The kids were playing in the veggie garden. My son dug in the dirt with the green plastic shovel between the tomatoes and chard. Our neighbor friend loaded wood chips in the yellow bulldozer on the path. My daughter was busy making a fairy house with moss and leaves by the bench.

“There’s a big bug on me,” our neighbor said as he stood up, looking over his left shoulder. A beetle the size of a walnut shell clung to the threads of his shirt. The kids gathered around to gawk and admire. Orange and white shirt stripes matched the markings on the beetle’s head and wing covers. The bulky bug hissed.june beetle

We put the beetle on a stick and examined it closer. Hooks and hairs on its six legs gave it a prehistoric look. Its thick antennae supported leaf-like clubs that stood out at right angles resembling a football goalpost.

I recognized the insect. I had just been studying the Santa Cruz Sandhills habitat to prepare for our school programs and docent training. I recalled the photo of the Mount Hermon June beetle from a Santa Cruz Land Trust newsletter article. This beetle in my garden had similar characteristics.

Is this an endangered species in our garden? Just the idea made me feel special.

“Kids, this could be an endemic species to Santa Cruz, an animal found only here in our county and nowhere else on Earth.” I found myself using the teachable moment.

Endemic. A pretty big word and concept. It means exclusively native to a place. Like a koala is endemic to Australia. Lemurs are endemic to Madagascar. And Santa Cruz has seven species endemic to the Sandhills. Their names reflect our regional diversity: Mount Hermon June beetle, Santa Cruz kangaroo rat and wallflower, Ben Lomond spineflower and buckwheat and the Boony Doon manzanita.

The Sandhills are unique. Fifteen million years ago, the sand was on the ocean floor. Now it creates a community that is a dramatic contrast to the fog-loving redwoods and evergreen forests of our region. The sand drains rapidly and provides hot, dry conditions that the Sandhills species love. There are also amazing fossils in these hills.

We need to protect what is unique to Santa Cruz. Our Sandhills community is being lost and fragmented, mostly by sand quarrying and development. Fewer than 4,000 acres of this habitat exist today. Learn more at santacruzsandhills.com.

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