Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park

Animals

Although Pinnacles National Monument is not home to such charismatic megafauna as bison, bears, or blue whales, it supports healthy populations of many kinds of smaller animals such as bobcats, bats, and bees. There are 149 species of birds, 49 mammals, 22 reptiles, 6 amphibians, 68 butterflies, 36 dragonflies and damselflies, nearly 400 bees, and many thousands of other invertebrates.

While we often associate certain animals with particular habitats, many animals require more than one type of habitat to meet all of their needs. For example, bats that roost in caves may forage for insects above water, dragonflies that spend most of their lives near water may hunt above chaparral, and animals living throughout the Monument will leave their usual habitat to visit watering holes. Subsequently, some of the best wildlife habitat is near the edge where one type of habitat meets another. Much of Pinnacles is covered by a mosaic of different habitats, resulting in a great diversity and abundance of habitat edges. Miles of hiking trails traverse these edges, offering great wildlife viewing opportunities.

Pinnacles is also a place of edges on a broader geographic scale. It is at the interface of northern and southern, coastal and inland, wet and dry. For example, the Bernardino dotted-blue butterfly and the phainopepla reach the northernmost extent of their ranges near here, and the chestnut-backed chickadee is not found much farther south. Demonstrating the interplay of wet and dry, a Gabilan slender salamander and a desert night lizard may live together in the same decaying log.

Aside from being a place of edges, Pinnacles is also an island. It is an island of fairly intact natural habitat in a sea of growing human development. Pinnacles and the surrounding area is the only home of the big-eared kangaroo rat, Gabilan slender salamander, Pinnacles shield-back katydid, and Pinnacles riffle beetle. But it is also a refuge for many common species typical of California. We may currently take these species for granted, but as natural habitats throughout California continue to diminish, these species will become much less common and widespread. The Monument was once home to the California grizzly bear, black bear, and foothill yellow-legged frog, and, in 2003, after a hiatus, again became home to the California condor. Though humans have extirpated some of the large animals, and we have lost certain vulnerable species, healthy populations of many animals appear to be strong within Pinnacles’ protected boundaries.

In order to protect wildlife at Pinnacles, animals may not be fed, captured, or harassed in any way. Binoculars are a great tool for observing all sorts of wildlife from butterflies to frogs to falcons, because they provide a close-up view from a distance that does not disturb the animals. If you have an interesting wildlife sighting, please take careful notes on where, when, and what you saw and report it to a Monument employee.

Birds

Birds are the most visible animals visitors are likely to encounter at Pinnacles National Monument, with over 140 species documented in the park since 1908. Turkey vultures circle and soar in the skies overhead, while acorn woodpeckers and Steller’s jays call noisily among the pines and oaks near the visitor centers. In the winter, dark-eyed juncos and California towhees perch and forage around willows and underbrush. In the spring and summer, black-headed grosbeaks and warbling vireos sing loudly from oaks and pines as they set up nesting territories.

The variety of habitat types at Pinnacles attracts a diverse assemblage of birds to the park for seasonal nesting and migratory stopovers, and numerous species live in the park year-round. Much of the bird diversity at Pinnacles is focused along the riparian corridors of Bear Gulch and Chalone Creek, because they provide an abundance of food, water, and shelter for many species. In spring and summer, house wrens, black phoebes, yellow warblers, yellow-breasted chats, lazuli buntings, and varied thrushes are active in shaded riparian areas. Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks maneuver agilely through the trees in search of prey, and mallards and belted kingfishers are seen occasionally along the creeks and at the reservoir every year.

Certain species favor the pine and oak woodlands in the park. Among the gray pines, western tanagers, Townsend’s warblers, and hairy woodpeckers are evident. In the oak woodlands, California quail, oak titmice, western scrub jays, mourning doves, ash-throated flycatchers, and northern flickers are commonly seen.

The dense, low scrub of the chaparral covers the majority of the park, and provides ideal habitat for many birds, including residents like California thrashers, spotted towhees, wrentits, and bushtits, and seasonal species including sage sparrows.

The rocky summits and peaks of Pinnacles provide nesting habitat and roosts for many raptors, including prairie falcons and golden eagles, as well as smaller bird species including the vocal canyon wren and the acrobatic violet-green swallow. At night, the haunting calls of great-horned owls can be heard echoing off the cliff walls.

Resource management staff at Pinnacles study bird populations through raptor monitoring, small bird point counts, and California condor reintroduction efforts. For detailed information on the projects, refer to the Highlights section on the left side of this page.

Amphibians

At first glance, Pinnacles National Monument may not seem like a place for amphibians. Nevertheless, six species of these moist-skinned creatures live here in this land of hot, dry summers and only sixteen inches of rain per year. Pacific tree frog (Pseudacris regilla), California red-legged frog (Rana aurora draytonii), and western toad (Bufo boreas) breed in streams and ponds. The two frogs spend most of their time near water, while the toad leaves the water after breeding. Arboreal salamander (Aneides lugubris), ensatina (Ensatina eschscholtzii), and the recently described Gabilan slender salamander (Batrachoseps gavilanensis) are terrestrial, spending their entire lives away from water. They lay their eggs in moist places such as decaying logs. They are fairly common, but are rarely seen due to their secretive nature.

The best time to see most amphibian species at Pinnacles is on warm, rainy nights (especially November and March). They may also be active during the day in the rainy season. Western toads are active in the evening through May. California red-legged frogs are uncommon and found mostly near ponds and deep sections of streams in spring and summer. Pacific tree frogs are abundant near streams and ponds, and may be heard calling during all but the driest months of the year. They are both the smallest and the loudest species. Their tadpoles are widespread and commonly seen throughout spring and early summer. Red-legged frog and western toad tadpoles are usually found in only a few places in the Monument. Red-legged frogs are listed as a Threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. They were once common at Pinnacles, but their population now seems to be in trouble. An effort to re-establish a population at the Bear Gulch Reservoir is currently in its third year.

Several other amphibians are worth mention. Foothill yellow-legged frogs were historically abundant in Pinnacles streams, but have not been seen here in several decades. A re-introduction plan for this species is being considered. Western spadefoot toads were historically in the Monument in low numbers, but there have been no current sightings. This species and the California tiger salamander have apparently healthy populations nearby and may inhabit the periphery of the Monument. The California newt, although common across the Salinas Valley to the west, is conspicuously absent from this area.

If you are lucky enough to find an amphibian at Pinnacles, give it some space and take time to watch it. Their moist skin is very sensitive, much like that of your eyes, so the salts, oils, sunscreens or soaps on your hands can cause them harm. Please do not turn over rocks or logs to watch them, or attempt to catch them. We have few reported observations of what they eat, where they burrow, or other behaviors. If you observe any such behavior, or a species not normally seen here, please take careful notes and share them with a Monument employee.

Dragonflies and Damselflies

Although at first glance Pinnacles National Monument may appear to be a vast arid landscape, a little exploration will reveal occasional welcome water sources. Streams, springs, ponds, and the Bear Gulch Reservoir support an abundance of life. In 2001, park biologists began a two-year project to inventory the aquatic macroinvertebrates of Pinnacles. The goal of the project was to collect and identify every species of worm, snail, crustacean, arachnid, and insect that lives in or around water and can be seen with the naked eye.

One conspicuous group of aquatic macroinvertebrates is the dragonflies and damselflies, collectively called odonates. These familiar insects can be seen darting about almost anywhere there is fresh water. So far, twenty-four species of dragonflies and sixteen species of damselflies have been identified from Pinnacles, with more almost certainly to be found.

Adult odonates are voracious predators, catching flying insects with their mouths or with their spiny legs held out like a basket. One look at their huge eyes will tell you that they have great eyesight for spotting their prey. Unlike other insects, their front and hind wings beat in opposite directions, giving them excellent maneuverability in flight. They are also among the fastest flying insects.

Many odonates live for just a few weeks as adults. They have only this short time to reproduce, so when they are not resting or feeding they are often involved in reproductive activities. A male spends much of the day either perching and keeping a watchful eye over his territory or patrolling back and forth through it. Females lay hundreds or thousands of eggs by poking them into the bottom of shallow streams or into plant stems, dipping them onto the water surface, or dropping them from the air into the water or onto moist soil. After mating, a male will often guard a female or remain attached to her as she lays her eggs, in order to ensure that she does not mate again.

Young odonates (naiads) live in water and are wingless, barely resembling their parents. They are also voracious predators, eating small invertebrates and even fish and tadpoles. Some live among aquatic plants, others burrow in sand or mud, and others sprawl in dead leaves on the stream or pond bottom. This latter type is often hairy so that mud and bits of sticks and leaves cling to them for camouflage.

You can sometimes see odonate naiads by looking in shallow water. On plants and rocks near water you are likely to see shed exoskeletons left behind from naiads that transformed into adults. If you happen to see an adult emerging from an exoskeleton, please do not disturb it. It will be very fragile until its wings and body have dried and hardened. If you wait patiently, you may get to watch its first flight!

Watching adult odonates can provide hours of entertainment. Their aerial acrobatics are astounding. With a little study and practice you can often decipher the reasons behind their behavior: chasing prey, laying eggs, drinking water, guarding a mate, patrolling a territory, regulating body temperature... Their bright colors make many species easy to identify, but keep in mind that males and females of the same species may look quite different. If two dragonflies are interacting, they are likely to be the same species. This is not as likely for damselflies.

California Red-legged Frogs

For the first time in nearly 20 years hikers visiting the Bear Gulch Reservoir have the opportunity to see California Red-Legged Frogs (Rana aurora draytonii). This species was once common there but disappeared in the early 1980s, probably because of an infestation of exotic Black Bullhead Catfish (Ictalurus melas).

The catfish were put there by someone who wanted to fish at the reservoir. In 1985, park staff drained the reservoir and removed all the catfish (approximately 1,700 pounds). Although healthy populations of frogs existed in streams within a few miles of the reservoir, they did not return on their own. This is not surprising, considering the obstacles such as roads, buildings, caves, and waterfalls along the way.

The frogs living along the streams seemed to be doing well in the early 1990s, but by 1998 their numbers were extremely low. Because they lay their eggs in streams in early spring, late-season floods may wash away eggs as well as any frogs that don't get out of the way of the rising water. Large floods in 1995 and 1998 may have been responsible for the decline. Another contributing factor may have been an infestation of exotic Green Sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus), which are known to prey on tadpoles. In 1998-1999 we used electro-shocking to remove all Green Sunfish (more than 3,500) from streams within the monument. Yearly monitoring has revealed no re-infestation.

The Bear Gulch Reservoir provides frogs with a breeding site that is much less prone to the threats of floods and exotic fish. Given enough time, a healthy population of frogs along the streams would eventually be able to re-populate the reservoir. However, because they are declining here and elsewhere, we decided to give them a head start. In collaboration with Norman Scott of the USGS, we developed a re-establishment plan.

With the approval of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, we began a pilot project in Spring 2001. We transported nearly 1000 eggs from nearby streams to the reservoir. We moved half of each of two egg masses, just before they hatched. Because young tadpoles are especially vulnerable to predation, we kept them in protective pens for their first few weeks. Once they had reached sufficient size, we released them into the reservoir. We monitored their survival, and by August they began to transform into frogs. Surveys in the fall found 17 young California Red-Legged Frogs at the reservoir.

In spring 2002 we moved half of three egg masses from streams to pens in the reservoir. These 1,200+ eggs hatched within a few days and by mid-June there were over 900 surviving California Red-Legged Frog tadpoles in the pens. We released these tadpoles into the reservoir and by October there were 160 newly transformed California Red-Legged Frogs, as well as 15 one-year-old frogs from last year’s efforts, in the reservoir and nearby Bear Gulch Cave.

In spring 2003 we moved just over 900 eggs (half of a single egg mass) from the stream to a pen in the reservoir. In June we released the resulting 841 tadpoles into the reservoir. We also moved frogs from below the Bear Gulch Dam and inside the Bear Gulch Cave back up to the reservoir. During a survey of the reservoir in September we counted 20 two-year-olds, seven one-year-olds, and 427 newly transformed frogs. The large number of young from this year suggests that the two-year-old frogs may have already begun breeding at the reservoir.

When we initiated this project, we set our measure of success at more than four egg masses or twenty adults at the reservoir observed in spring. In 2004 we reached that goal, with five egg masses in the Bear Gulch Reservoir. In Fall 2004 we counted 485 young frogs plus 15 older frogs at the reservoir. If the newly established population continues to thrive and reproduce as it is now doing, we expect to have a self-sustaining population of California red-legged frogs at the Bear Gulch Reservoir for many years to come. And it will not be surprising if some of their offspring migrate downstream to re-populate Bear Gulch and additional sections of Chalone Creek.  As an exciting prelude to this, a male red-legged frog was heard calling at Bear Gulch Headquarters in Spring 2004, perhaps for the first time in at least a couple decades.

California Red-Legged Frogs are listed as a Threatened Species under the Endangered Species act. It is illegal to harass or harm them in any way. Approaching so closely that they jump is a form of harassment. Catching them not only disturbs them, but may also cause serious injury. If you hike to the Bear Gulch Reservoir and are fortunate enough to see these frogs, please enjoy them from a distance. With binoculars you can get a great up-close view while letting them go about their lives undisturbed. Please share any interesting frog-watching observations with us.

Butterflies

Butterflies are a wonderful reflection of the surrounding landscape. On a well-manicured lawn they are scarce. In a vacant lot where plants are more diverse but nature has been severely disturbed, you may find a few more. In a butterfly garden where the gardener has taken care to choose a variety of plants that will satisfy the needs of thirsty butterflies as well as hungry caterpillars, the diversity of butterflies often reflects that care. But the best places to see lots of butterflies of many different kinds are places where people have taken care to leave nature well enough alone.

Pinnacles National Monument is just such a place. Although it is only about five miles wide and seven miles long, most of the land is undisturbed wilderness that supports a great diversity of living things. Sixty-eight different species of butterflies have been recorded at Pinnacles. About 35 species are common enough that you are likely to see them if you visit the right habitat at the right time. About a dozen are so abundant that you may see hundreds of them on a visit.

The Pinnacles National Monument Butterfly Checklist shows the number of butterflies of each species you can expect to see in a few hours for each month of the year and in five different habitats. Once you know the right time and place to look for butterflies, you can get even more specific by also looking for their host plants (the plants on which butterflies lay eggs and caterpillars feed) and nectar plants (the favorite flowers from which adult butterflies drink nectar).

For example, let's say you are visiting Pinnacles in July and you want to see a Sylvan Hairstreak. The Checklist says that in riparian (streamside) habitat in July you can expect to see more than 20, and that their host plant is willow and their favorite nectar plant is milkweed. Since willows don't grow in all riparian habitats, on the advice of a Park Ranger you take the Old Pinnacles Trail. Along the trail you notice three different species of willow. On two of the species you find nothing. But as you approach the shrubby, smooth-leaved species, you see several small gray butterflies zip off from the tips of the leaves and then return. As you continue, you scare up several Sylvan Hairstreaks from each of these willows that you pass. Then you spot a milkweed with half a dozen Sylvan Hairstreaks sipping nectar from its flowers. Mission accomplished, you've had a fine hike and no doubt seen many other butterflies along the way.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when seeking butterflies. Butterflies are creatures of the sun. They are most active from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and are seldom out in the cold, rain, or wind. Some good butterfly spots include hilltops, moist areas, open patches of ground, and flowers. Certain species of flowers attract many more butterflies than others. In the summer and fall the few flowers in bloom will often draw butterflies from great distances. Some particularly good butterfly flowers at Pinnacles include wallflower, California buckeye, thistles, California buckwheat, wooly yerba santa, summer mustard, milkweeds, vinegar weed, exotic mints, shrubby butterweed, coyote brush, and heliotrope.

The number one threat to butterflies everywhere is loss of habitat. A decline in a particular butterfly species is often a direct reflection of a decline in habitat for its host plant. By protecting natural processes and habitats across the wilderness landscape, Pinnacles goes a long way toward protecting butterflies. (One part of that protection is to prohibit collecting butterflies, wildflowers, or anything else within the Monument.) In order to keep track of how butterflies are doing over the long term, the park conducts an annual Pinnacles National Monument Butterfly Count. The information from this count can be compared to data from previous years to help us detect species declines. The park can also look at other places that conduct similar counts to see whether the declines are widespread or restricted only to Pinnacles and then look for causes and begin to remedy them.

The park's goal is to ensure that visitors to Pinnacles National Monument have the same opportunity to see Sylvan Hairstreaks and other butterflies regardless of whether it's the year 2004 or 4002. If you would like to help the park achieve this goal, please report any unusual butterfly sightings, and join them for the annual Butterfly Count.

Bats

Bats at Pinnacles find refuge in the caves, cliffs, and trees. There is currently a colony of Townsend's Big-eared Bats in the Bear Gulch Cave and a colony of the Western Mastiff bat in the Balconies cave area.

Out of the 23 species of bats in California, 14 species are known to occur within Pinnacles National Monument. These bats are:

Western Pipstrelle (Pipistellus hesperus)
Western Red Bat (Lasiurus blossevilii)
Hoary Bat (Laisiurus cinerius)
Townsend's Big-eared Bat (Corynorhinus townsendii)
Pallid Bat (Antrozous pallidus)
Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus)
California Myotis (Myotis californicus)
Small footed Myotis (Myotis ciliolabrum)
Long eared Myotis (Myotis evotis)
Fringed Myotis (Myotis thysanodes)
Long-legged Myotis (Myotis volans)
Yuma Myotis (Myotis yumanensis)
Brazilian Free-tailed Bat (Tadarida brasiliensis)
Western Mastiff Bat (Eumops perotis)

All of the fourteen species at Pinnacles and forty-one of the forty-four North American bats eat insects, spiders, and their kin. Three species eat fruit or nectar. There are only three species of vampire bats -- they live in South America and feed on birds and mammals.

Bat Facts
"Blind as a bat."
Bats not only "see" the world with echolocation, but they have good eyesight. Some bats find their food exclusively with sight and they can see better than humans in dim light.

"They get tangled in your hair."
Bats can be very curious. They will often circle around something or someone new in their air space to take a second look.

"Bats are flying mice."
Bats are actually more closely related to primates than to rodents. Most bats give birth to only one "pup" per year which they feed milk. Other than humans, bats are the longest lived mammals in North America; one little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) is at least 34 years old.

"Bats are just pests."
Bats are important insect predators, pollinators, and seed dispersers. Bats live on all continents except Antarctica and are on the decline worldwide.

"All bats carry rabies."
Bats are not "carriers" of rabies; less than 1% of bats contracts rabies and dies. Bats will bite in self defense. Avoid handling them as well as other wildlife.

Reptiles

Compared to the rest of Central California, Pinnacles is home to a high diversity of reptiles: eight lizards, fourteen snakes, and one turtle. Species most commonly encountered include the western whiptail, coast horned lizard, western fence lizard, common garter snake, striped racer, gopher snake and western rattlesnake. Some species, such as sharp-tailed snake, are most active in the cool, wet months. Others, such as Gilbert’s skink and alligator lizard, are most likely to be seen as the days begin to warm up in April and May. The striped racer and western whiptail prefer the hottest days. And some, such as the western fence lizard and side-blotched lizard, can be seen during all but the hottest and coldest weeks of the year. Western pond turtles are uncommon and elusive, so consider yourself lucky if you see one here. Another elusive reptile is the desert night lizard. It is said to spend almost its entire life in a single decaying log. However, it is sometimes possible to see one at night near the porch light at the Bear Gulch Visitor Center. It lives in the cracks in the building, making occasional forays out to eat insects attracted by the light.

Although you may be tempted to capture reptiles in order to get a closer look at them, this is prohibited here. Binoculars are a great way to get an up-close look at an animal doing what it naturally does, rather than doing what many reptiles do when captured: biting you, defecating on you, or dropping their tails.

Turning over rocks and logs to look for animals is also prohibited, and for good reason. Even the most careful turning over of a rock or log and returning it to its original position disturbs the habitat and may scare the animal away from a perfectly good home. 200,000 people visit Pinnacles each year. If only one in a thousand people did it, that would be 200 people, meaning that rocks and logs could get turned over just about every weekend. The reptiles living there would likely move farther from the trail. Even if they survived this disruption, people on the trail would be less likely to see them. Instead, if you spend enough time looking, many animals that usually hide under rocks and logs can also be seen out in the open.

Tarantulas

An autumn visit to Pinnacles National Monument is often rewarded with a sighting of one our most fascinating creatures, the tarantula. September and October are the prime months to see male tarantulas ambling resolutely day and night in search of mates. They investigate every potential burrow, looking for a female ready to lay eggs in her specially prepared nest.

Why don't you see tarantulas during the rest of the year? They are always in the park, but they are usually much more secretive. They spend the day in their burrows, emerging to hunt only at night. At any time of year, if you look carefully on the ground for small holes lined with silk, you might see a tarantula looking back at you! You'd be surprised how small a hole a tarantula can fit into.

Tarantula X-ing
Tarantulas are commonly seen crossing roads. Please obey posted speed limits and watch the road to avoid running over tarantulas and other wildlife.

Part of the Food Web
Tarantulas eat a variety of insects and other invertebrates, and possibly lizards, snakes, and small rodents. They bite their prey, injecting it with digestive juices. Then they mash it with their strong jaws, and drink the liquid. After a large meal, a tarantula may wait several months before feeding again. Tarantulas are in turn eaten by lizards, snakes, birds, and tarantula hawks.

Tarantula Hawk
If you think the way a tarantula feeds is gruesome, wait till you hear about the tarantula hawk. Nearly the size of a hummingbird, it is our largest member of the spider wasp family. It is stunning with its shiny blue-black body and smoky orange wings. You can often see them in summer and fall visiting flowers.

When the female tarantula hawk is ready to lay her eggs, she leaves the flowers behind and goes on the hunt for a tarantula. Upon finding one, she paralyzes it with a sting. Even though the tarantula is several times her own weight, she drags it to a hole, lays her eggs on it, and buries it. The eggs soon hatch into wasp larvae which slowly devour the paralyzed tarantula alive, from the inside out.

Self Defense
If provoked, the tarantula may inflict a painful bite, about like a bee sting. (The tarantula hawk's sting is much more painful.) However, the tarantula has a rather gentle nature, and rarely uses its fangs except to catch prey. When alarmed, it may raise its front legs and its abdomen to look aggressive. It may also release stinging hairs from its abdomen. These hairs irritate the skin of an attacker by digging themselves in with hundreds of tiny hooks.

Tarantula Web
A tarantula spins silk, but not in the form of a web for catching food. Instead, the silk is used to line the burrow, and by the female to line the nest and cover the eggs.

Walking up Walls
Web-spinning spiders have three claws, the middle one being used for grasping the web. In tarantulas, the middle claw is replaced by a dense pad of hairs. Each of these hairs splits into hundreds of microscopic branches, called "end feet." The combined surface effects of all the end feet allow the tarantula to walk on walls and even ceilings.

Spider Senses
Tarantulas have eight eyes, although they probably can't see very well. They have no ears, although they have thousands of fine body hairs which allow them to feel the vibrations of passing prey. They taste with special "taste hairs" near the feet and around the mouth. They probably smell with pits on top of the feet.

Life Span
Tarantulas reach maturity at about 10 years. Males die within a year of mating, and are sometimes eaten by the female before mating. Females may live over 20 years.

What's in a Name?

What ho! What ho! This fellow is dancing mad! He hath been bitten by the Tarantula.
- Edgar Allan Poe

"Tarantula" was the name originally given to the southern European wolf spider (Lycosa tarentula) and referred to the town of Taranto, Italy. It was believed that the bite of this spider would cause the disease of tarantism, the symptoms being uncontrolled weeping and jumping about. The victim would finally go into a wild dance called the Tarentella. This dance is now a popular Italian folk form and has inspired several famous composers to write classical versions. Scientists have not studied the tarantulas of California well enough to be able to give the tarantula found at Pinnacles a specific scientific name. It is most likely in the genus Aphonopelma. Do you know anybody who would like to study our tarantulas?

Boy or Girl?
Most of the tarantulas you encounter are males out wandering in search of females. If you are lucky enough to meet a tarantula face-to-face, look for the tibial spur on each front leg behind the "knee." Only males have this claw-like appendage.

Other Spiders at Pinnacles
We know very little about the spiders of Pinnacles. There are undoubtedly hundreds of species, many of them undescribed. Plus, there are many spider relatives here: ticks, mites, scorpions, sun scorpions, pseudoscorpions, and harvestmen. Some of the more conspicuous spiders at Pinnacles are:

Hairless tarantula: This spider is about half the size of the more commonly seen tarantula. It lacks stinging hairs, and it is quite aggressive.

Green lynx: Look for this spider in the fall on small flowering shrubs, where it catches insects visiting the flowers. It can be very hard to see, but once you find one, you will often find more nearby. Also look for its white egg sacs.

Black widow: This well-known, highly poisonous spider advertises "danger" with the red hourglass on its underside. Its web is exceptionally strong.

Crab spiders: Look carefully on flowers for these spiders. They hold their long front legs wide open, waiting to snatch their flower-visiting prey.

Diguetid spiders: Although you may never see one of these spiders, their webs are quite conspicuous in California buckwheat shrubs. Look for a vertical tube filled with debris, above a flat cone of threads.

For more information:
American Tarantula Society

Raptors

Raptors – birds of prey – are a common and beautiful sight at Pinnacles National Monument, especially during the breeding season from January to August. Raptors are specialized hunters, with powerful beaks and talons for tearing apart prey, and exceptional eyesight for locating food from great distances. Most raptors can see even small birds like swallows clearly from almost 2 miles away, thanks to their telescopic vision.

Over 20 species of raptors have been documented at the park, with 10 species nesting on a yearly basis, including the highest density of nesting prairie falcons in the country. The geography of the park provides raptors with ideal nesting sites, both on the inaccessible cliffs and rock formations used by prairie falcons, golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, and American kestrels, and on the oaks and pines along the riparian corridors used by Cooper’s hawks, sharp-shinned hawks, and red-shouldered hawks. The location of the park also provides raptors with plentiful food sources. Small raptors like kestrels and sharp-shinned hawks primarily eat animals as small as grasshoppers and as large as lizards and mice; these prey items are readily available within the park boundaries. Larger raptors like prairie falcons, red-tailed hawks, and golden eagles feed on larger prey, from small birds to larger rodents including squirrels and rabbits. These are readily available in the agricultural areas surrounding the park, and often falcons and eagles can be seen soaring beyond the park boundaries in search of food.

Diurnal raptors – birds of prey active during the day – make up only a part of the assemblage of birds of prey found at Pinnacles. These include the falcons, hawks, and eagles listed above. As twilight fades into night, owls – the nocturnal raptors of the park – become active. Owls have well-developed night vision and hearing, as well as feathers specially adapted for silent flight, to aid them in hunting for rodents and other birds at night. At Pinnacles, owls are most often heard rather than seen. Great-horned owls hoot loudly in the spring near the reservoir and Balconies, and western screech-owls vocalize from near the Bear Gulch Visitor Center with a whistling hoot that increases in speed as the birds call. Occasionally, long-eared owls call from the riparian corridors along Chalone Creek and in the Bench area; listen for a monotonous, single note repeated slowly over and over.

Mammals

Forty-nine mammalian species, aside from humans, are known to occur within Pinnacles National Monument. Those often seen and enjoyed by visitors and staff include: black-tailed deer, bobcat, gray fox, raccoon, jackrabbit, brush rabbit, ground squirrel, chipmunk, and several kinds of bat. These animals are reported regularly because they are either easy to see or charismatic. Badgers, coyotes, a wide variety of rodents, and mountain lions inhabit the Monument, but are not commonly seen. The infrequent sighting of some of the mammals in the Monument points to a difficulty in studying them: extensive monitoring is required to determine baseline data on all mammalian species within Pinnacles. This work will be ongoing for many years, and we will keep you informed about it. For example, we are currently conducting a small mammal survey, which may soon be available on our web pages.

The mammals at Pinnacles belong to the following orders: Marsupialia (1), Insectivora (3), Chiroptera (16), Lagomorpha (3), Rodentia (15),Carnivora (9) and Artiodactyla (2). Included in these are three mammals which have been introduced to Pinnacles -- the house mouse, opossum, and feral pig. The house mouse (Mus musculus) and opossum(Didelphis virginiana) are rare and not considered threatening to Pinnacles’ native ecosystems. Feral pigs (Sus scrofa), on the other hand, are abundant within the Monument and cause extensive damage to the native vegetation. Based on several years of research, a decision was made to construct a fence around the Monument’s perimeter. Pigs within the fence will be removed, and new pig incursions will be prevented.

Moths

The moths of Pinnacles range in size from smaller than a gnat to larger than a hummingbird. Most fly at night, but a fair number are active only in daylight. Most are drab in color, at least when settled, but many have brightly colored hind wings that are evident in flight. Even most of the drab-colored moths have intricate patterns on their wings. The peak season for moths here is late spring, but they can be found in any month of the year. On a calm, warm night with no moon, dozens of species can be seen at a single light, along with other insects that are attracted to light, and predators such as bats, salamanders, toads, night lizards, and spiders.

How many different kinds of moths would you guess are found at Pinnacles National Monument? We don’t know the answer to that question, but we’re working on it. One way to estimate the number of moths in our part of the world is to multiply the number of butterflies by 15. We have 68 known species of butterflies, which yields an estimate of about 1,000 species of moths. We started collecting moths in September 2002. We collect at black lights, porch lights, and with nets during the day. We estimate that using these methods we will find about 75% of the moth species here.

Why study moths? First of all, we are given the mission to protect our natural resources, which is difficult if we don’t specifically know what those resources are. Once we have a name for a moth, we can consult publications and moth experts to get information that might help us protect it. Also, during our study we will collect information that will add to the body of knowledge about moths, and we are likely to find some new species not previously known to science.

One important reason to study moths is that they are an integral part of the Pinnacles ecosystem. We can’t protect the whole without knowing how to protect its parts. For every adult moth you see, there are many more moth caterpillars out there munching on plants. Moth caterpillars convert more plant material into food for predators than any other group of animals. Because they are a major component of the food web, much of the wildlife here depends on them either directly or indirectly.

Condors

Pinnacles National Monument has been a part of the California Condor Recovery Program since 2003. In partnership with the Ventana Wildlife Society, a central-California non-profit organization, we have released 19 juvenile condors into the wild. Each condor is monitored carefully after its release to increase its chances of survival. Biologists ensure that they choose safe roosting sites, find the feeding areas, and stay away from hazards such as lead-contaminated food and power poles.

Information about Pinnacles Condors

CondorCam
View images of the Pinnacles free-flying condors as they perch near one of their feeding sites.

Updates on Condors
Thirteen condors are flying free over Pinnacles National Monument and beyond. Read updates on the condors and the Pinnacles program.

Where Can I See a Condor?
If you're coming to Pinnacles and would like to catch a glimpse of this rare bird, this information will help you decide where to look.

Milestones of the Condor Program at Pinnacles
Read about the major events in the condor program at Pinnacles.

Current Population StatisticsAn overview of the California condor population, compiled by the California Department of Fish and Game.

Closure Notice
An area of Pinnacles National Monument is closed to the public to protect the condor facility and feeding areas. No hiking trails are affected by this closure.

Should I report a condor sighting?
Any condor sightings outside the Pinnacles boundaries will help us track them. If you see a condor engaging in potentially dangerous behaviors such as feeding, approaching humans, or perching on manmade structures, please report the sighting as soon as possible.

Please view condors from a distance of at least 100 feet and never approach or try to feed them.

Wild Pigs

Wild pigs (Sus scrofa) were first observed at Pinnacles National Monument in the late 1960s. In 1769, Spanish explorers introduced domestic swine to California as a food source and to clear land. Allowed to roam freely, these domesticated pigs inhabited various parts of California as feral or wild hogs. The European wild boar was imported to Monterey County in 1925 for hunting purposes, and has successfully interbred with feral hogs already established. These hybrids have spread throughout much of California, both naturally and with the aid of hunters and landowners. The wild pigs that have invaded Pinnacles are a combination of European wild boars, feral hogs, and hybrids of the boar and hog. Wild pigs are not native to California. They are considered exotic species.

Wild pigs consume an abundance of plant matter including acorns, grasses, forbs, berries, roots, and bulbs. They also feed on ground dwelling insects, worms, reptiles, amphibians, fish, small mammals, and carrion including other pigs. Wild pigs spend much of their time rooting or digging with their noses in search of these food items.

Pigs tend to prefer cooler more shaded areas, do not tolerate heat well, and must have a constant water supply in order to survive. They are primarily nocturnal in the hotter months and prefer oak woodlands along streams and chaparral habitat. Here they forage for food, wallow in mud and water, and seek shelter from the sun.

Wild pigs have a high reproductive rate. If there is a sufficient supply of food to accommodate a sow, she can have two litters a year. Litters range from 4-14 piglets. Pigs can adapt to harsh environments and have few natural predators, making them difficult to control.

Wild Pig Impacts

Because wild pigs are not native to Pinnacles National Monument, their behavior alters the natural processes that occur in the park. This behavior has been shown to have a negative impact on the plants, animals, and soil.

Plants

Rooting by pigs disturbs natural plant communities by destroying native species. The soil is uplifted by this rooting behavior, causing it to dry in the heat of summer. Plants have to work harder to find water and their chances for survival are decreased. Areas that once had native plants become susceptible to the establishment of exotic plants. These exotic species compete with native plants for available space, ultimately compromising the natural order of the plant community. Pigs also consume large amounts of fruits, nuts, and seeds, which decreases the ability of new plants to germinate.

Wildlife

Pigs compete with deer and other wildlife for acorns, insects, and other food sources. Pigs also prey on a number of animals and insects, directly threatening their survival. Besides competing with and preying upon animals, wild pigs have the potential to infect animals, as well as humans with a number of diseases and parasites. Rooting behavior also adversely affects the habitat of ground dwelling animals such as amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and ground nesting birds.

Soil Erosion

Pig rooting significantly increases the rate of erosion. Pigs root near stream banks causing the soil to loosen and wash away during rains. When soils wash into streams and creeks the water quality is decreased. Poor water quality has a negative impact on many aquatic animals including the threatened California red-legged frog.

Management of Wild Pigs

The National Park Service has a policy of conserving, protecting, and restoring native plants and animals. Park managers at Pinnacles National Monument are required to control or eradicate non-native species that have a negative impact on its resources. In 1984, the Monument staff had considerable concerns about the increasing number of wild pigs and the destruction they were causing to the Park. After several years of research and testing, the Monument decided to construct a fence around the perimeter that would prevent pigs from invading the park.

The fence is designed to prevent pigs from rooting underneath, while allowing animals of various sizes to pass through, or jump over. Completed in 2003, the fence surrounds more than 14,000 acres of parkland and stretches a distance of roughly 24 miles.

Upon completion of the pig-proof fence, the Monument contracted wildlife biologists from the Institute for Wildlife Studies (IWS) to eradicate exotic pigs within the fence-enclosure. Using ground-hunting methods, trained dogs, and traps, and subsequently monitoring for pig sign, IWS staff deemed the fence-enclosed area of the Park free of pigs in June 2006.

Park staff will continue to regularly patrol the fence to ensure that pigs cannot immigrate due to structural instabilities. If damage to the fence occurs due to natural and/or unforeseen circumstances, routine maintenance activities will be conducted and any necessary repairs made. If pigs do enter the fenced-enclosed area of the Monument, measures will be taken to eliminate pigs from within. Now that exotic pigs have been eliminated from the core area of the Park, routine monitoring and maintenance measures are crucial to maintaining a pig-free environment.

One of the goals of PinnaclesNational Monument is to maintain this pig-free environment in perpetuity within the fenced portion of the Park. The unique and wondrous diversity of flora and fauna that has evolved here depends upon this goal.

Woodpeckers

As their name implies, woodpeckers are very effective at hammering away at the woody trunks of trees. They have long, sharp bills, powerful heads and neck muscles, stiff tails for balancing on the sides of tree trunks, and large toes with sharp talons for gripping bark and woody surfaces. Pinnacles has 6 species of woodpeckers that live at the park year-round. These are acorn woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers, red-breasted sapsuckers, northern flickers, and Nuttall’s woodpeckers. Another woodpecker species – Lewis’ woodpecker – is rarely seen as it migrates through the park.

Although the woodpecker species at Pinnacles may look similar, they have surprisingly different methods for feeding. Downy, hairy, and Nuttall’s woodpeckers primarily eat insects, and have exceptionally long tongues for extracting prey from holes in trees. In fact, the tongues are so long that they wrap around the skulls of the woodpeckers when they are not in use. Hairy, downy, and Nuttall’s woodpeckers also have barbs on the ends of their tongues and very sticky saliva that help the birds to retain their insect prey as they are pulling them out of holes in trees.

Red-breasted sapsuckers, as their name implies, feed on sap from oaks in the park. Their tongues are not extremely long, but have specialized hairs on the tips. Sapsuckers drill into the sides of oaks throughout the park, creating sap wells that drip from the trees. The woodpeckers then use the hairs on their tongues to capture the sap through capillary action; in other words, they “suck” the sap from the wells. Creating the sap wells serves another function for the sapsuckers: the wells attract ants that feed on the sap. The sapsuckers wait for a large concentration of ants to gather at the sap wells, then fly to the sites to feed on the insects. The sap wells have the additional benefit of providing a food source for many other bird species in the park.

Acorn woodpeckers are the most visible woodpecker species at the park; most visitors will quickly notice their antics and cackling, “wheka wheka” calls in the pine trees near the Bear Gulch and Chaparral Visitor Centers. Acorn woodpeckers also have one of the most interesting strategies for ensuring a food source for themselves. These woodpeckers hoard large amounts of acorns and other nuts in “granaries,” 1-2 snags (standing remains of dead trees) or pines located centrally in family territories. Up to 50,000 acorns may be stored in a single tree. Acorn woodpeckers aggressively defend their territories, and hammer the nuts tightly into holes in the trees to make it difficult for potential robbers including Steller’s and scrub jays to remove the acorns without being detected, or to remove them from the holes at all. The granaries provide an essential source of surplus food to the acorn woodpeckers, especially during the dry summer and fall seasons at Pinnacles when other food supplies are scarce. Visitors to the park should look for the woodpeckers’ granaries near the visitor centers and trailheads. Two large gray pines near the Bear Gulch Visitor Center bathrooms are used by the acorn woodpeckers as granaries, and give a sense of how much food these birds are actually hoarding year after year.

Insects, Spiders, Centipedes, and Millipedes

Although often overlooked, invertebrates comprise tens of thousands of wildlife species at Pinnacles. Their lack of bones, teeth, fur, and feathers may make them seem primitive, but don't be fooled. In many cases their life histories are just as complex as those of larger animals, and often much more bizarre. And they are usually much easier to find and observe than larger wildlife.

An inventory of bees conducted in the late 1990's found nearly 400 species of bees at Pinnacles. This is the highest known bee diversity per unit area of any place on earth. The diversity of butterflies here is not nearly as high (68 species), but in the right time and place it is possible to see thousands of individual butterflies in a single day. A moth inventory is currently in progress, with the number of moth species expected to be around 1,000. Samples are still being analyzed from an inventory of aquatic macroinvertebrates, but 40 species of dragonflies and damselflies are known to inhabit Pinnacles' waters. Most other invertebrate groups remain largely unstudied.

Two invertebrates found at Pinnacles are endemic to our area, being found elsewhere rarely or not at all. The Pinnacles shieldback katydid (Idiostatus kathleenae) is about 2 cm long, wingless, and dark gray in color. It is active at night, feeding on the flowers of California buckwheat and other plants. The Pinnacles riffle beetle (Optioservus canus) is a tiny (2 mm) brown beetle that lives in fast-flowing sections of Chalone Creek.

The most common way to study invertebrates is to capture and kill them. While this method may be appropriate under many circumstances, a visit to Pinnacles is not one of them. In order to protect the wildlife at Pinnacles, collecting is prohibited without a scientific collecting permit issued by the monument. A great tool for getting a good look at invertebrates going about their lives is a pair of close-focus binoculars. With 8X binoculars, from eight feet away you will have a view as if you were only one foot away! That's plenty close for watching a bee gather pollen, a butterfly sip nectar, or a tarantula wasp sting and drag off a tarantula.

Fish

Due to the intermittent nature of Pinnacles’ streams, the three-spined stickleback is the only native fish here. A predatory feeder, it eats predominately aquatic insects, and reaches three inches in length when full-grown. The stickleback is often observed along the Bear Gulch and South Wilderness Trails. Other fish species may swim upstream into the Monument from the Salinas River during floods, but they generally do not survive through the summer.

In the early 1980’s, non-native catfish inhabited the reservoir. This population was eradicated in the mid-1980’s by draining the reservoir and electroshocking the remaining fish. In the mid-1990’s non-native green sunfish infiltrated Monument streams. They were considered a major threat to red-legged frogs, and were removed by electroshocking. Currently the mosquitofish is the only non-native fish species here. Although its presence has a minor impact on red-legged frogs, eradicating it is currently impractical.

For more information on the Exotic Green Sunfish Removal Project and past exotic fish infestations, see the

1999 Exotic Fish Removal Report.

Related Information:
Fish Checklist for Pinnacles National Monument

Exotic Species

Over the past 200 years, thousands of foreign plant and animal species have become established in the United States. About one in seven has become invasive. The invasive species typically have high reproductive rates, disperse easily, and can tolerate a wide range of environmental conditions. Often, they lack predators in their new environments. As a result, invasives may outcompete native flora and fauna for biological niches carved out over millennia.

Some non-native species, intentionally introduced for beneficial purposes, later turn out to be invasive. Examples include saltcedar, which was introduced for erosion control, or the feral pigs here at Pinnacles National Monument. 138 billion dollars is the price-tag put by Cornell University researchers on the invasive species-induced costs of ecosystem damages, reduced crop yields, control efforts and lost forest products in the United States alone. The ecological costs of invasive species are also staggering. They eat, outcompete, and hybridize with native species, spread diseases, and eliminate or change native habitats. In the United States, 400 of the 958 species listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act are at risk primarily because of competition with and predation by non-indigenous species. In some areas of the world, this proportion is much higher. In fact, the impact of invasive species is second only to direct habitat destruction, such as clearcutting, among the causes of extinction. The undoing is not limited to habitats and non-humans; we are also losing people, languages and cultures.

The land of Pinnacles National Monument began to be protected in the early 1900s. That does not mean that the land is unaltered, but that it has been buffered from invasive species. The Monument’s harsh climate, with large daily temperature fluctuations and hot, dry summers also buffers Pinnacles from invasives, because fewer invasives are able to thrive here. Pinnacles National Monument is special today in part due to its relatively high proportion of native plants and animals, and comparatively undisturbed land. We seek to preserve the health of the Monument’s habitats by controlling exotic plants and feral pigs, as detailed in the highlights above.

Sensitive Species

While all native wildlife species at Pinnacles National Monument are protected, some warrant special attention. In many cases they have been listed by other agencies as Endangered, Threatened, or Species of Special Concern. Species endemic to the Pinnacles area are also listed here because even though they may not currently be in trouble, much of their known range falls within our boundaries.

  Common Name Scientific Name Status
Insects Pinnacles shield-back katydid Idiostatus kathleenae 3
  Pinnacles riffle beetle Optioservus canus 3
Fish Sacramento Perch Archoplites interruptus  CSC*2
Amphibians Gabilan slender salamander Batrachoseps gavilanensis 3
  California tiger salamander Ambystoma californiense FT
  Western spadefoot Spea hammondii CSC 2
  California red-legged frog Rana aurora draytonii  FT
  Foothill yellow-legged frog Rana boylii  CSC*2
Reptiles Southwestern pond turtle Clemmys marmorata pallida CSC*
  California horned lizard Phrynosoma coronatum frontale CSC
  Silvery legless lizard Anniella pulchra pulchra  CSC
  San Joaquin coachwhip Masticophis flagellum ruddocki  CSC
  Two-striped garter snake Thamnophis hammondii CSC 2
Birds California condor Gymnogyps californicus SE/FE 2
  Cooper’s hawk Accipiter cooperi  CSC
  Sharp-shinned hawk Accipiter straitus CSC
  Golden eagle Aquila chrysaetos CSC
  White-tailed kite Elanus leucurus CSC
  Prairie falcon Falco mexicanus CSC
  Peregrine falcon Falco peregrinus 2
  Long-eared owl Asio otus CSC
  Yellow-breasted chat Icteria virens  CSC
Mammals Pallid bat Antrozous pallidus CSC
  Townsend’s big-eared bat Corynorhinus t. townsendii  CSC*
  Western mastiff bat Eumops perotis californicus CSC*
  Big-eared kangaroo rat Dipodomys elephantinus CSC*
  American badger Taxidea taxus CSC
       

 Key:

CSC =California Species of Special Concern
F = Federal 
S = State
E =Endangered
T = Threatened
* = Category 1 and 2 species before revoked in 1996
1 = occurs around PINN and has habitat within PINN, but has not been confirmed
2 = historically occurred in PINN, but is believed to be locally extirpated
3 = endemic to Pinnacles and surrounding areas

Keep Wildlife Wild

Feeding animals at Pinnacles National Monument is not only unhealthy for park wildlife, it can also be dangerous for humans. Please avoid the temptation to feed park animals.

Animals that are fed by humans may become aggressive. Each year at Pinnacles Campground, there have been injuries caused by raccoons that have become accustomed to getting handouts from campers. Other animals that can often be spotted begging are squirrels, magpies, and jays.

Nocturnal animals roam the campground in the evening hours, looking for food that hasn't been stowed properly. Keep your food and all scented items in your vehicle where pigs and raccoons can't get at them.

In campsites and at trailheads and picnic areas, squirrels will often approach people to beg for food. Squirrels can pose a serious threat to humans. They can transmit diseases such as rabies and bubonic plague, even if you don't make contact with them.

If an animal approaches you, act immediately to scare it away. Keep your food and scented items within arm's reach. When you're done with them, stow them safely in your vehicle. If you're camping, keep a clean campsite, and never leave trash out at night.

Each park faces different challenges with keeping human food away from wildlife. At any camping area, be sure to ask about food storage regulations when you check into your site.

If you feed wildlife, intentionally or unintentionally, you could be cited under 36 CFR 2.10(d) or 2.2(a)(2).

Human food is harmful to wildlife, and feeding park animals is dangerous to humans. Please enjoy the animals of Pinnacles from a distance.