The Sandhills of Santa Cruz: There’s Shark Teeth Underneath

Photo Courtesy and © Lauren McEvoy.

Photo Courtesy and © Lauren McEvoy.

I grew up right near the Sandhills of the Santa Cruz Mountains and often heard stories of people discovering prehistoric sand dollars and sharks teeth. I searched for them myself but was never successful and so believed that maybe I was never meant to find one.

The story of the Santa Cruz Sandhills starts about 15 million years ago. In the Miocene Epoch, these currently hot and dry hills were submerged under a shallow but far reaching sea. Within it’s depths many marine species died and their remains fell to the ocean floor and were covered by layers of sediment.

Endemism In The Hills

During the formation of the Santa Cruz Mountains, this ancient seabed was pushed up and created the Sandhills of today. This uprising of ocean floor exposed prehistoric sand dollars, bones and sharks teeth. The sandy soils of the Sandhills have also created a very unique habitat where seven threatened and endangered species survive. Many are endemic, which means they are found nowhere else except in the unique Sandhills habitat of Santa Cruz County.

Male Mount Hermon junebeetle. Photo courtesy and © of Jodi McGraw.

Male Mount Hermon junebeetle. Photo courtesy and © of Jodi McGraw.

Sandhill soil drains quickly and contains much less organic material and nutrients in comparison to the surrounding lush redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The white sand of the Sandhills reflects the sun’s heat making for sweltering temperatures in summer. Only adapted plant species that can handle high temperatures and lack of nutrients and water can survive the unforgiving elements of the Sandhills.

Sandhills look barren and contain primarily smaller stature shrubs and annuals compared to neighboring tree dominated redwood forests. For this reason it is fairly easy to recognize the change to Sandhills habitat. They are fairly easy to spot, scattered like little islands among areas of Bonny Doon and Scotts Valley. In fact, some of these different islands have endemic species found only within their specific Sandhill zone and not in all of the the Sandhills habitat.

Read the rest of the story and find out more about that shark’s tooth on the cover photo here at

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Julia Gaudinski

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