Halloween hike brings species to life

The Wildlife Conservation Society at California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB)  invited club members to the Spooky Spotlight Walk at the Fort Ord Natural Reserve on Oct. 26. 

Students gathered in the parking lot before they embarked on their Halloween-themed journey. 

Club officers selected a random winner to receive a free GearLight headlamp, well-suited for the dark hike. 

Jennifer Duggan, environmental science professor and the club adviser, unlocked the gate and led participants toward the open trail.

Signs at the entrance reminded attendees to be vigilant regarding bobcats, mountain lions and rattlesnakes. 

As members headed down the path, Duggan pointed out a wood rat nest. Their numbers are declining from the loss of coastal habitats caused by fragmentation and deforestation. 

After crossing a large puddle, students discovered a pile of coyote scat on the road ahead, identified by Duggan. 

Strawberry crops were pointed out by officers near the Natural Reserve, in the distance, and not far from the Marina Municipal Airport.

Duggan detailed the use of squirrel traps in the farming area. She explained that promoting biodiversity is essential as an environmental enthusiast, but she acknowledged that agronomists need to protect crop production.

As the sun went down, the group came across a concentration of oak trees full of lichen surrounded by moths. 

Danielle Anderson, President of The Wildlife Conservation Society, explained the importance of lichen and its contribution to ecosystems.

Anderson described the composite organism as algae wrapped in moss, digesting the contents of trees to transition into an individual organism. 

Duggan reminded students of the common misconception that lichen hurts trees. In reality, they share a symbiotic relationship. 

The Halloween atmosphere intensified when the sounds of free-tailed bats came from above, feasting on the abundance of moths. 

Pig and cow craniums greeted the participants as they exited the oak forest, reminding them to avoid the area off the path. 

The skulls ward off visitors from a military well on the premises, packed with mating rattlesnakes. 

Before the group migrated to the next trail, Phoebe Lord, the club secretary, located deer vertebrae and additional remains nearby, assembling each piece like a puzzle. 

The hike concluded with the sighting of a young adult-sized salamander, the surface of their skin coats water to their body, maintaining moisture. 

Club members also spotted millipedes, fire ants and Jerusalem crickets on the trip. 

For more events in the natural world, join The Wildlife Conservation Society on MyRaft.

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