California might be best known for the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, but that is only one of the many attractions of this Golden State. The biggest attractions California has to offer are its natural sights which include, but are not limited to, its exotic and diverse wildlife.
Tourists and nature fanatics from all over the globe travel far and wide to experience what this state has to offer. As the third largest state in the United States Of America, California provides a variety of different landscapes and topographies- ranging from the rugged snow-capped mountains, desert grasslands, soaring redwood forests, bright sunny beaches as well as coastal meadows, wetlands, and to top it all off, the deep vividly blue Pacific Ocean.
Are you looking to learn more about the many various types of animals that call California home? If so, read on to learn all the details you need to know about some of the wildlife dwellings in the depths of California seas, forests, and deserts!
Wildlife In California: Overview
With such a wide range of landscapes, it is no surprise that California is estimated to be home to nearly 300 species of mammals, more than 600 birds, and more than 100 species of reptiles. California serves as a sanctuary to many common animals like raccoons, weasels, otters, beavers, hawks, lizards, owls, coyotes, skunks, snakes, cougars, black bears, deer, squirrels, and whales. This vast land is also home to several rare, unique, and endangered species, some of which include the California Condor, Desert Slender Salamander, Giant Kangaroo Rat, Franklin’s Bumblebee, California clapper rail, and San Joaquin Kit Fox.
The Landscape Of California
The diverse and complex landscapes of the Golden State can be grouped into four major groups. This includes desert ecoregions (such as the Mojave Desert), Mediterranean ecoregions (such as the Central Valley), forested mountains (such as the Sierra Nevada), and coastal forests. Most of the regions of California have a Mediterranean-like climate with warm, dry summers and mild, wet winters.
The California Mountain Region takes up about half of California. The two great mountain ranges include the Coast Range on the west and the Sierra Nevada on the east. Elevations in this state range from 150 m to 3,500 m while vegetation in these ranges varies from coastal sage scrub to chaparral, and from oak woodland to conifer forest.
Around one-third of the state’s total land area (33 million acres) is considered forest land. It is home to some of the most unique trees in the world: the tallest (coast redwood), most massive (Giant Sequoia), and oldest (the magnificent Bristlecone Pine which is also one of our favorite trees!). About a quarter of the whole area of California is desert. This includes sand dunes, canyons, and dry lakes.
Wildlife of California
The terrestrial mammal fauna of California includes about 160 species, out of which 130 terrestrial mammals are native to the shrubland, grassland, woodland, and forest regions of California. The forests of California are home to thousands of wildlife species, ranging from insects and algae to reptiles, rodents, birds of prey, fish, and large mammals. A total of 350 bird species can be found in California. This number includes migratory, resident, and breeding birds. There are 54 species of amphibians and 69 species of reptiles within the boundary limits of California. The native freshwater fish fauna of California includes 73 species of fish.
California has the most endangered biodiversity of any state in the United States. This is why California has been designated as a Global Biodiversity Hotspot, a distinction for only 36 bioregions across the planet. The Dire wolf, Saber-tooth cat, Oreodonts, Mastodons, Aletopelta, Augustynolophus, and the California grizzly bear are some of the extinct species once found in this Golden State.
California offers a bounteous array of animals within its vast lands. Some of the most common mammals you can find in the Golden State are:
Coyotes or Canis latrans are a member of the dog family belonging to the lands of California. They are one of the three different types of wild dogs found in North America. An estimated 250,000 to 750,000 coyotes are known to inhabit the state. Their pointed, erect ears and drooping tail set them apart from the rest of their dog family. Coyotes provide efficient pest control and are omnivorous. They can run up to 40mph when chasing prey.
Coyotes are efficient hunters, and their senses are keen. They tend to be nocturnal but may also be active in the early morning or at sunset. Coyotes are territorial and monogamous animals – meaning they mate for life. Coyotes are intelligent animals that adapt well to changing habitats and conditions in both suburban and urban areas. This is one of the reasons why they are so to capture.
American Black Bear
The American black bear is also referred to as the black bear or baribal. It is known to be five times stronger than the average human. These bears are endemic to North America and are the smallest, most widely distributed bear species on the continent. They typically live in forests and are excellent tree climbers.
American black bears are excellent strong swimmers, as they swim for pleasure and to feed. They are omnivorous and their diet includes roots, berries, meat, and fish. The black bear is about 4 to 7 feet long from nose to tail and 2 to 3 feet high at the shoulders. It has small, rounded ears and inch-long claws on its feet.
Mountain lions also referred to as “Cougars,” are large, wild, terrestrial mammals of the Western Hemisphere. These deadly top predators are native to the Americas. They have a lifespan of 10 to 20 years.
A Mountain lion can travel at a speed of up to 30 miles per hour. Proportionally, they have the longest legs out of the entire feline family, can leap to about twenty-five feet, and sprint to speeds of 45 mph. They are adaptable, stealthy, and solitary creatures. Mountain lions are elusive cats and are rarely ever seen. They have large, sleek bodies with relatively small heads, long heavy legs, and big feet with sharp, curved, retractable claws.
Here are some of the Golden State’s best-known marine creatures:
California Sea Lions
The California sea lion is one of six species of sea lions. They are native to western North America and its population is currently estimated at up to 300,000 animals, all along the Pacific coast. California sea lions are typically not found more than 16 kilometers from the Pacific coastline. In the wild, this species can live up to 17 years but in captivity, one California sea lion is known to have lived over 31 years.
These sleek animals are faster than any other sea lion or seal. Generally, they only move about 10 miles per hour unless they feel threatened. The pairs of flippers enable a sea lion to walk on land as well. They can grow to a maximum length of 2.5 m and weigh around 520 kilos. In a single day, an adult California sea lion can eat up to 8% of its body weight. They are carnivorous predators that obtain their food from all over the sea. They feed on more than 50 species of fish and cephalopods.
Eleven different species of dolphins can be found in the Californian Pacific region. Common dolphins are divided into two species, the short-beaked common dolphin and the long-beaked common dolphin. Along with common dolphins, white-sided and Risso’s dolphins are also found in California waters. The average dolphin is about 6 to 9 feet long and weighs between 180–500 lbs.
Dolphins are not only intelligent creatures but are also known for their playful personalities. These mammals can also recognize themselves in a mirror. A typical pod of dolphins has around 200 while herds are often seen in numbers of over 1,000.
Sea otters are aquatic members of the weasel family. They are found along the coasts of the Pacific Ocean in North America and Asia. They typically weigh between 14-45 kg, have webbed feet, water-repellent fur to keep them dry and warm, and nostrils and ears that close in the water. The southern sea otter is the smallest marine mammal in North America, measuring up to 4 feet long. The fur of these mammals is the densest of any animal on Earth.
A sea otter consumes more than 25% of its body weight daily. This helps these creatures conserve heat and keep warm. While searching for food, sea otters can flip over boulders on the seafloor and are the only marine mammals that can do this.
Some reptiles that can only be found in the state of California are:
In 1972, California recognized the desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) as the official state reptile. This tortoise is native to the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts of the southwestern United States. While Desert tortoises are built to thrive in their desert environments, they depend on areas with high plant species diversity for food and protection from extreme weather and predators. Desert tortoises are herbivorous and their diet is made up of a wide variety of plants in the wild. In the desert, wild tortoises can live up to 35 or 40 years while some live to be much older.
California Alligator Lizard
The Southern alligator lizard is native to the Pacific coast of North America, where they inhabit many diverse habitats, including grassland, open forest, chaparral, suburban and urban areas, and even into the desert along the Mojave River. Their large head and powerful jaws help these alligator lizards feed on insects, small mammals, and other lizards. The body of a California alligator lizard can grow up to 5.6 inches long while its tail is about twice its body length. They earn their name from their scale pattern and their short legs that resemble those of an alligator. Also, their back and belly scales are reinforced by bone, as they are in alligators.
A few birds which can be seen in the lands of California are:
The California Condor is the largest flying bird found in the state. This hardy species survived the mass extinctions of the last Ice Age. The California condor remains one of the rarest bird species in the world; by December of 2022, their population totaled 537, of which 336 lived in the wild. The body length of an average California Condor is measured to be around 4.5 feet. They also have an impressive wingspan of up to 10 feet. They play a crucial ecological role as scavengers; they only feed on dead animals in the landscape.
The California Quail
The California quail is the official state bird of California. Mostly found on the West Coast of the United States, these birds usually live in open woodlands, near streams, and in parks. They are plump, short-necked game birds with small heads and bills. These sharply-marked birds with the curving topknot, fly on short, broad wings. While the bulk of their diet consists of seeds, they also feed on plant material as well as small invertebrates like caterpillars and snails. The average lifespan of California quails is between 3 to 5 years in captivity and in the wild.