I have never been homesick at college until now. I’m currently living back where I grew up, and I miss Santa Cruz a lot. This time last year, I was spending my days wandering around in the fog and redwoods of upper campus.
If you ever get to attend UCSC in a post-pandemic world, I highly recommend you explore the forest. You can find abandoned lime kilns, informal art, and other things left by people who came through before. But I’ll leave that for you to discover on your own. For now, here are some campus animals to keep an eye out for.
In the late spring, the redwoods begin to hum. It’s like the sound of the heat coming alive. I play Animal Crossing, so I had a hunch as to its source, but I wasn’t sure until I saw some that had fallen onto the ground. The cicadas are pretty chill, so you can pick them up and they’ll just rest there in your hand.
The buzzing comes from the cicadas rubbing their wings on their bodies. The resulting sound is a series of clicks occurring in rapid succession, somewhat like the twisting of a wind-up toy. The cacophony we hear is a mating ritual. After being underground for several years as nymphs, cicadas emerge as adults and spend their final days desperately trying to mate before they die in about a month.
These reptiles are very fast and are everywhere in the summer. They’re the most common reptile in the Santa Cruz area. You’ll see them on the sidewalks, in the arboretum, and hear them scuttling off into the bushes. Sometimes you might see them doing what looks like push-ups. They do this to claim their territory, as the push-ups show off the bright blue patches on their stomachs.
Western fence lizards carry a protein in their blood that kills the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. When infected ticks attach to lizards, they absorb the protein, which stops them from spreading the disease to their next victim. So next time you don’t get Lyme disease, thank your local lizards.
If you wander around upper campus, you will see signs telling you not to walk on the grass. This is for the protection of the endangered Ohlone Tiger Beetle. Things are not looking good for this beetle due to habitat destruction and because collectors seek them out for their bright colors. They are endemic to Santa Cruz, meaning they are only found in the region and nowhere else in the world. Don’t go into the prohibited areas, but if you stay on the trails long enough, you might see them on the path. I’ve only found dead ones so far, though.
#4 Wild Turkey
I really, really miss the chorus of gobbling as a rafter of turkeys (yes, that’s what they’re called) passes by. Once, I was walking up to McHenry and a mother turkey and her 10+ chicks decided to cross the stairway. Several other people and I had to wait for them to cross. The chicks looked like small velociraptors. The mother couldn’t get the chicks to do what she wanted, so it took about five minutes for them all to make it to the other side. Truly incredible creatures.
Koi are a type of carp bred specifically for their bright colors. While technically not wildlife, I lived in Porter for two years, so it would be wrong not to include them in this list. The koi pond is located on the south side of Porter, and is a good place to spend a few peaceful moments with some fish friends. The koi will practically beg you to feed them, and it’s very tempting to reach out and touch them, but please don’t as it can hurt them.
In 2003, as part of a hazing process, the frat Delta Omega Chi took one of the fish, beat it to death with a beer bottle, and then ate it. The incident got them on MTV, but it also got them banned from UCSC. A statue to Midas, the fish, still stands in the middle of the pond.
Everyone is familiar with the Porter koi pond, but there’s another one hidden in the woods near campus, and if you wander around Pogonip for a while, you’ll find it. Who put the fish there? Who feeds them? Who knows?
#2 Mule Deer
They must be mentioned.
The deer are my favorite standard Santa Cruz animal on the UCSC campus. Sometimes I’d be walking across the grounds, and I’d be stressed about school or work or whatever, and I’d suddenly be walking through a herd of deer. For a moment, everything was okay.
The best time to see deer is in the morning or evening. Honestly, you won’t have any trouble finding them, as there’s so many. Some deer events to look out for: fawns are born in the spring and stay with their mothers for several months. Sometimes the mothers leave their fawns in random spots on campus. If you come across one, just leave it where it is, as the mother will come back for it soon. Males shed their antlers in late winter, and then begin to regrow them in the spring.
I love salamanders. If this list was really honest, the top three spots would all be taken up by salamanders. But I chose to focus on the California giant salamander, because it’s something of a legend to me. I’ve only ever seen one. It was in the woods near Empire Cave, standing motionless in a hollowed-out log. I always keep an eye out for them, and I’ve found countless other salamanders, but never this one again.
That was near the beginning of my first year at UCSC and I wasn’t too deep into salamander lore yet. All salamanders are fascinating, but I’m mostly fixated on this one because of its size and elusiveness. The adult California giant salamander is roughly a foot long from head to tail, making it the second largest terrestrial salamander in the world, right after the closely related coastal giant salamander. (Aquatic salamanders are a whole different story that I highly recommend you look into.) While not rare, they are very shy and hard to find.
In Santa Cruz, you can also find the California slender salamander, the arboreal salamander, the ensatina, and the rough-skinned newt.