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Ask the Naturalist

A bird? A bug? Something strange in the natural world nearby? Ask us and we’ll find the answer! And check here for answers to great questions you didn’t even know you had. Top questions find their way to top naturalist Michael Ellis, who writes a column for our print magazine.

When Octopuses Thrived in the San Francisco Bay

January 30, 2018 by Andrew Cohen

Do octopus live in the Bay? Marine biologist Andrew Cohen's answer may surprise you.


Why Do You Find So Many Monarchs on Eucalyptus Trees?

January 16, 2018 by Liam O'Brien

Monarch butterflies are often found in huge clusters on eucalyptus trees. Why do they seemingly prefer these non-natives?


Ask the Naturalist: Look a Big Spider in the Mouth to Tell if It’s a Tarantula or Not

January 03, 2018 by Tony Iwane

A reader found a huge spider. Is it a tarantula?

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Which Bay Area Salamanders Drop Their Tails?

January 02, 2018 by Michael Ellis

How does a salamander drop its tail, and how many times can it do it?

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Ask the Naturalist: What Is This Gelatinous Mass on the Juncus Leaves?

December 19, 2017 by Tony Iwane

An Ask the Naturalist reader finds some egg-looking things on Juncus leaves. What are they?

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Ask the Naturalist: Is This a Turkey’s Tail Mushroom? How Do I Tell?

December 05, 2017 by Christian Schwarz

What kind of mushroom is this?


Why Do Turkey Vultures Have Red Heads?

November 21, 2017 by Tony Iwane

A few ideas.


Where Do Shorebirds Sleep at Night?

November 07, 2017 by Clayton Anderson

Where do shorebirds sleep? Hint: it's not always at night.

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How Vulnerable Are Other Parts Of The Bay Area To Wildfires?

October 24, 2017 by Sasha Berleman

The devastating North Bay wildfires have raised questions about how vulnerable we all are to fire and what we can do about it. Fire ecologist Sasha Berleman answers.


What Is This Moth That’s Almost as Big as a Hummingbird?

October 10, 2017 by Tony Iwane

Moths often get sidelined as the country cousins of butterflies. But they have their own beauty and utility as some of the best pollinators around.

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