While weeding in the Native Plant Area on Saturday March 13, the volunteer stewards found two specimens of California Slender Salamander (Batrachoseps attenuatus), the first of the kind ever recorded in the park. They’re pretty amazing. They have no lungs! They breathe through their skin. Their limbs are so small that they look vestigial. They have long sticky tongues similar to frogs’ that they use to quick-flick at their prey, usually little bugs. Their red blood cells have no nucleus, a trait only found in mammals and certain Antarctic fish. Check them out on Wikipedia and on CalHerps. They’re California natives, some ranging as far north as Oregon, where they’re a protected species. Several efforts have been made to win protected status for them in California.
The volunteers made great progress against a nasty Himalayan Blackberry that threatened to rip the skin off children and others passing on the nearby trails. That bush never gave good berries. There is a productive native blackberry in a safe location elsewhere. The crew also had the great good fortune to meet with a City Parks gardener who was operating a mowing machine in the meadow below the Native Plant Area to the west. They pointed out the vigorously growing, but still low, California Bee Plant at the edge of the meadow, and she agreed not to mow there in order to save these native plants, important to bees and other pollinators. Chavez Park Conservancy Volunteer Coordinator Bob Huttar summed up the morning as “Highly useful and productive in several ways. We fought weeds, discovered a new species, made friends with Parks staff, and had great fun. It doesn’t get much better than that.”