There are six subspecies of the island fox that inhabit the Channel Islands of California. Each is native to a different island and has its own unique genetic makeup and phenotype. Not only is this an amazing example of evolutionary biology, it’s a fitting characertistic of a place as unique as its wildlife. On a clear day, Santa Catalina Island can be seen from the main land of California. A 22 mile stretch of rocky land hardly discernable from the water and the start of the troposphere. From first glance, much of the island looks brown, dry and not welcoming to much life. The Catalina Island Conservancy describes how wildlife came to be in such an isolated place:
This offshore land-mass was originally devoid of terrestrial life. Miles of open ocean presented a salty, wet barrier to potential colonizers living on the mainland. They arrived on the island by chance; blown on the wind, bobbing and drifting on the waves, or carried by wing (Catalina Ecology, 2017).
In addition to the Island Fox, there are several more species (flora and fauna) unique only to the island. If you’re extremely lucky you might see the Catalina subspecies of the ornate shrew, a critter endemic to Western North America. The Catalina version, however, is extremely hard to find. Only one has ever been captured. Another rarity is the Catalina orangetip butterfly, a subspecies of the desert orangetip native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. The species unique to Catalina island are known only to make scarce appearances on high ridgetops. With regards to plant life, there are six species of plants that can only be found on the island. These, however, are much easier to see in person. The Wrigley Memorial & Botanic Garden located on the island specializes on these endemic plants. And if you were wondering, yes the name refers to William Wrigley Jr., the chewing gum magnate. He loved the island so much he bought most of it in 1919. The uniqueness of the island’s history is for another time.
If you ever get a chance to make it to the island, pay attention. You might just see a flying fish swoop over your boat or a portly seal sunbathing on an islet. Be sure to be present and know that you are in one of nature’s most unique melting pots. A concoction of species that came (intentionally or not) and stayed. Each species contributing to the distinctive land masses that make up the archipelago in California’s backyard. Perhaps you can’t stay for long but you too might change over time after a visit.
“Animal Species”. Catalina Island Conservancy. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
“Catalina Ecology”. Catalina Island Conservancy. Retrieved 10 March 2013.
Schoenherr, Allan; C. Robert Feldmeth; Michael J. Emerson (2003). Natural History of the Islands of California. University of California Press. p. 645. ISBN 0-520-21197-9.
Wozencraft, W.C. (2005). “Order Carnivora”. In Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.