10 Weirdest Animals In California (Number 3 is Extremely Toxic)

Weirdest Animals In California

1) Tule Elk

Considered the smallest subspecies of the 3 species in North American Elk. Tule elk weigh an average of only about 250 pounds in contrast to the Roosevelt Elk, which can weigh up to 900 pounds. Tule Elk are only found in California, from the grasslands to the hills of the coast. Tule Elk Populations have been spotted in various Northern California regions, including Buena Vista Lake and Point Reyes.

Tule Elk on the hills above the Pierce Point Ranch at Point Reyes National Seashore
Tule Elk on the hills above the Pierce Point Ranch at Point Reyes National Seashore

The strangest thing about these small deer-like creatures is the noise they make. Commonly called a bugle (or call) Tule Elk have one of the highest frequency calls. Male elk use this bugle to establish dominance and announce their presence to other elk in the area. If a bull (male) elk hears a competing bugle he will challenge the intruder.

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2) California Clapper Rail

California Clapper Rail
California Clapper Rail

Found from the San Francisco Bay south to Baja, the California Clapper Rail is a small species of bird belonging to the Rallidae family. Closely resembling a common chicken with duck-like legs, the Clapper Rail is one of the largest of its kind. From the tip of their beak to the tip of their tail, these birds can be almost a foot in length.

These noisy birds tend to hide in salt marshes and wooded areas, making them easy to hear but difficult to spot. Their diet consists mainly of crabs and other small crustaceans like mussels and clams.

While Clapper Rails are a type of bird it is kind of weird that they do not appear to have much by way of wings. Joining the ranks of penguins and the elusive Kiwi, Rails are usually flightless. They are however excellent swimmers and can be seen flying low over short distances, usually to escape predators.

Fun Fact: A group of Clapper Rails is called an applause or an audience.

3) California Newt

Often called the Orange-Bellied Newt, these small amphibians can have a deceivingly innocent look. While full-grown newts can reach only up to about 7 inches, they can, in fact, be very dangerous! Like other salamanders and newts with the family Taricha, the California Newt can release a potent neurotoxin that is said to be hundreds of times more toxic than cyanide. Weird flex for such a little critter!

California Newts have bumpy, gray skin along the length of their body and a bright orange or red underside. This type of coloring is extremely common for toxic animals as they use it to warn predators and protect themselves.

These newts can be found in many coastal counties of California and in the Southern Sierra Nevada. The diet of the California Newt consists of various invertebrates such as snails, slugs, earthworms, and sometimes even eggs of other salamanders and fish. Newts are equipped with sticky tongue and large mouth to help them capture food.

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4) Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle

Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle
Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle

Found in California’s central valley these peculiar looking bugs are very picky when it comes to their meals. Contrary to the plethora of insects that can found in many homes and garages the Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle will only live on the thick branches of the Elderberry plant. These insects earned a spot on this list because of their unique choice of headdress. Longhorn beetles have massive antenna that stretch nearly 2/3 of their body length.

Because these beetles are helpful, while all be it messy, pollinators the relationship between the Longhorn Beetle and its Elderberry host is extremely mutual, benefiting both parties. To learn more about these threatened insects visit the Essig page.

5) Hooded Nudibranch

Nudibranchs are a family of aquatic mollusks. They look very much like huge, colorful slugs moving along the sandy floor. Of the nearly 217 species of Nudibranchs that live along the Pacific Coast the Hooded Nudibranch is by far the weirdest.

Like their name suggests this particular species has a large expandable oral hood that covers most of the animals head. This floating, tentacle laden hood can make these animals look a bit like a jellyfish. In contrast to the many brightly painted species of sea slug the Hooded Nudibranch is translucent in color and can sometimes appear to have to have a white or yellow hue.

While it is not unusual for Nudibranchs to have cerata, this species boasts flat, paddle-like cerata giving them the appearance of having sails. These appendages are used for defense, food detection, and digestion.

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6) Ghost-Faced Bat

Ghost-Faced Bat
Ghost-Faced Bat

Bats are known for their eerie haunts and huge papery wings, but the Ghost-Faced Bat has a different claim to fame… if you could call it that. With small beady eyes that seem to be located within their front-facing ears, the Ghost-Faced Bat has one of the most distinctive and unique faces. While other species, like the Vampire Bat, have similar wrinkles, only the Ghost-Faced Bat has warts on its nose.

While these facial details may be the singular reason the Ghost-Faced Bat made it on this list, they have an essential function: echolocation. Because bats cannot see or hear at the same frequencies as most other animals, they must use this different tactic to navigate and find food.

Ghost-Faced Bats can be found in warm caves and caverns from southern Arizona to Mexico, and Central America. Unlike some other species of bats, these animals do not hibernate but are active all year long.

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7) Jerusalem Cricket

Jerusalem Cricket
Jerusalem Cricket

Native to the Western United States and found as far south as Central America these large insects can grow to be about 3 inches long. Their name (or variations of their name) can be cause for some confusion. The Jerusalem Cricket is not a cricket at all, and despite its appearance it is also not a grasshopper.

Jerusalem Crickets have a unique face. With a protruding ‘nose’ and strong mandible these nocturnal insects can look a bit scary, but they are in fact harmless. Although, I would not recommend messing with them as their bite could still pack a punch. Jerusalem Crickets also have strong legs and feet shaped for digging and burrowing into the warm soil.

Because Jerusalem Crickets do not have wings, like true crickets or katydids, their mating sounds are not heard by humans. Instead, this warrior will thump its body on the ground or use its legs to create a hissing sound against its abdomen when it feels threatened.

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8) Bat Ray

You can spot these graceful stingrays along the Pacific Coast from Oregon to the Gulf of California. The Bat Ray was given their name because their triangular fins closely resemble that of many bats. These fins are not only used to propel the animal through the water, but they also help to shift sand and silt out of the way exposing many ocean floor snacks. Similar to the diet of other stingrays, Bat Rays have been observed eating clams, oysters, shrimp, and crabs.

What is weird about these creatures? Well, they have been known to use their large fins to dig trenches up to a foot deep! No shovel needed here! By quickly flapping their “wings” the rays create a suction effect that helps to further expose any small animals beneath the sand. Like many other sting rays Bat Rays are relatively docile (making them an aquarium favorite) but do have venomous barbs on their tail that are used only for defense.

9) San Francisco Garter Snake

San Francisco Garter Snake
San Francisco Garter Snake

While their name is misleading, as they are no longer found in the greater San Francisco area, these garter snakes look very similar to the other 35 species within the United States. Because this garter snake likes wet marshy areas, it can be difficult to spot, but if you see a blue flash move through some California vegetation, it may be one of these racing reptiles.

Like many other garter snakes, this San Fran version has multicolored stripes running the length of its body. These snakes can reach up to 2.5 feet in length and have a bite that is harmless to humans. On a diet of small rodents and amphibians, the San Francisco Garter Snake is one of the only animals that can ingest the fatal California Newt.

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10) Illacme Plenipes

Illacme Plenipes

Saving the best for last. Lacking a common name, the illacme plenipes is a type of millipede that lives in the foothills of the Gabilan range in California. Thought to be extinct until its rediscovery in 2005, this small insect has a worm-like body and many legs. There is no better candidate for this list than an arthropod with a whooping 750 legs; in fact, the illacme plenipes has the most legs of any animal in the world. These hundreds of legs are used primarily for burrowing and searching for food.

These millipedes also have a spiral-shaped digestive tract meant to absorb the maximum amount of nutrients from the food it eats. Another interesting feature of these slinky Siphonorhinidae is that they have the ability to produce a sticky silk-like substance that is used to deter predators and that may even help the insect to climb on rock faces.

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Adrian Volenik

I've lived around animals my whole life and I hold a Diploma in Animal Physiology. When I'm not reading or writing about wild animals, health and fitness, and technology, you can find me playing with my son and two cats. My pastimes include running, playing video games, and solving the NY Times crossword.