As most Santa Barbara residents know, it’s easy to find new ways to appreciate the natural beauty of our natural environment. Whether it’s riding a bike next to the lagoon or admiring the ocean views, scarcely a day passes where I’m not blown away by the loveliness of Santa Barbara.
However, it’s important to remember that humans are not the only ones who live in this picturesque environment. Santa Barbara residents cohabitate with a variety of animals, each of whom treasure their natural habitat just as much as we do, and possess a level of intelligence that allows them to adapt and thrive.
Great Horned Owl:
The Great Horned Owl is the largest owl that nests in Santa Barbara year-round, and is the second largest in all of North America. Considered deadly predators, Great Horned Owls have the ability to adjust their diets to overlap with the options present in their environment, which results in a varied diet comprised of “skunks, great blue herons, baby alligators, armadillos, porcupines, and even an occasional house cat,” according to the Santa Barbara Audubon Society.
Long associated with Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, owls are famously intelligent, with incredible night vision, far-reaching hearing, and the capacity for silent flight. Great Horned Owls are also surprisingly dedicated parents — they stay with their young for several months while teaching them how to hunt and fly, along with other survival skills.
Owls are somewhat unique in the bird kingdom because they do not build their own nests, instead relying on nooks in trees or the vacant nests of other birds. Because the Great Horned Owl is one of several Santa Barbara owl species in danger of habitat loss in some areas, the Santa Barbara Independent has instructions for how to create your own “owl box,” a makeshift nest where owls can perch or rest.
The monarch butterfly is another famous year-round resident of Santa Barbara. The brilliant coloring of the monarch is an evolutionary protective measure that warns away predators who might otherwise be tempted to eat it. This threat is not empty.
If a predator eats a monarch, toxins in the monarch will sicken the predator — not enough to cause death, but perhaps enough to prevent the predator from trying a second time. Monarch butterflies get these toxins by consuming nectar from the milkweed plant, which is the only food that monarch larvae eat before they undergo metamorphosis.
The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is one example of a popular monarch butterfly nesting area, mainly due to the fact that the garden includes milkweed plants for the express purpose of nurturing the monarch population in Santa Barbara.
The ‘Monarch Butterfly FAQ’ section of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden’s website states that Santa Barbara residents can also help contribute to a healthier habitat for the monarchs by planting milkweed in their own gardens.
The common raccoon is perhaps one of the most pervasive (and unexpected) inhabitants of Santa Barbara. Whether you’ve seen these critters lurking around your dorm at night or prowling the streets of Isla Vista, it’s undeniable that raccoons are here to stay (and have even been lovingly embraced by the UCSB community).
It may surprise you to know, though, that raccoons are some of the smartest animals around, and their intelligence has allowed to them comfortably adapt to urban life in a way that not many other animals can claim. In nature, raccoons are accustomed to foraging for nuts, berries, insects, and small mammals and birds.
In an urban environment like Santa Barbara, however, raccoons have learned to change their focus to finding garbage, as well food and water left for domestic pets. Some even capitalize on overripe fruit and berries left out by human beneficiaries.
The raccoon’s unique ability to adapt to such a drastically different lifestyle is primarily the result of the neuron content and size of their brains. According to a recent study published in the Frontiers of Neuroanatomy, raccoons have a dense field of neurons as well as the brain size of a small primate — two factors that generally coincide with high intelligence.
However, their intelligence has contributed their notorious sneakiness. Raccoons have consistently passed intelligence tests that showcase their natural affinity for fiddling with locks, mechanisms, and traps that would confound less intelligent animals.
The Santa Barbara Humane Society’s article on raccoons includes a section that educates Santa Barbara residents on how to protect themselves from sneaky raccoons, while also maintaining a peaceful and mutually respectful relationship with them.
So the next time you find yourself admiring the plants and flowers at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, or admiring the sturdy trees outside your dorm, it might be worth taking a moment to think about the native animals doing the same, who depend on us to take care of their environment so that they can prosper and thrive in peace.
For more information on the diverse array of animals found in Santa Barbara, as well as measures that you can take to nurture a healthy natural environment for wildlife, please visit sites like the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network, the Santa Barbara Humane Society, or the Santa Barbara Audubon Society.