Bobcats and Mountain Lions
Previous bug reports
Latest observations: This page is no longer kept current with reports, but serves to indicate which pests and beasts are problems, and if the problems are seasonal, gives the typical time when they occur.
See Bug Season in 2001 to get an idea of when and where bugs were bad then. Also see Previous bug reports for five years of records of when they were a problem.
To get an idea of how the bugs vary in time, see my assessment of the severity of bugs on my hikes from mid-1999 to late 2000. After each hike, I have estimated the severity of bugs on this scale of 1 to 10:
- 1: I wasn't troubled by any bugs
- 6: The bugs were so bad that I wished I hadn't gone hiking
- 10: The worst possible buggy situation I can imagine, requiring running to shelter.
The plot separates my hikes into SGM, San Diego County, the Dripping Springs Trail on Agua Tibia, and the Santa Rosa Plateau. The continuous curves on the plots are made from near-daily estimates in Fallbrook, in rural north San Diego County, both for the morning and the afternoon separately. Although there is not an exact match among all curves and points, they all show roughly the same qualitative behavior. The Santa Rosa Plateau may be somewhat a special case, since the Plateau usually experiences breezes that may keep the bugs somewhat at bay.
Ticks: Ticks are generally a problem after the first fall rains until sometime around June. See Previous bug reports for five years of records of when they were a problem.
Note that the number of ticks on a given trail is extremely variable. I have hiked the same overgrown trail two weeks in a row, receiving 5 ticks one week and none the next. On 29 May 1999 while I was bushwhacking Rubio Canyon, I received no ticks, while on the same day Roy Randall reported:I have never seen so many ticks in my life. There were some sections on this trip where I would walk 20 paces and pick 10 ticks off my legs, walk 20 more and pick off 10 more... for MILES! (This tends to slow one down a bit). I could look down and see whole armies of the little buggers advancing up my calves.
You'll never see a tick if you hike only on fireroads or trails cleared of brush. If you bushwhack, you'll probably always have a significant probability of finding a tick or two on you - William C. Flaxington reports that he finds ticks at all times of the year as he researches for amphibians off-trail.
The risk of actually contracting Lyme disease "has been exaggerated to the point of hysteria" (Dr. Eugene Shapiro of the Yale University School of Medicine, in an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine 7/12/01). More than 90% of all cases occur in nine East Coast states, and even in the area there with the highest incidence, only 3.2% of people who had doctors remove attached ticks developed Lyme disease. Also, Lyme disease only occurs when ticks have been attached for at least 72 hours and have become engorged with blood. (Reuters, 6/12/01.)
You are ~30 times more likely to die in a car accident on the way to your hike, than to get Lyme disease. (~4200 people die per year from car accidents vs. an average of 135 cases of Lyme disease in California were reported to the CDC from 1982-2000, with 104 cases reported in 2000. (Lyme Disease in California)
- Ticks and Lyme Disease from Sierra Club's Hundred Peak Section.
- Ticks Commonly Encountered In California by Larisa Vredevoe.
- New Strain of Tick-Borne Disease Found (Ehrlichiosis)
- Identifying Adult Hard Ticks Commonly Found on Humans in Oregon (gives sizes for the stages of the common Western Black-Legged Tick found in California)
Rattlesnakes: Rattlesnakes generally emerge in April, and go into "hibernation" in November. However, it is sometimes possible to find a baby rattlesnake at lower elevations at any season. See Previous bug reports for five years of records of when they have been sighted.
The number of snakes is way down since ~2001 due to the dry weather decreasing their supply of food. Scientist friends of mine who trap reptiles report finding only ~10% of the number of snakes in 2001 as in previous years, and finding almost none at all in 2002. This is probably due to snakes simply going into hibernation to await better food supplies in the future. Snakes do not have to eat very frequently, since they are cold-blooded.
This doesn't mean that you won't see a rattlesnake. For example, Linda Ainsworth reports that quite a few were seen in Monrovia Canyon on 7/14/01.
General snake advice: If you pay attention to where you are stepping, and don't pick up or try to torment the snake, you'll probably be ok. Most people who are bitten have been handling snakes, or clearing brush in their yards, not hiking. (Three bites in Poway, San Diego County, on 4/3/00 were due to brush clearing.) However, your odds of being bitten go way up if you step on (or bicycle over!) the snake before he has a chance to get away from you.
If you see a snake, please do not attempt to kill it. After all, this is its home and natural place to live. Usually the snake will move away from the trail - give it a few minutes to do that. If the snake is not dead-center on the trail, it is usually possible to pass the snake at a safe distance without getting the snake upset. If the snake won't move away, and there is not enough room to safely pass, you can nudge the snake with a long stick.
Again, please don't throw rocks at the snake or attempt to harm it. I've hiked over 1,000 miles in the SGM and encountered at least dozens of large rattlesnakes. Never once was it necessary to do anything other than wait or squeeze past the snake (generally at high speed!). I've gotten rattled at several times in high speed traverses past rattlesnakes (at what I hoped were safe distances), but never once did a snake attempt to strike at me.
If you hike frequently, you are going to meet some rattlesnakes. However, they are fairly uncommon. For example, Dave and Shirley McCunn encountered just seven rattlesnakes in four solid months of hiking the PCT from late May to September in 1981. This is a rate of ~one snake every 17 full days of hiking in prime snake season.
- Rattlesnakes from Sierra Club's Hundred Peak Section.
- Rattlesnake Bite from the Los Angeles Regional Drug and Poison Information Center.
- Frequently Asked Questions About Rattlesnakes from the San Diego Natural History Museum.
Bears: Yes, there are indeed bears in the SGM, an estimated 150-500 of them. There have been a number of reports of bear sightings in mid-2001.
Bears have apparently become more of a problem in 2004 since campers have not been careful about putting their food into bear-proof containers. Three bears were killed at Chilao Campground after campers foolishly left their food out, and then even more foolishly threw things at the bear to "distract it". See Food Brings People And Bears Together; Bears Pay The Price.
Here are a few encounters:
- Silver Moccasin Trail: Bear Poop photographed by me on 8/30/00 and a Bear Footprint 6" long photographed by Dave Anderberg on 10/29/01 between lower and upper Chilao Road. Dave reports that you should be able to see recent bear sign there at least 50% of the time.
- Barbara Morales, 32, was bitten on the arm and scratched on her shoulder by a young male bear at Marshall Canyon Tree Farm (6500 block of Stevens Ranch Road, above La Verne) on 7/29/01 as she was eating lunch with a group of women. (LAT 7/30/01)
- Dave Anderberg on 6/29/00 at about noon:I had hiked Mt Hawkins from the shortcut to Windy Gap off of the Angeles Crest Highway to the PCT and then the short use trail to the peak. I was returning when I encountered this black bear. It was fairly large at about 250 to 300 pounds and very cinnamon colored. It was heading in the same direction I was and on a course to cross the trail at about a 20° angle. It did not see me, smell me or hear me. It was about 40 feet in front of me. I stopped and determined it was not a female with cubs. I gave a loud shout and it turned and tried to locate me but it couldn't since I was not moving and was downwind. I then waved my arms and shouted "GET OUT OF HERE BEAR!". It turned and ran as fast as it could to get away from me.
This is the first bear in all my hiking (45+ years) that I have encountered in the San Gabriel Mountains. I have run into them in the San Bernardino Mountains before but never here.
- David X. Nghiem's Bear Encounter at Chilao (in Summer 1999?).
- A person at Arcadia Wilderness Park saw a bear track in December 1999.
- Dave Anderberg saw fresh bear tracks on the Mt. Waterman Trail on 21 October 1998. He says that bears are becoming more abundant and starting to become a problem in some campgrounds including Buckhorn.
- Booth Hartley spotted one at around 7 a.m. at Inspiration Point in Spring 1998.
- In early August 1997, a reader had an bear story.
Greg E. Van Stralen has captured and tracked four black bears in the Monrovia Peak foothills. See Home Range Size and Habitat Use of Urban Black Bears in the San Gabriel Mountains for plots of how far individual bears roam, as well as reports on what they eat.
All SGM black bears have descended from 11 black bears that were introduced in the SGM in 1933, after grizzly bears were exterminated in the SGM in about 1900.
- Bears in the San Gorgonio Wilderness
- Wardens Continue To Track Bear that injured an 8-year-old boy
- Black Bears--A Hazard Easily Avoided
- USGS Cautions Proper Use Of Pepper Spray To Avoid Bear Attacks
- Bear Necessities
- Pictures of Bear Poop (Excellent pictures showing the scale and height of droppings thick with choke cherry seeds)
Bobcats and Mountain Lions: Bobcats (15-35 pounds, 2-3' long) and Mountain Lions (100-200 pounds, 4-5' long) definitely exist in the SGM. I finally saw my first bobcat crossing Chaney Trail Road at 11:45 a.m. on 3/16/00. Steven Bloom nearly hit a bobcat with his mountain bike on 24 December 1998 on the Redbox - Rincon Road. Dave Lewis of Ontario saw one near Vincent Gap at 7:10 am in August 1998. Because mountain lions are camouflage experts, and eyewitness sightings are notoriously inaccurate, perhaps 80% of all lion sightings are actually deer, bobcats, dogs, and even domestic cats.
Mountain lions are also known as cougars. There is only one confirmed cougar attack in the SGM: Scott Fike, a 27-year-old cyclist, was bitten and cut by a cougar near Mount Lowe on 20 March 1995, and fought the cougar off with rocks, after first trying to use his bike to shield him. The cougar was then tracked down and killed.
The general advice to avoid being eaten by a mountain lion is to travel in groups. If you encounter a mountain lion by yourself or with your children, stop, make yourself look as big as possible, and pick up small children and put them on your shoulders to make you appear even larger. Aggressively defend your position. The idea is to deter their attack by making them think that it isn't going to be easy for them. Pick up a branch or a rock to help fight them if needed. They are just big kitty-cats, so you don't want to appear as smaller prey to them. In particular, running away makes them think you are prey, and will encourage an attack.
However, you may not have to worry about taking action to prevent an attack, since mountain lions ordinarily either lie hidden, waiting for prey to approach beneath them, or approach unseen, and then attack and kill by a bite to the back of the neck that severs the spinal cord. This was the modus operandi for the attack on Barbara Schoener, a friend of my sister and a long-distance runner in excellent physical shape, in northern California.
A handful of hikers in California have been attacked by mountain lions. See a complete list of California lion attacks.
However, put this in its proper respective by noting that you are 300 times more likely to die from a lightning strike, 100 times more likely to die from a bee sting, and 50 times more likely to die from a rattlesnake bite (Beier, Paul. "Cougar Attacks on Humans in the United States and Canada," Wildlife Society Bulletin, 19:403-412, 1991). So on the scale of things to worry about, death by mountain lion hardly even makes the list. Consistent with these odds, a Forest Service employee died from a lightning strike in his Palmdale back yard on 5/23/99, and no one has even come close to dying from a cougar attack in the San Gabriels.
In my well over 1,000 miles in the SGM, I have never seen a single mountain lion, and only one bobcat. I haven't even seen a mountain lion scrape. My only encounter with a mountain lion was a distant one at the Santa Rosa Plateau. It did indeed scare me.
For more information, see Mountain Lion Attacks On People in the U.S. and Canada.
- It's Biting Time Again - Insect Pests
- The Plague
- Poodle Dog Bush (rash-causing plant) from Sierra Club's Hundred Peak Section
- The definitive article on Poison Oak by W.P. Armstrong and W.L. Epstein, M.D., modified from an article published in Herbalgram (American Botanical Council) Volume 34: 36-42, 1995.
- Poison Oak from Sierra Club's Hundred Peak Section
- UC Pest Management Guidelines - Poison Oak
- Poison Oak - A Common Problem from Altadena Mountain Rescue Team
- Poison Oak - A Plant To Avoid by Robert Smith
- Poison Oak FAQ by Manuel Davis
- Ode to Poison Oak by Woody Schlom
- Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Poison Sumac Treatment from About: Health/Fitness: Pharmacology with Mary Ann Elchisak.
- Ultimate And Painful Hitchhikers! from Wayne's Word, which includes a list of The Top 17 Hitchhiking Plants based on the difficulty in removing them from your socks!
- Jumping Cholla from Sierra Club's Hundred Peak Section
- Mike Jacoubowsky's Killer Squirrels Take on Cyclists!
- HADD - Hikers Against Doo-Doo
I had never thought of coyotes as a danger to humans, until a reader asked me if there had ever been any coyote attacks on people in the SGM. Although I have never heard of a coyote attack on a person in the SGM, I found that there have been a small number of attacks on people elsewhere. Almost all attacks involve small children under 5 years of age. Since 3 million children are bitten by dogs every year, your small child is millions of times more likely to get hurt by the family pet than by a coyote.
Previous Bug and Snake Reports in the San Gabriel Mountains
I stopped updating the tables at the end of 2001. Five years of data are probably enough to show how consistent bugs and snakes are with season.
Year Month Bugs Ticks Rattlesnakes Comment 2001 January none yes none February none yes none March none yes none April few yes yes May yes yes yes June yes few yes July yes few yes August yes few yes September yes few yes October yes none? yes November some none? none? December some none? none
Year Month Bugs Ticks Rattlesnakes Comment 2000 January none yes none February few yes few March few yes none? April some yes yes May some yes yes June yes few yes July yes few yes August yes few few? September some few few? October few none? none? November few none? none? December few yes none?
Year Month Bugs Ticks Rattlesnakes Comment 1999 January few yes none February few yes none March few yes none April few yes yes May some yes yes June yes yes yes July bad few yes August some few few? September some few few? October some few few? November some few few? December some few gone?
Year Month Bugs Ticks Rattlesnakes Comment 1998 January no few none February no few none March no few none April no few none May no few few June bad yes yes July bad yes yes August some some? few September some gone? few October some gone few November some gone few December few some few
Year Month Bugs Ticks Rattlesnakes Comment 1997 January no no February no yes March bad yes April bad yes yes May bad yes yes June bad yes yes July bad going yes August some no going September some no some October some no few November some no few December no beginning? gone
"Bad" means that at some time on some hike it was not possible to be stationary without being attacked by bugs. Generally, even when the bugs are bad, as long as you are moving it is tolerable. However, sometimes it is unpleasant even to be moving as clouds of bugs attack you. Fortunately, that is usually limited to specific locations and times, so that farther along the trail the situation improves.
Since bugginess depends on the time of day, whether you are in sunlight or shade, your location and how windy it is, some hikes at some times may not be troubled by bugs even when the bugs are "bad".
More About Bugs in the San Gabriel Mountains
More About Bugs in the San Gabriel Mountains
When bugs are at their worst, here's the text I use above. Please note that this does not reflect current conditions! This text is here to more properly convey the conditions under which bugs are "bad".
Bugs of every sort are out, waiting to dine on you so they can reproduce and make more bugs. Worse, in many locations they are so numerous that they force you to keep moving and prevent stopping in places, making rest and food stops problematic. Hope for wind when you hike!
The number of bugs varies with temperature, wind conditions, time of day, and location, as well as your particular attractiveness to bugs, so your bug allocation may vary.
Fortunately, the bug severity should now be declining to a more tolerable level, since July is usually the peak month.
Here are the big four that feast on people in the SGM:
- Mosquitoes are found only at certain times of day, usually early morning and late afternoon, in certain locations, especially in wetter areas like springs. Everyone knows about mosquitoes, so I won't discuss them further.
- Canyon Flies (Fannia benjamini complex) are found nearly everywhere below about 6000', generally from mid-May to mid-August, and especially in shady areas. They are the ones that fly in a cloud around your face seeking moisture. They can be dense enough so that there is a significant chance of inhaling or swallowing one, and can even annoy bicycle riders. For example, one bicycle rider reported at Chilao on 7/24/00:Start climbing among a luftwaffe of black [Canyon] flies. They are insidious, and seem to know exactly where your eyes are.
Although they don't bite, having only mouth parts suitable for sucking up fluids, they are extremely annoying, and have been known to drive hikers completely crazy, or at least completely exhaust them by never allowing hikers to rest in shady spots. Canyon Flies are also suspected of passing on the eyeworm (Thelazia californiensis) to humans. They are found in chaparral and oak woodland areas throughout California.
Canyon Flies can be identified by the following: They generally resemble the House Fly in form, but are only half the length (1/8", 3 mm). Their body is mottled gray, with short legs and clear wings. Their mouth parts have a bulbous "sponge" at the end of a stalk. (Insects of the Los Angeles Basin, 1993, Charles L. Hogue, p. 258.)
Canyon Flies are sometimes called Face Flies, but Face Flies (Musca antumnalis) are a pest of cattle found only north of Southern California. They are also sometimes mistakenly called Black Flies, as in the quote above, since they are dark in color, and since black flies often accompany canyon flies.
- Buffalo gnats, aka small biting black flies, (Simulium species) are also found nearly everywhere below about 6000' from mid-May through mid-August. Black Flies have an unusual game plan to get your blood: they hang around Canyon Flies, and while 10-20 Canyon Flies annoy you by flying in a cloud around your face and the rest of your body, the Black Flies sneak in a bite or two, especially on the elbows. Black flies have been known to kill livestock who couldn't get away from huge numbers of them, and many a hiker feels that this might happen to them.
Black Flies can be identified by the following: They are somewhat smaller than a House Fly (1/6", 4 mm), but look very different up close. Their body has a distinctive hump-backed appearance, like the back of a Buffalo, and is shiny gray. Their legs are mottled with yellow, and they have broad and transparent wings. (California Insects, 1979, Jerry A. Powell and Charles L. Hogue, p. 141.)
- Biting snipe flies (Symphoromyia species) are the most annoying of all when present. They are found in some locations at about 6000 - 8000' in the summer and at some lower elevations near waterways earlier. They don't bother with trying to distract you. They just land and bite after a brief second of preliminary investigation. If you are quick, this does give you enough time to slap at them and kill them before they bite.
If they succeed in biting you, their bite may raise itching red welts which can last for days. Some hypersensitive people may even go into shock after a few bites. (Insects of the Los Angeles Basin, Charles L. Hogue, p. 241.)
Unfortunately, they can be so numerous in the SGM that swatting them can be a full-time occupation, seriously interfering with the joy of hiking. On the PCT between Islip Saddle and Mt. Hawkins on 30 June 1999, I killed about one every 15 seconds when stopped, and perhaps one every 200-500' of trail when moving. I killed a minimum of several hundred on me in 7 miles of hiking, and escaped with only one bite on my wrist, where my first blow was deflected by my watch. But then from Mt. Hawkins to Dawson Saddle I saw only a single fly near Dawson Saddle.
Biting snipe flies are about the size of a house fly (1/5-1/3", 5-8 mm) and have clear wings that are held somewhat apart, giving the fly the shape of a triangle with equal sides (like the greek character delta). Their abdomen tapers toward the end, and curls slightly down. If you take one home after swatting it, a magnifying glass will show that the antennae are distinctive. The first segment (at the base of the antennae) is a short amber colored stalk with a gray bottom, on which are mounted a kidney shaped segment (similar to the anthers of a plant, mounted at right angles at the end of the stalk, pointed down. From each of those "anthers" projects forward a fine black hair from the top of each "anther", about the length of the eyes, curved outward. (California Insects, 1979, Jerry A. Powell and Charles L. Hogue, p. 153.) See picture of an adult female.
I think I have also seen Deer flies (Chrysops species) in years past, but I have not yet obtained an individual to conclusively identify. Deer Flies are somewhat larger than a House Fly (1/3-1/2", 8-12 mm), and have distinctive spotted wings that are held somewhat apart, giving the fly the shape of a triangle with equal sides (like the greek character delta). (California Insects, 1979, Jerry A. Powell and Charles L. Hogue, p. 153.) If I am unlucky enough to encounter these again, I'll bring one home to identify.
We are definitely not alone in such suffering; many other locations in the world have bugs as bad or worse than we do:
- On one hike in Alaska, Craig Cheetham reported that although he had prepared himself by spraying every inch of exposed flesh with Deet, the mosquitoes were so bad that his arms became black with mosquitoes biting him. He applied it again, to no effect. Then, finally, he used the entire spray bottle, consisting of many "single use" dosages, which kept the mosquitoes a few mm away from him.
- The Sierra Nevada is noted for its bug populations in the summer. Here's one report from a PCT hiker, Laraine Downer, in the PCT Communicator, Winter 2000:July 10: Left Tuolumne. Now the real hiking experience begins - we are constant assaulted by "mossies" (as the Brits called them). Previously, they had been manageable, now there were more than one could deal with. Head net and long sleeves saved me.
July 22: Left Echo Summit. Enjoyed the beautiful lakes in the Desolation Wilderness. The biting black flies were vicious!
- The Agriculture Department of Canada reports that:Canada has been afflicted with more than its fair share of bloodsucking flies. The number of species may not seem large compared to the faunas of tropical countries, but some of the pest species can be astonishingly numerous at certain times and places. (Biting Flies of Canada)
Copyright © 1997-2005 by Tom Chester.
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to me at this source:
Comments and feedback: Tom Chester
Last update: 10 August 2005.