregon and we were about 4hr from Seattle, WA. We lived by the Columbia river so all we had to do to get to WA was go over a bridge😊

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      4. Ticks do carry a disease called Lyme Disease. My grandmother got it and so did my moms friend. It makes you feel really bad. I hate ticks.They are so small you don’t really recognize them until it is too late. Ewww!!!

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      5. The ticks out west are plenty big enough to see! I’ve seen them crawling on me. They are nasty.

        But I have a friend in NC who told my their ticks are pinhead sized!

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  7. Fire ants, rattlesnakes, salamanders, cougars, bears, and some little frogs. Thankfully, in the mountains of Idaho, we don’t have a lot of bugs, just bigger predators.

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