In Days Gone By
In 1603, Sebastian Vizcaino led three Spanish ships into Monterey Bay on an exploratory mission. He discovered that the lands around the bay teemed with wildlife: grizzly bears and tule elk roamed the lakes and marshes of the Salinas Valley; herds of pronghorn antelope graced the foothills; wolves, mountain lions, and the occasional jaguar preyed upon the plentiful supply of deer and rabbits; and black bear patrolled the rugged mountainous terrain of the interior.
The Monterey County landscape has changed dramatically since the arrival of the first European explorers, and much of our natural heritage has been lost or severely reduced, but there are still places which have survived relatively intact where we can get a glimpse into the past. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is one of the most easily accessible areas for the casual visitor or even the longtime resident to observe much of the remaining wildlife and natural beauty of our areas.
The group of animals which we call mammals began to evolve about 185 million years ago, during the time when the dinosaurs were the dominant terrestrial vertebrates on our planet. Mammals remained relatively obscure as a group until after the extinction of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period, 65 million years ago. Since that time, mammals have adapted and evolved to inhabit every major surface environment on the planet, and, of course, have given rise to its dominant species - ourselves.
What Makes a Mammal?
Mammals are distinguished from other animal groups by the following characteristics:
- Mammals breathe air with lungs.
- Mammals are warm-blooded (a characteristic shared only with birds).
- Mammals have true fur.
- Mammals give birth to live young (only a few mammals lay leathery eggs).
- Mammals produce milk for their young from mammary glands.
Whose Home is in Our Area
Monterey County is home to about 95 species of terrestrial and marine mammals, ranging from some very common species to some exceptionally rare ones. Eighty-eight species are native mammals - mammals which occur naturally in our area and have been present for thousands of years. Seven species have been introduced to the county in historic times, either as unwanted pests or as furbearers. Five species have been extirpated (completely eliminated) from the county in historic times. While none of these species is extinct, their loss from our natural biota is unfortunate. We hope this loss will not be duplicated by any of the remaining native mammals.
Residents of Point Lobos
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is a good place to observe some of our native terrestrial mammals. At least 23 species inhabit the reserve, and several other species occasionally enter the reserve from surrounding areas. Unfortunately, the best time to observe many of these animals is late in the evening or very early in the morning, when the reserve is closed. Some species are active during the day, though, and if you're lucky enough to be at the reserve when it is foggy, many of the nocturnal species may become active well before nightfall. Watch for evidence that the animals are present in the Reserve. The dusky-footed woodrat builds a unique nest. Scat or droppings can be found almost everywhere in the Reserve. Look for tracks in the wet or muddy soil showing the travel routes of animals. See the slide-show at the top of the page for a compilation of the most common mammals to be found in the Reserve.