Tahoe Top 5: Animal species you might not know inhabit the Tahoe region | SierraSun.com

Tahoe Top 5: Animal species you might not know inhabit the Tahoe region

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Tahoe Institute of Natural Science is a nonprofit organization seeking to advance the natural history, conservation and ecosystem knowledge of the Tahoe region through science, education and outreach. The group frequently hosts educational events both indoors and outdoors and welcome all to join and learn more about our incredible region. Visit http://www.tinsweb.org to learn more.

LAKE TAHOE — Lake Tahoe is full of various sport fish species, including lake trout — also known as the mackinaw — rainbow trout, brown trout and kokanee salmon, to name a few.

Surprisingly to some, none of these species is native to this region, however, and the resulting story of their evolution is an interesting one.

"The rainbows and other trout aren't native; the only native fish are the Lahontan cutthroats," said Will Richardson, executive director of the nonprofit Tahoe Institute for Natural Science, when speaking of larger sport fish found in Lake Tahoe.

The Lahontan cutthroat lineage is of the Salimonidae (salmon and trout) family and can be traced over the past 70,000 years.

"The rainbow trout and other non-native species have hybridized and outnumbered the Lahontans," Richardson said. "Most of the fish you see in Tahoe are not native — they've out-competed the Lahontans of their food source."

A once flourishing Lahontan cutthroat population has since been drastically reduced due to a mixture of competition among fish introduced to the lake and excessive fishing, Richardson said.

It's safe to say those living in the Lake Tahoe region are drawn to the outdoors and have an appreciation and interest in our animal neighbors.

To brush-up on our wildlife knowledge of species inhabiting the region, the Sierra Sun also caught up with Sarah Hockensmith, membership outreach manager of Tahoe Institute of Natural Science, who shed light on five other fascinating species found around the Tahoe Basin that you just might not be as familiar with.

1. Endemic stonefly

The deep-water stonefly is an interesting creature, as Richardson explained: "There are two species around here that cruise around on the snow trying to find love in February, before crawling back into the water." The two species found in Lake Tahoe have alternate life cycles, developing eggs in May and November.

Scientific Name: Capnia lacustra

Location: South Lake Tahoe provides a perfect ecosystem for endemic creatures due to the deepwater, naturally occurring skunkweed and moss.

Fun Fact: These interesting insects develop eggs inside of their bodies. Once the eggs have fully incubated, they actually hatch inside the mother, followed by a live birth.

2. American mink

There are seven different species of weasel in this region, including river otters, wolverines, badgers, long- and short-tailed weasels, pine weasels and mink. The American mink is native to Lake Tahoe and looks similar to the river otter but is less aquatic.

Scientific Name: Neovison vison

Location: They are nocturnal mammals and can be found in and along the banks of the Truckee River as well as rocky areas around marinas and dock structures.

Fun Fact: Mink are carnivorous, furry animals with sharp teeth. They kill their prey with a bite to the neck and feed on frogs, snakes, fish, eggs, muskrats and birds.

3. Northern flying squirrel

People don't see the flying squirrels here much because they're nocturnal. They inhabit tree cavities made by woodpeckers and come out at night to eat fruit, nuts and insects. Hockensmith said they have even been spotted eating right out of residents' birdfeeders.

Scientific Name: Glaucomys sabrinus

Location: The small squirrels thrive in coniferous forest habitats that are warm in the summertime and cold in the winter.

Fun Fact: The northern flying squirrel doesn't actually fly — it glides by stretching out the skin membrane attached to its limbs. The maximum glide distance for one of these creatures has been recorded at 150 feet.

4. White-tailed jackrabbits

White-tailed jackrabbits are one of three rabbit and hare species found in the Lake Tahoe region. They are of the largest species of hare, with the females weighing in a bit larger than males.

Scientific Name: Lepus townsendii

Location: The white-tailed rabbits are seen on high ridges and mountaintops.

Fun Fact: As the temperature drops and the seasons begin to change, the white-tailed jackrabbits molts, shedding its grey-brown fur and becomes entirely white during the wintertime.

5. Long-toed salamander

The fourth toe on each hind foot is longer than the rest, giving the species its name. The flattened tail helps the salamanders swim, though they spend much of their lives underground through tunnel systems.

Scientific Name: Ambystoma macrodactylum

Location: They are tough to spot as they inhabit moist dark places of ponds, lakes and streams, including burrowing underneath wood, logs, rocks and other hidden breeding sites.

Fun Fact: Though the salamanders spend the most time on land, breeding is done in bodies of water in spring and early summer. Females will lay 90-400 eggs, which hatch in up to five weeks, and their lifespan is about 10 years.

Cassandra Walker is a features and entertainment reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at cwalker@sierrasun.com, 530-550-2654 or @snow1cass.