When we think of endangered species, we are likely to think “cheetah” or “grizzly bear” or some other big, familiar, and in-the-news animal. But unfortunately, just about any sort of living thing can enter the list of endangered life. Scientists fear that the continuing elimination of habitat by humans and the changing climate could result in the loss of a million or more species in the foreseeable future.
The Torrey pine, native to the coast of southern California, is on the endangered list. Before the city of San Diego and its suburbs developed, woodlands featuring this species thrived along the nearby rocky coast. The frequent cool afternoon fog helped the trees tolerate a climate where rain is scarce during the summer months.
Now, largely because of human development, this beautiful tree with open, spreading branches is critically endangered. There are just two areas left where these trees grow in the wild. Fewer than 5,000 individual trees live on tiny Santa Rosa Island off the Santa Barbara coast and in the Torrey Pines State Reserve on the San Diego coastline.
In addition to having an ever-shrinking natural habitat, the Torrey Pines have recently struggled to survive an onslaught of the five-spined engraver beetle, which bores through the bark and lays its eggs in the cambium layer of the tree. The beetle attack can result in shutting off the supply of water and nutrients to the tree, killing it. Healthy trees may be able to survive, but drought can weaken a tree, making it vulnerable to attack.
Torrey pines do not replenish themselves easily. They take their time to produce seeds. The male flowers develop in February as clusters of reddish finger-like structures on lower branches. Their pollen fertilizes the female blossoms, which look like tiny red cones. It takes about 3 ½ years for the cones to grow and the seeds to develop fully. Then the cones release seeds, but some may remain until the cone itself drops from the tree as long as ten years after pollination.
The Torrey Pines State Reserve works hard to protect these rare trees, but it may be too late. The increasing heat and dryness brought about by climate change could weaken the remaining wild trees, resulting in beetle damage and early death. Let’s hope these hardy beauties find a way to survive these difficult challenges.
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Nature's Animal Ambassador
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a wolf? You’re born in a cozy, dark den under the ground, probably along with at least one brother or sister. Your eyes are closed shut, but you can smell and feel your way over to your mother to drink sweet, warm milk from her teats. Your father and older brothers and sisters bring food from their hunts to feed your mother.
Your eyes open in about two weeks, but you can’t see much in the darkness of the den. You nap a lot, snuggled up to your siblings and your mom. Then, about a week later, your mother leads you all out of the den into the sunshine. How different it is up here! Now you explore the wild world, wandering among the trees, lapping water from a creek, wrestling and tumbling with your brothers and sisters.
After you get bigger and stronger, you and your family leave the den and move to a safe outdoor area. It’s scary at first, being in a strange new place with no dark den for comfort. An older brother or sister watches over you and the other pups while the rest of the family, or pack, goes hunting. When the hunters return you rush up and lick their faces and they share the meat they got on the hunt. All the older wolves in the pack let you climb all over them and nip their ears and tails while they take care of you, protecting you from danger.
All that good meat helps you grow into a big, strong wolf, with thick, shiny fur. In the fall, you go along on the hunt and learn how to find game and how best to catch it. Hunting is exciting but dangerous. You or other family members might get kicked by a deer or stomped on by a moose. But if you get injured, the other wolves take care of you until you recover. You are family, and family is what matters.
Grey wolf. © Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, 2014
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MLA 8 Citation
Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw. "What's It Like Being a Wolf?" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 27 Sept. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/whats-it-like-being-a-wolf.
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