Some Critters at the Slough

While spending lots of time in the slough, both on the trails and in the lab, I have become very familiar with the animals living in the slough. There are the big ones, like the Southern Sea Otters who use the slough as a refuge.  At the slough, I usually see the otters floating like a raft, usually prying something open to eat, or cleaning their fur. This area provides them a resting spot, because of the calm waters and also provides the otters with food.

A Southern Sea Otter feeding on an oyster shell at the slough

A Southern Sea Otter feeding on an oyster shell at the slough

During one of our tours with a MERITO group, some of the kids and I spotted a Garter Snake. Snakes are fairly common in Elkhorn Slough, this one was black with yellow stripes. Since their diets can consist of lizards, ants, rats, and frogs, its no wonder we would see a garter snake on the reserve. Although this one that we saw was still alive, I have seen a garter snake half eaten, probably by those Red-tailed Hawks that are flying over the slough.

Garter Snake along the side of the south marsh loop trail

Garter Snake along the side of the south marsh loop trail

When you look up along some parts of the trails at the slough, you might see an Acorn Woodpecker. These birds are found along the south marsh loop trail, putting acorns into the dead trees, which are referred to as granaries. They are easy to identify, visually or by sound. When I have led a tour in the past, I first try to hear the tapping sounds they make on the trees, and then once I see the red caps on their heads, I know its an Acorn Woodpecker.

Acorn Woodpecker on a branch of a granary tree

Acorn Woodpecker on a branch of a granary tree

Some of the things that we have seen in the water are pretty amazing too. There are jellies, caprellid shrimp, plankton, and nudibranch in the waters of Elkhorn Slough.  I have seen jellies small enough to look at them underwater, and some large ones washed up on the shore after the tide has gone down.  Jellies will float with the ocean currents and may get closed off from the ocean when it becomes low tide. Low Tide at the slough can get so low, that the jellies will dry up on land.

Jelly washed up on shore along the trail

Jelly washed up on shore along the trail

What’s a nudibranch? A nudibranch is one of the more colorful critters that I have seen at the slough. With there being more that 3,000 types of nudibranch, we are not fully sure which nudibranch live in the slough. Being part of the Sea Slug family, nudibranch can be thick or flat, long or small, and colorful or drab. They adapt to match their environment and are also carnivorous. Nudibranch use their two tentacles found on the tops of their heads to find prey, and get their pretty colors from the foods that they eat.

A nudibranch under the microscope, found in the slough

A nudibranch under the microscope, found in the slough

Want something cool to look up in Google today? Look up polychaete worms. Typically when we look at plankton samples in the lab, we see polychaete larvae. These larvae look like bees under the microscope, because of their black and yellow coloring, and their segmented bodies. When they are adults, they look like tube worms with bristles all around their bodies. I don’t usually get grossed out by things, but the adult polychaete worms are pretty much the grossest things I have seen at the slough. But you can judge that for yourself.

Plankton Sample with Polychaete Larvae under the microscope

Plankton Sample with Polychaete Larvae under the microscope

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