Archive for the ‘Fauna’ Category

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New Desert Creatures Mysteries e-book

August 12, 2014

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Now you can get a great Desert Creatures Mysteries e-book.

It goes into detail about the strange animals of the desert, and some of the cool science about them.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/455225

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What’s the buzz?

July 2, 2014

At the end of June you may hear a new sound in the trees–a long loud buzz, much too long and loud to be coming from a hummingbird.

It most likely is a cicada, an large insect that makes this quintessential summer sound with specialized organs on the sides of its body.

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If you keep an eye out, you may find a very ornate discarded cicada shell, since they go through different versions as they grow, and no longer fit in their old shells.

Cicadas are found all over the world. The one pictured is from northern North America.

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Packrat Middens

November 3, 2013

Packrats, Neotoma albigula, make interesting nests in which to store their treasures—and themselves.

When you are out in the desert, the trick is how to spot a packrat nest. It’s not always easy. I guess that’s the idea, when you are building a hideaway.  Basically, look for a crazy, almost random pile of sticks and leaves, and often cholla cactus stems. The nests can range from a foot to 8 feet wide, and are often at the base of a shrub or cactus.

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Apparently, If you went inside a packrat nest or midden, an activity the packrats vigorously discourage, you might find shiny bits of human treasures—foil, metal, or other bright objects, since packrats seem to like shiny things as much as we do.

Packrats do like cholla cacti, somehow managing to avoid their really nasty and determined thorns. There’s even one variety called the jumping cholla—I would stay away from those! The name comes from how easily a stem can get detached and glom onto you. A packrat favorite! Cholla stems are certainly a good defensive addition to a habitation—the dry stems are probably even nastier than green ones. According to the Desert Museum, packrats love to eat prickly pear fruit. So they are really cactus creatures.

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Herds of Callipepla gambelii

November 20, 2012

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For a long time through the summer, when you saw Gambel’s Quail, Callipepla gambelii, in the Sonoran desert, you’d usually see just one or two individuals.

Then in late summer, there were groups of 4 or 5.

As the weather cooled (well, cooled relatively speaking—this is a southern desert) and autumn officially started, suddenly there are huge herds of up to 20 quail. Yes, I know, covey, more accurately, coveys of quail.

In the new year, they will pair off, the big groups will disperse, then new family herds of mom, dad, and sometimes more than a dozen little peepers, who are amazingly fast soon after hatching, will appear on the scene.

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Ocotillos and Verdins

April 23, 2012

This has been a banner year for ocotillos in the Sonoran desert. They started blooming a couple of weeks ago, and have erupted into full orange color. That’s Fouquieria splendens, for all you science types!

Their nectar attracts a variety of insects, making them a favored landing spot for the small olive yellow birds, the verdins (Auriparus flaviceps.) Look for verdins visiting all kinds of flowering plants throughout the summer and fall.

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Haboob, the Desert Dust Storm

July 8, 2011

Another limiting factor in the desert arises from the ferocious dessicating and abrasive desert dust storm called the Haboob. Often associated with the seasonal monsoons, these storms can actually happen any time of year, blasting and scouring any plants and animals in their path.

The word haboob is Arabic, from the home of truly impressive sandstorms, but now is applied in any area susceptible to them.

These storms can move particles of dust and even sand, and may reach hurricane force for a few minutes at a time.

Deserts have few trees to stop the wind, and little moisture to hold down the soil. A haboob forms when warm air rises into thunderheads, then the air is cooled by rain, the storm collapses, and the cooled air falls and rushes out from the base of the storm, driving dust and sand before it, sometimes at truly remarkable speeds. Within minutes, winds can go from zero to 50 miles an hour.

Dust storms often arise suddenly, making them hard to avoid or escape. Most years in the Sonoran desert, there are traffic accidents associated with dust storms, when visibility suddenly plummets.

Desert plants need either shelter or thick skins to handle the dessication and scouring associated with a haboob or other winds.

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A Dry Heat

June 29, 2011

The joke is, in the Sonoran desert, even though it’s 114, it’s a dry heat.

The idea being that with very low humidity, amazingly, under 5 percent at times, the heat is easier to bear.

114, an average high for a few days each summer, is still bad enough, but given how few trees and other shelter there is in the desert, it’s almost always a sunny heat during the daytime, which adds another 7 to 10 degrees.

All plants and animals and people that live in the desert need to be built or adapt in some way to survive these extreme temperatures.

The hottest time of year is a few days before the summer Solstice on June 21, and a few weeks after that. Then the average daily temperature starts going down again, very very gradually.

A few weeks after the solstice is also the time when the summer monsoons really get going. The standard definition of monsoon season is the change in the wind, but in the desert, the important thing is that the monsoon usually brings moisture and finally rain from the Gulf of California and the Gulf of Mexico.

And of course, when the humidity goes up and the rains start, it’s still over 100 degrees in the desert. And it’s no longer a dry heat.