Posts Tagged ‘desert adaptations’

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Check out the nictitating membranes!

February 20, 2016

If you had to make your living in a desert, or under water, or by sticking your head into a rotting carcass to get your food, you’d probably appreciate a handy combo of goggles and windshield wipers.

And that’s what many creatures, including Turkey Vultures, have.

But instead of using the awkward term “combo-goggles-windshield-wipers,” we use the sleek and easy to remember name, “nictitating membranes.”

Uh huh!

Nictitating membranes are also called third eyelids, and are often translucent, so the eyes get protection while allowing some vision.

Sometimes these thin membranes rest under the lower eyelid, and rise from there, but more often, they are tucked into the corners of the eyes nearest the nose, and move back toward the sides of the head when in operation.

It can be unnerving the first time you see them in motion, a space-alien moment. But when the membrane is closed, it often just looks like a gray or white eyelid.

Here’s a Turkey Vulture doing a demo for you!

Nict1270339c.jpg

First picture, nictitating membrane is open, and in the second, the translucent membrane is covering the eye.

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Why Beans?

April 18, 2014

If you start investigating Sonoran Desert plants, including trees and shrubs, you’ll find quite a few members of the bean family (Fabaceae) represented.

Palo Verde blossoms

Palo Verde blossoms

That may seem surprising. Why beans? At first glance, your average garden variety green bean plant does not seem especially deserty.

So let’s start with a hidden feature that might be useful in a desert—to deal with poor soil, beans have come up with a clever friendship—they have symbionts, associates, little bacteria that live in nodules, little bumps, in their roots. The beans provide water and sugars to the bacteria, and the bacteria “fix” nitrogen from the soil, turning it into a form the bean plants can use.

And that’s one reason beans are good for you—because of the nitrogen from their little friends, they can make certain essential amino acids, parts of proteins.

Grains like corn or wheat or rice make different amino acids. And it is important for us to eat them together with legumes, another name for beans, to get whole nutrition in one meal. So, for example, we dine on beans and rice, or beans in corn tacos or wheat tortillas, or baked beans with toast, or even a peanut butter sandwich, since peanuts are also a legume.

Humans figured this out a long long time ago, and in fact, they even grew grains and beans together. An essential core of Native American gardens all over North and South America was the trio of beans, corn and squash. The corn provides scaffolding for the beans to climb, and the remains of the bean plants are a source of usable nitrogen for the next year’s corn and squash. To this day, these three continue to play a big role in our gardens, as well as in those huge gardens known as farms.

It turns out that beans also have a bunch of other cool skills for the hot desert—stay tuned!