Jul 30, 2021

Photograph Friday: Wild Names for Wildlife in Morro Bay

Wild names for wildlife

A diversity of wildlife populates the Morro Bay estuary and the variety of habitats that surround it, from the low-lying saltmarsh to the rocky tops of the Morros. Each of these species has at least one, typically two, and sometimes a plethora of names. Take the six-legged, many-egged specimen below.

Meet the toe-biter (Abedus genus): a bug of many names

This is an aquatic bug that lives in the creeks that drain into Morro Bay. It’s a bug with many common names: toe-biter, true bug, giant water bug, and ferocious water bug. Scientifically speaking, it’s a member of the Abedus genus, the Belostomatidae family, and the Hemiptera order. It’s also a hard-working father, as the grey balloon-like structures on its back are actually eggs, which he will tend to until they hatch.

Giant water bugs, also known as toe-biters are large invertebrate predators with a powerful bite! Females typically deposit their eggs onto the males’ back, and the male toe-biter keeps the eggs safe until they hatch. Photograph courtesy of KQEDquest, shared via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Here is an Abedus found during one of our annual bioassessment surveys. These bugs are fearsome predators in the riparian habitat that lines our local creeks. They have piercing mouthparts and a venomous bite, which has earned them the most-common of their names: toe-biter. While that bite is deadly to the bug’s prey, it is painful but not dangerous for humans.

Giant Water Bugs, also known as “Toe-Biters,” are large invertebrate predators with a powerful bite! Females typically deposit their eggs onto the males’ back, and the male “Toe-Biter” keeps the eggs safe until they hatch.
We conduct bioassessment surveys each year, which involves taking a very close look at local creek habitat, water quality, and wildlife—specifically aquatic bugs. This toe-biter is one of the many species of bugs we find each year. Check out these blog posts on bioassessment surveys to learn more about the bioassessment process.

In today’s Photograph Friday post, we’re celebrating this diversity in lifeforms and names in a fun way, by highlighting a selection of local plants and animals with interesting common names. Specifically, we’re focusing on plants that are named after animals and animals that are named for fruiting plants. Check them out below!

Animals named for produce

Sea lemon (Peltodoris nobilis), also known as a Pacific sea lemon or noble Pacific doris

Two sea lemons on a rock underwater photographed by Ken-ichi Ueda, shared under a Creative Commons license on Flickr.

Find out how sea lemons taste and smell to predators.

California sea cucumber (Apostichopus californicus) also known as the giant sea cucumber

Sea Cucumber, Holothuroidea
Sea cucumbers (Apostichopus californicus) can grow to more than 1.5 feet long.

Like their garden-variety namesakes, California sea cucumbers are harvested as food. Learn more.

Plants named for animals

Sticky monkey flower (Diplacus aurantiacus), also known as bush monkey flower, and Central Coast monkey flower

Sticky monkey flower (Diplacus aurantiacus)

Learn about sticky monkey flower.

Salt marsh bird’s beak (Chloropyron maritimum ssp. canescens)

Salt marsh bird's beak, Chloropyron maritimum
Salt marsh bird’s beak grows in the low marsh along the edge of the Morro Bay estuary.

Salt marsh bird’s beak was added as federal endangered species in 1978. Learn more about this very rare native plant.

Strawberry anemone (Corynactis californica), also called strawberry corallimorpharian or club-tipped anemone

Strawberry anemone, Ken-ichi U. Flickr
Two sea stars sit on the outside of a patch of strawberry anemones. Photograph “The Palette” by Ken-ichi Ueda, shared via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Learn where you can find strawberry anemone hanging around.

Hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea)

Hummingbird sage, salvia-spathacea.
Hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea) photographed in El Chorro Regional Park near Dairy Creek. 

This drought-tolerant native plant grows wild and can be cultivated in gardens.

Coyote bush (Baccharis pilularis)

Coyote brush, Baccharis pilularis
Coyote bush (Baccharis pilularis)

Coyote bush, also known as coyote brush, is common around the Marina Peninsula trail at Morro Bay State Park. Learn more about coyote bush.

Know more wild names?

Can you think of more local plants or animals with names that fit this pattern? Share your photograph and the species name to Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter and tag us! Instagram/Twittter: @morrobaynep Facebook: @mbestuary. We’ll enter your name into our August 6, 2021 drawing for a set of reusable sustainable utensils. They’re made from wheat and can be composted at home after a long life of accompanying you on camping trips, picnics, and other outdoor adventures.


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