Archive for the ‘Fauna’ Category

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What kind of Rat?

November 9, 2015

A Pack Rat, that’s what!

More specifically, a White-throated Woodrat, Neotoma albigula.

There are several different kinds of related Woodrats, just to make things confusing for humans. And in addition, Woodrats are not the same as the rats we usually think of, when we think of rats–those are the Old World Rattus rats.

Woodrats or Pack Rats look more like giganto mice, with their big ears and big dark eyes. Their tails are also fuzzier than the bare Rattus tails.Packrat

These amazing creatures can survive on the moisture they get from the vegetation they eat, and do not need to drink water. How’s that for a desert adaptation!

Quite a while back we talked about Pack Rat middens, the amazing homes the White-throated Woodrats build in the desert.

These folks must have special skills, to build such large defensive structures without getting nasty stab wounds, since middens often include a lot of cactus branches.

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Ocotillos and visitors

April 8, 2015

So, the original idea here was to talk about how Ocotillo plants (Fouquieria splendens) in bloom seem to host bird or pollinator visitors at almost any time of day.

It seemed like a good idea to do at least one random sample of observation before declaring this.

And sure enough, during a 3 minute segment one spring afternoon, a few days into full bloom for the ocotillo, there were two bird visitors and several pollinator insects. Now this was just one casual observation, but it indicates how often you see creatures near or on these plants.

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As noted in an earlier post, Verdins, (Auriparus flaviceps) the very small birds with yellow heads, are frequent visitors, apparently looking for insects. Finches are also common. And hummingbirds can be seen throughout the year.

It is amazing that any birds can find a firm foothold on the thorny stems. Clever feet.

Remember that the ocotillo is not a cactus, although it may look like one during some parts of the year. It’s in a completely different group. In fact, for most of the year, it looks like a bundle of dead sticks, and if you first saw one for sale in a garden center, you might wonder what they were trying to sell.

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Who’s an invertebrate?

February 17, 2015

An invertebrate is somebody with no backbone.

Wait, who you callin’ spineless? I’m happy as a clam!

Yes, for example, a clam is an invertebrate. As are many other squishy aquatic creatures, like  the 30 foot long ocean worms! Yikes! So are octopods and squids. The mighty Kraken!

Insects are also invertebrates, as are spiders, and those wild scorpion creatures!

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You might notice a pattern here—many invertebrates, especially aquatic ones, like the magnificent octopus and kin, may have no hard structure at all.

Others often have external support systems, like shells in mollusks, or the exoskeletons surrounding insects and Transformers. Especially desert creatures, who like a bit more protection from the elements.

And by the way, when you think of spineless jokes? Just remember, it’s probably good form to be polite. Especially about invertebrates. Remember, there are way way more kinds of them than there are of us bony beasts. And way way way more individuals!

And some of them bite or sting! No way!

And some of them look so amazing they will knock your socks off!

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Too Wet!

January 9, 2015

A surprising limiting factor in some parts of the desert is too much moisture.

Wait, you say, I thought deserts were too dry?

Because there’s usually so little rain, nobody is really prepared for much. So even what might be considered a light rain elsewhere can be enough to flood out desert burrows, nests, hollows, and lowlands. If you are a creature who can move fast, or a plant that can hold its breath, you will get through it.

But even in the desert, rain is not always light. During the summer monsoon months, and a few other times of year, there can be heavy downpours.

And adding to the effect, there’s that old caliche we talked about before. This is the impervious layer of minerals and clay that forms over time a short distance down under the desert surface, and acts as a water-trap. The water can’t sink in–so where it can, it slides off downhill.

With a light rain, you can suddenly get a flash flood. With a heavy, or extended rain, you can get massive dangerous flooding, the kind that kills animals, large as well as small, and washes away trees and cars and buildings.

In the middle of many human habitations in the desert, you will find long empty wild spaces, often called “washes.” These are where the flash floods wash through, carrying away whatever is in their path.

It’s strange, when you think about it, how moisture could be a problem, and a limiting factor, in both directions in the desert.

Or maybe not. Because a lot of living things want conditions that are not too much, or too little. Instead, they want things to be generally within an agreeable range. So when you look at a limiting factor, it can be fun to check if there is another one lurking at the opposite side. Yet another mystery.

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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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Mysterious Wild Western Creatures

October 4, 2014

Some of the most mysterious creatures in the desert are humans. And a particularly unusual variety, those of the fictional, and sometimes real, wild wild old west will arrive at Saguaro Ranch in Glendale Arizona on October 24-26, 2014.

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Guests will include wild west celebrities, stuntmen, singers and poets and dancers, riders, ropers, and a western country fair—complete with pony rides.

For the latest info, go to

http://www.wildwesternfestival.com

See the scheduled events here:

http://www.wildwesternfestival.com/schedule.htm

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Zoo or Noooo?

September 26, 2014

How can you tell if the prairie dog in the picture has been living in the wild or a zoo?

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Check out how pudgy the creature is.

Zoo animals often gain a lot of weight—from eating so many carrots!

On the other hand, or paw, wild prairie dogs stay lean by going to the gym several times a week.