header image

[Sign Up Now] to Receive Our FREE Daily SCVTV-SCVNews Digest by E-Mail

Inside
Weather
Santa Clarita CA
Clear
Clear
62°F
 
Calendar
Today in
S.C.V. History
October 3
1918 - Box-office superstar William S. Hart promotes 4th series of Liberty Loan (World War I) bonds, which went on sale Sept. 28 [story]
William S. Hart


Back to Nature | Commentary by Mari Carbajal
| Thursday, May 14, 2015

maricarbajalA month or so ago, my original intention was to write about a weasel I had seen in broad daylight, crossing the road while driving to Acton. During research on the subject, I discovered we had flying squirrels and truffles in the upper elevations of our own San Bernardino Mountains. There was a seemingly endless path of discovery.

Last month I was intrigued by a flowering plant along the roadsides in the Acton-Agua Dulce areas and found the plant to be a Mexican elderberry with an amazing variety of health and medicinal properties as well as an abundance of uses from the flowers, wood and other parts of the plant.

Mexican elderberry shrub

Mexican elderberry shrub

After writing about Mexican elderberry, I decided to go out and try putting some of the theories I had read to test. I went from one shrub to another, gathering the clusters of flowers with the intent to dry them and then go online to find recipes for their use (I heard you can use the flowers for facials).

When I bent down to pick flowers at a shrub I thought would be my last, I looked underneath the bush, and next to its many trunks stood an enormous nest of twigs, leaves and branches about 3 feet high. I immediately recognized it as a dusky-footed woodrat nest. I walked from one Elderberry to another, and sure enough, each one had a nest identical to the shrub before.

Woodrat nest on ground

Woodrat nest on ground

I know of one location of a woodrat nest at Placerita Canyon State Park. Whenever I led children’s school tours at the park, the nest was a favorite attraction. But I never really studied the actual habitat or habits of the woodrats themselves. So here ‘goes.

There are 11 subspecies of woodrats. Some live in oak woodlands while others live in chaparral or riparian habitat (near water such as streams, rivers and lakes). The nests I witnessed were constructed under elderberry growing in a riparian habitat.

The scientific name for woodrats is Neotoma fuscipes. As an ancestor to the Norway rat, members of this nocturnal subspecies are mostly grayish-brown with long whiskers, rounded ears and furry tails (unlike the scaly – no fur – tail of the Norway rat). To me, they look like small chinchillas. Colors may vary depending on habitat. Some woodrats can also be a light cinnamon color, and all usually have whitish underbellies. They’re called “dusky-footed” due to their dark-colored feet.

Their size varies from around 16 inches long from the tip of their tail to the tip of their nose. Woodrats eat fruits, green vegetation including a favorite, juniper; inner bark, nuts, seeds and subterranean fungi, to name a few standards. They store their food in a special room inside the nest. Some species of woodrats live to be around 2 to 3 years, but the actual lifespan of riparian woodrats is not known.

A woodrat’s predator may include hawks, owls, bobcats, coyotes and many other small- to medium-sized mammals. Woodrats serve as the primary prey of the California spotted owl (Strix occidentalis occidentalis), a species that is a big concern in California, as some subspecies of woodrats are declining due to various climate changes. Unfortunately, drought conditions have placed riparian woodrats on the North American endangered species list.

Dusky-­‐footed woodrat (Neotoma fuscipes)

Dusky-footed woodrat (Neotoma fuscipes)

Riparian woodrats, along with all of their subspecies, live in loosely cooperative societies and mostly have maternal social structures that are closely related. Males separate away from the dens where they were born after they’re weaned. The females move to nearby stick houses and remain close to their mother. Once the mother dies, one of the daughters inherits the house, which can be passed on from one generation to another for decades.

Males can be extremely territorial and aggressive, most certainly during mating season. Woodrats are polygamists, so the males often mate with more than one female during a breeding season. Since many woodrats are then closely related, their tendency for inbreeding has targeted the susceptibility for eventual extinction.

Even though these rodents are relatively small in stature, they are known for their large, long-lasting and sturdy terrestrial houses. The nests are usually found under shrubs, bushes or constructed in tree branches where they can be protected from the sun’s heat and the cold of winter.

Woodrat nest in tree

Woodrat nest in tree

Woodrats line the rooms of their houses with leaves, and research speculates that the use of fragrant leaves such as sage and bay leaves line the sleeping quarters to help deter parasites. Most houses last for many years, and some for 20 or more years after being abandoned. Other rodents might also occupy the nests, sometimes while still being occupied by woodrats. The structure of the nests can exceed 3 feet in diameter and 6 feet high.

Some woodrat families can have as many as three houses. The houses or nests themselves usually contain several nesting rooms, various resting chambers and rooms for storage of food.

Interestingly, another room is usually built inside their house to be used as a toilet; however, it has been found that they will also build this room outside of the nest, as well.

An interesting pastime for these creatures is collecting various items such as keys, jewelry, small household items, foil or any other shiny human object they can pilfer. Maybe they’re in cahoots with ravens and crows to see which can accumulate the most treasure. No one knows why woodrats steal and store items. This has given them the nickname “pack rat.”

Even though some see these rodents as pests (just ask anyone who owns horses), they are an integral part of our natural balance, especially for the spotted owl. However, it is important to note that they’re a primary carrier of lyme disease in Northern California, Oregon and Washington state.

The woodrat is also known as a pack rat.

The woodrat is also known as a pack rat.

If you’re interested in seeing their remarkable nests for yourself, just drive down Escondido Canyon Road between Agua Dulce and Acton and stop at any elderberry shrub on the streamside (north) of the road. Look underneath any shrub and you will see an amazing structure of twigs, branches and the like.

You might also want to collect a few Elderberry flowers, dry them and lay them out on a plate in your room of choice. They’re extremely fragrant and worth the effort. And in summer, the berries will begin to grow, so you can make some jellies or jams, or that famous Elderberry wine.

As I’ve said before, many discoveries can be made and are literally lying right at your feet. But it’s up to you to get out there and investigate all of nature’s little treasures for yourself.

 

Mari Carbajal is a docent-naturalist at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center.

 

Mexican elderberry flowers

Mexican
elderberry
flowers

Mexican elderberries

Mexican
elderberries

 

Comment On This Story
COMMENT POLICY: We welcome comments from individuals and businesses. All comments are moderated. Comments are subject to rejection if they are vulgar, combative, or in poor taste.
REAL NAMES ONLY: All posters must use their real individual or business name. This applies equally to Twitter account holders who use a nickname.

0 Comments

You can be the first one to leave a comment.

Leave a Comment


Opinion Section Policy
All opinions and ideas are welcome. Factually inaccurate, libelous, defamatory, profane or hateful statements are not. Your words must be your own. All commentary is subject to editing for legibility. There is no length limit, but the shorter, the better the odds of people reading it. "Local" SCV-related topics are preferred. Send commentary to: LETTERS (at) SCVNEWS.COM. Author's full name, community name, phone number and e-mail address are required. Phone numbers and e-mail addresses are not published except at author's request. Acknowledgment of submission does not guarantee publication.
Read More From...
RECENT COMMENTARY
Thursday, Sep 29, 2022
We began our Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism (EDIA) journey nearly two years ago, and while the path ahead was not clearly defined, Health Services leadership was enthusiastically joined by workforce members across our health enterprise in a united commitment to creating a more welcoming, inclusive and proactively anti-racist health care system for our patients, staff and the communities we serve.
Wednesday, Sep 14, 2022
Recent media reports about overcrowding and lack of exercise for dogs at some other Los Angeles area animal shelters has prompted discussions about animal shelter population management. This is a key operational issue for animal shelters and deserving of the public’s attention.
Tuesday, Sep 13, 2022
As summer comes to an end, we can only hope that the extreme heat will also be ending soon! Crazy weather! The hospital is preparing for a very busy remainder of the year with many exciting ways for our community to get involved, from our Breast Cancer Awareness Month, including Bingo or Bust, to the Holiday Home Tour Gala and Boutique.
Tuesday, Sep 13, 2022
Since the city of Santa Clarita’s incorporation in 1987, your City Council has made protecting our local environment a top priority.
Monday, Sep 12, 2022
As one of the busiest freeways on the West Coast, Interstate 5 is a key component in goods movement and a major source of commuter traffic.
Friday, Sep 9, 2022
As the seasons change and we welcome cooler weather, the city is excited to bring new programming to all of our residents this fall, whether that’s at on our fields, out on the trails or at our pools.

Latest Additions to SCVNews.com
1918 - Box-office superstar William S. Hart promotes 4th series of Liberty Loan (World War I) bonds, which went on sale Sept. 28 [story]
William S. Hart
1945 - Cattle-rustling "Phantom of Vasquez Rocks" captured [story]
Phantom suspect
1842 - Proof of discovery: New York Observer (newspaper) reports on gold in Placerita Canyon. [story]
New York Observer
Sixteen William S. Hart Union High School District 2022/23 Teachers of the Year were recognized by the Governing Board on Wednesday, Sept. 28.
Hart District Teachers of the Year Honored by Board
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health confirmed six new deaths throughout L.A. County, 1,682 new cases countywide and 100 new cases in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Friday COVID Roundup: Seven Day Average of County Case Counts Declines 8 Percent
The HOV, High Occupancy Vehicle, or carpool, lanes are open on I-5 in both directions between Magnolia Boulevard and Buena Vista Street.
I-5 Corridor Improvement Work Continues, SR-134  to Buena Vista Street
Two recent graduates of CalArts’ MFA Experimental Animation Program, Moon (Yuezhu) Wang and Dairys Escoto De León, have been selected for the 2022-23 Association for Independent Colleges of Art and Design Post-Graduate Teaching Fellowships.
CalArts Alums Selected for AICAD Teaching Fellowships
Join Route 66 Classic Grill for the longest monthly Classic Car Show in Southern California history. The last show of 2022 will be held Oct. 8 from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Oct. 8: Route 66 Classic Grill Classic Car Show
Los Angeles County’s new Veteran Suicide Review Team met for the first time Thursday, Sept. 29, kick-starting an innovative and collaborative approach to reducing veteran suicide in the county.
L.A. County’s New Veteran Suicide Review Team Begins Work
Agua Dulce Winery will host StompFest on Saturday, Oct. 1 at noon.
Oct. 1: StompFest at Agua Dulce Winery
Do you want to create a post on Facebook and Instagram at the same time? Learn to schedule posts, respond to comments and inbox messages from one place by attending this free Small Business Development Center webinar, "Manage Your Social Media Platform, Meta Business Suite."
Oct. 5: SBDC Free Webinar Helps Businesses Manage Social Media Platforms
On Saturday, November 12, 2022, the Santa Clarita Veteran Services Collaborative and Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions will host a Veteran Career Fair on Saturday, Nov. 12 at the Curtiss-Wright facility.
Nov. 12: Veteran Career Fair at Curtiss-Wright in Valencia
A strong first half turned into a great start of the second half, but it ended going against Master's men's soccer team as they lost the Golden State Athletic Conference opener to Arizona Christian 3-1 Thursday in Glendale, Ariz.
GSAC Opening Win Eludes TMU Men’s Soccer
Motoko Shimoji earned medalist honors for the third straight week and Carla Menendez placed runner-up to help lead the College of the Canyons Golf Team to a 15-stroke victory over Bakersfield College at the Western State Conference event hosted by Moorpark College at Los Robles Greens on Sept. 26.
Cougars Win Again, Shimoji Medals for Third Straight Week
1955 - Actor James Dean, 24, drives through Castaic Junction en route to his final resting place [watch]
James Dean
Chelsea A. Kay, 37, an insurance operations manager living in Saugus, was honored by JCI USA (United States Junior Chamber) as a member of the 2022 class Ten Outstanding Young Americans.
United States Junior Chamber Honors Local Operations Manager
October is fast approaching. To help embrace the haunted season, we are happy to announce the return of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station Haunted Jailhouse after a two year hiatus.
SCV Sheriff’s Station Haunted Jailhouse Returns After Two Years
The Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control would like to remind residents within unincorporated county areas and participating contracted cities that the pet license amnesty period is almost over.
County Reminding Residents Pet License Amnesty Period Ending Soon
Four individuals and one writing team have been selected as winners of the 2022 Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting.
Academy Announces Winners of Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowships
We began our Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism (EDIA) journey nearly two years ago, and while the path ahead was not clearly defined, Health Services leadership was enthusiastically joined by workforce members across our health enterprise in a united commitment to creating a more welcoming, inclusive and proactively anti-racist health care system for our patients, staff and the communities we serve.
Message from County Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly
College of the Canyons student-athletes Brianna Botello (women's volleyball) and Sam Regez (men's cross coutry) have been named the COC Athletic Department's Women's & Men's Student-Athletes of the Week for the period running Sept. 19-24.
COC Names Botello, Regez Athletes of the Week
Detectives at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station need your help. On Aug. 13, 2022, the individuals pictured shoplifted items from a retail store in Valencia at approximately 6:15 p.m.
Detectives Seek Help in Identifying Shoplifting Suspects
Are you hiring? Looking for a new career? The Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Center has partnered with College of the Canyons, the city of Santa Clarita and America's Job Centers of California to host a valley-wide job fair at the Canyon Country Community Center Thursday, Oct. 20, from 9 a.m. - 1 p.m.
SCVEDC, COC, City Partner to Host Job Fair
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health confirmed Thursday no additional deaths and 49 new cases in the Santa Clarita Valley, with a total of 12 deaths and 1,517 new cases countywide.
Thursday COVID Roundup: 49 New SCV Cases; No Additional Deaths
SCVNews.com
%d bloggers like this: