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Who lives in this cactus?

December 1, 2014

Who you find living in any particular cactus will depend on when you look.

Many of the large holes in saguaros are originally drilled (although the process sounds more like a jack hammer than a drill) by Gila woodpeckers, who peck into the cactus to hollow out an area for a nest.

One interesting result is that the cactus, always fearful of losing moisture, forms dense scar tissue around the excavated area. This means that when the cactus dies and the flesh falls away, what’s left is the interesting lattice of cactus skeleton, plus an occasional hard rounded shape that looks something like a boot—so it is called a cactus boot. Native people gathered them and used them as containers for liquids.

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Back to the cactus-dwellers. While the plant is still alive, these nests drilled inside saguaro cacti are prime real estate, the perfect place to find thorn-protected shelter until the kids grow up and fly away. At first, after the cactus heals and get less gooey, the  Gila Woodpeckers or related birds who excavated the nest holes get first dibs. But later years may bring entirely new sets of residents.

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