Giant Saguaro desert cactus – facts and photos

Within Arizona’s Tucson Basin is The Saguaro National Park.  This park provides the ideal conditions for sustaining dense stands of the famous saguaro cactus.

saguaro cactus at The Saguaro National Park
saguaro cactus at The Saguaro National Park in Tucson

**The most important factors for growth are water and temperature. If the elevation is too high, the cold weather and frost can kill the saguaro. Although the Sonoran Desert experiences both winter and summer rains, studies show that the Saguaro cactus obtains most of its moisture during the summer monsoon season.

Saguaro National Park
saguaro cactus in Arizona

There are dozens of varieties of cacti;  short, tall, stout, delicate but none quite as magnificent as the Giant Saguaro cactus.

Quick Saguaro Facts:

  1. Saguaros have one deep tap-root but most of this cactus’ roots are 4-6 inches deep and span out as far as the desert plant is tall.
  2. The saguaro is the largest cactus in the US.
  3. After the saguaro dies its woody ribs can be used to build roofs, fences, and parts of furniture.
  4. The Giant Saguaro can live to be 200 years old.

In the Sonoran desert the saguaro cactus has a boundless variety of towering armed shapes.

the saguaro cactus in arizona
the saguaro cactus species in AZ

Water makes up 75 to 95 percent of the saguaro cactus’ weight.  During periods of drought the pleats of the saguaro cactus contract.  During Arizona rains the saguaro expands as it soaks up moisture.

saguaro cactus with fruit
saguaro cactus close up

Saguaros, like many desert cacti, grow excruciatingly slow.  Arizona cactus experts estimate that a forty-foot tall saguaro is about 150 years old.  Arm buds begin to appear when the saguaro is 75 years old.

the saguaro arms
the saguaro arm buds

Many saguaros now standing in cactus forests germinated in the mid-1800s !!

saguaro cacti over 100 years old
saguaro cacti over 100 years old

To survive their early years, saguaro seedlings must be sheltered from the elements, whether it be under the canopy of other plants or in the crevices of rocky outcrops. Saguaro seeds can be deposited in droppings of birds roosting on branches of shrubs and trees.

nurse tree
young saguaro cacti under a nurse tree

Lightning, powerful winds, harsh winter freezes and the rotting of dead tissue kill saguaros.  Their woody ribs stay on the desert floor until they are consumed by termites or decay and return to the soil.

dead saguaro cactus wood
woody spine of the dead saguaro cactus

This cactus species is not currently listed as threatened or endangered. Arizona has strict regulations about the harvesting, collection or destruction of the saguaro cactus.

You can find the majestic giant cactus in southern Arizona and western Sonora, Mexica.

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Journey inside Colossal Cave – Arizona’s dormant cave

Before entering Colossal Cave it was essential to educate ourselves and obtain some “cave basics”.  The facts and information we learned about limestone caves made our trip profoundly interesting!

Colossal Cave is an archaic KARST CAVE (meaning erosion has produced fissures, sinkholes, caverns and underground streams).

Colossal Cave is a Karst cave
Karst region

Karst caves have 3 categories:  limestone, gypsum and quartzite.

Colossal Cave is limestone and considered dormant, “dry”.  A dry cave is without drips of water, streams or pools.  How was the cave formed?  Here is a short, simple answer:

  • Precipitation mixes with carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and decaying organic material in the soil.
  • When Carbon dioxide is dissolved in water it forms carbonic acid. The carbonic acid begins to form holes in rocks, seeps into crevices and dissolves the rocks, especially limestone; but very slowly.  (Thousands of years)
    rock crevices and joints.
  • Cavities form and further sculpting can occur from water and chemical weathering.
  • After passing through limestone, the acid water contains a dis-solvable calcium carbonate.  As this solution de-gases through exposure to air by way of splashing, dripping or flowing, it loses carbon dioxide and deposits a solid mineral called calcite.
  • Calcite is the main mineral component in CAVE FORMATIONS, (speleothems).
Calcite, which gets its name from “chalix” the Greek word for lime, is a most amazing and yet, most common mineral. – See more at: http://www.galleries.com/Calcite#sthash.7JQ91AJ6.dpuf

The SPELEOTHEMS in Colossal Cave no longer grow. This cave formed by water depositing limestone that has NOW disappeared.  Close by, in the same mountain park, are Arkenstone and La Tetera Caves with active growing formations.

dormant speleothems in Colossal Cave
crystallized calcium carbonate formations

The most abundant mineral in limestone is calcite (calcium carbonate).  The majority of limestone formed on ANCIENT ocean floors.

Calcite is a main component used by echinoderms, like sea urchins, starfish, and sand dollars to make their spines and skeletons.  Calcium carbonate (calcite),  is found in the shells of marine organisms and truly is one of the MOST abundant minerals on earth!

In the marine environment, if the conditions are right, calcite is stable enough that it can cement together sediments and overtime make limestone.

calcite in the ocean water
limestone towers in the Atlantic ocean

On occasion another element may be present while calcite is being formed (ex: magnesium) and take the place of a calcium atom.

A less stable aragonite is a polymorph of calcite. They are both calcium carbonate but have different crystal shapes and symmetries.  The calcium, oxygen and carbon atoms in aragonite bond together differently creating a unique crystal structure.

Ok this is plenty of background information so now journey with us to Colossal Cave Mountain Park!

what to do in Tucson
The retaining wall and Visitor’s Center at Colossal Cave

The elevation of Colossal Cave Mountain Park is about 3,500 feet.  The temperature of the cave averages 70 degrees Fahrenheit.  No extra clothing is needed but feel free to carry water or a camera.

Colossal Cave in Vail, Arizona
walkway outside of Colossal Cave entrance

Frank Schmidt was monumental in the improvements and preservation of Colossal Cave by handing over his leases to the State of Arizona.  You can find information and historical photographs at La Posta Quemada Ranch Museum.

preserved Colossal Cave
Frank Schmidt statue at the cave

 

good picnics and kids activities at this Tucson park
bring the family and spend the day at this Arizona park

In 1879, Solomon Lick, the owner of the nearby hotel, was searching for stray cattle and discovered the entrance to this cave.

Arizona historical sites to see
professional guides take you through this historical landmark

Thousands of years ago Colossal Cave was used by Hohokam, Sobaipure and Apache Indians.  Travel down the road to the ranch museum for a fascinating display.

must see historical sites in Tucson, AZ
Colossal Cave has 363 steps

Most crystals are found in areas, like caves, because they take thousands of years to grow.  The growth continues until the saturation is stopped or the cave dries out.  Most crystals in a cave are calcite or aragonite.

visotors must see in Tucson, Arizona
calcite in the cave

Your tour guide will tell the story of the bandits who hid out in Colossal Cave.  These outlaws even played cards in the Colossal Cave Living Room. Legend has it that the gold from the train robbers is still inside the cave!

Stay with the tour group.  Our guide really wasn’t kidding when she said the group might go left and you’ll go right and be lost for hours in Colossal Cave.

Tectonic activity is noticeable.  Your guide will point out a fault in the earth’s crust.

Colossal Cave spelunking
Fault lines inside the cave

Cave’s formations, speleothems, are created by the same water that dissolved the calcite in the limestone —- then deposited the calcite in other areas of the cave.

historical caves in Arizona
stalagmites and stalactites in Colossal Cave

Stalactites – “c” for ceiling – hang from the top of caves like icicles

stalagmites and stalactites
cave formations with labels

Stalagmites – “g” for ground – emerge from the ground like a traffic cone

Because Colossal Cave is DRY;  the appearance of these speleothems is different than living caves.

Layers of calcite build up into fluted curtains.
Layers of calcite build up into fluted curtains.
 cave
our wonderful tour guide at Colossal Cave
FDR's Conservation Corp
Civilian Conservation Corps designated by President Roosevelt

In the 1930’s, a Civilian Conservation Corps designated by President Roosevelt worked tirelessly building the retaining wall outside and improving the inside of Colossal Cave.

The CCC, Civilian Conservation Corps, constructed the stairs, bridges and handrails.

Colossal Cave repairs and protection
Civilian Conservation Corps, CCC, helping Colossal Cave

While visiting this cave do adventure down the road to La Posta Quemada Ranch.

what to do in Tucson, Arizona
visit the historical Ranch at Colossal Cave Park

Colossal Cave and the historic La Posta Quemada Ranch are listed on the National Historic Register.  When you visit be sure to enjoy a Desert Spoon Burger!

The best time to see the Saguaro cactus bloom

The saguaro, Carnegiea gigantea, is the largest cactus in the United States and native to Arizona. In 1931 the opulent white blossom of the Saguaro Cactus was designated as Arizona’s state flower. The best time of year to see these cactus bloom is April through June.

flower buds on desert cactus
large white flowers on the saguaro cactus

The Saguaro cacti mainly grow in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona.  When a Saguaro cactus reaches 35 years of age it begins to produce blossoms.  Amassed near the ends of the branches, the green buds bloom into milky-white flowers. The Saguaro flower blooms after sunset and last only one day.

Arizona state flower
Saguaro Cactus Blossom

At the top of the flower tube is a compact group of yellow stamens. The saguaro cactus has more stamen on its flower than any other cactus.  If conditions have been favorable for the Saguaro you could see hundreds of blossoms on a cactus.

Arizona state flower
yellow stamen inside the Saguaro Cactus flower

Pollinators like birds, insects, and bats are attracted to the nectar that collects at the bottom of the flower’s 4 inch tube.  A Saguaro blossom can only be fertilized by cross-pollination.

Tucson Arizona saguaro blossom
yellow stamen inside the creamy white Saguaro flower

Only a few Saguaro flowers bloom each night and close by late morning; thus, giving a greater opportunity for pollination.

Arizona state flowers
white cactus flower attracts birds

This elegant desert pageant occurs for about 2 months. From living in this area, we have to say it is hard to decide the exact dates but end of April to mid June would be notable.

 Gila woodpecker inside the saguaro flower

bird pollinating the Saguaro cactus blossom

pollinated Saguaro Cactus red fruit
Red fruit of the Saguaro Cactus

Pollinated flowers form a vivid red fruit filled with thousands of black seeds.  The fruit is eaten and digested through which its dispersed throughout the desert.

The Saguaro National Park

While traveling Arizona we stopped at Saguaro National Park, in Tucson.  The park is located in the Sonoran Desert.

Saguaro National Park in AZ
Saguaro National Park in AZ

The giant cacti, called Saguaros, are protected and preserved within the park.

The saguaro cactus in the Sonoran Desert
The saguaro cactus in the Sonoran Desert

After a single rainfall, Saguaros can soak up to 200 gallons of water through their huge network of roots that lay just 4-6 inches below the desert surface. That is enough water to last this giant cactus an entire year!

the saguaro expands with water
the saguaro expands with water

A saguaro expands like an accordion when it absorbs water which can increase its weight by up to a ton.

saguaro cactus white flowers in bloom
saguaro cactus white flowers in bloom

In 1931, The Saguaro’s Blossom became the Arizona State Flower.

The Saguaro Cactus blooms April through June. Its flowers are creamy white and numerous. Up to a hundred flowers can bloom on one Saguaro Cactus!

Saguaro Cactus Flowers
Saguaro Cactus fruits and blooms

The saguaro blossom opens after sunset and by the next afternoon the flower is wilted. The white cactus flower repeats itself night after night.   During the few hours the saguaro flower is open birds, bats, and  honeybees pollinate them.

saguaro red fruit
saguaro red fruit

Later in the summer, the cactus flowers that were pollinated will become red-fleshed saguaro fruits that are enjoyed by the local bird population. The saguaro cactus is also known as the pitahaya, sahuara and giant cactus.

Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park
trails at Saguaro National Park
trails at Saguaro National Park
nursing trees for saguaros
Palo Verde and Mesquite Trees are shelter for young Saguaros
nursing tree for saguaro cactus
nursing trees provide nitrogen for cactus

The Saguaro often begins life with a nurse tree or shrub which can provide shade and moisture for the germination of life. This Saguaro grows slowly — only about an inch a year — eventually becoming very tall;  reaching heights of 50 feet.  The largest saguaro cacti, with more than 5 arms, are approximately 200 years old.

 

Giant Desert Hairy Scorpion – Largest scorpion in North America

We found several bark scorpions in our Arizona yard but this is the first time we found a Giant Desert Hairy ScorpionHadrurus arizonensis.  This giant scorpion is the largest scorpion in the United States.

Scorpions are related to spiders, ticks, mites, etc… They are venomous arthropods in the class Arachnida.   Scorpions have over 1,300 species throughout the world.  They have four pairs of legs and pedipalps with plier-like pincers on the end.

giant desert hairy scorpion
Hadrurus arizonensis, Giant Desert Hairy Scorpion

Three species of scorpions are commonly found in the Arizona Desert:

  1. Small Bark Scorpion, Centruroides exilicauda
  2. Striped Tail or Devil’s Scorpion, Vaejovis spinigerus
  3. Giant Desert Hairy Scorpion, Hadrurus arizonensis

Arizona is home to more than 30 species of scorpions but the only truly “life threatening” one is the small Bark Scorpion.  Unlike the other species, Bark Scorpions like to climb.

Giant Arizona Scorpion
the largest scorpion in the US

Scorpions have mouthparts called chelicerae that enable it to rip and tear its prey while feeding.  They have a sensitive antennae along with the pincer-like pedipalps that are used to hold the prey while inflicting venom or eating.  The Scorpion’s body has two main parts; the cephalothorax and the abdomen.

Hadrurus arizonensis
the largest scorpion in North America, Hadrurus arizonensis

According to the book Scorpions: A Complete Pet Owner’s Manual, in order to measure a scorpion; start from the tip of the telson, stinger, to the prosoma, head.  Our Arizona scorpion was just over 5 inches!  Giant Hairy Scorpions have a dark back.

scorpion tail stinger
Giant Desert Hairy Scorpion Tail, metasoma

The metasoma (tail) of the scorpion is actually an extension of the abdomen. It consists of five segments, each one longer than the last; at the tip is the telson (stinger).

All Scorpions are nocturnal and leave their shelters at night in search for prey.  A Giant Hairy Scorpion burrows deep in the desert soil.  This large scorpion follows the moisture level in the soil and can burrow as far as 8 feet below the surface!

home / nest of the scorpion
Scorpion burrow opening

Scorpion burrows are commonly oval or crescent-shaped.

large Arizona Scorpion
Giant Desert Hairy Scorpion in Arizona

Although this scorpion is very large, the sting is somewhat mild and feels similar to a bee sting.  The sting is not life threatening.  If by some chance you experience an allergic reaction to a Giant Hairy Scorpion sting,  seek medical attention immediately.

Scorpions give birth to live young during the summer months and the babies safely ride on mom until their first molt, approximately 2-3 weeks.

If you really want to observe these ancient nocturnal arachnids, take a black light to the desert on a moonless, warm night.   In the dark you will be able to see scorpions dig burrows, capture prey and possibly witness a unique mating ritual.

How do we try to keep our home scorpion free?  By keeping our windows and doors closed!  When opening a door in the desert, make it a habit to look at the bottom.  It is known that scorpions have poor eyesight and tend to walk along walls.  Glue boards placed by doors and windows are good ways to catch scorpions inside the home.  Bark Scorpions are smaller and more common in homes.  Bark Scorpion stings can be fatal so we have a contract with Truly Nolen that helps to keep our home safe. 

Migrating birds fly off course – Brown Pelicans in the desert?

We were privileged to document the noble Brown Pelican landing at Lakeside Park in Tucson. This impressive sea-bird extended its wings (almost 8′ wingspan) to brake before alighting on the water.

migrating birds in arizona
brown pelican in Tucson Arizona

Various migratory birds wind up off course due to bad weather and end up in Arizona lakes.

birds off course in arizona
pair of pelicans at Lakeside Park

Brown Pelicans have an extremely long bill with a large pouch attached on the lower half.  The pelicans pouch is used to catch fish.

endangered birds in arizona
Brown Pelicans have a long bill
Lakeside Park migratory birds
Pelicans in the Sonoran Desert

According to the LA Times, these odd looking large Brown Pelicans were nearly driven to extinction because of abuse from hunters and fishermen.

Hunters coveted its plumage and commercial fishermen believed pelicans were gobbling too many fish. These sea birds were also hurt by the effects of a chemical pesticide, DDT.  It is no wonder brown pelicans were placed on the federal endangered species list.

Louisiana’s state bird is the Brown Pelican.  This bird started to make a recovery, only to suffer again from the coastal damage incurred from the oil spills.

Louisiana state bird pelican
Brown Pelicans damaged by the oil spill

During the oil spill in 2010, this whole area was covered with oil, said P.J. Hahn, a coastal zone director in Louisiana.  The brown pelican was particularly at risk because it dives beneath the water’s surface to forage.

Dedicated teams worked diligently to save the brown pelicans after the massive oil spill.

brown pelican bird
Volunteers helping the Brown Pelican during an oil spill

(above photo courtesy of http://www.latimes.com/  Los Angeles Times)

Are Brown Pelicans, still on the endangered species list?

The Brown Pelican finally came off the endangered species list in 2009.   Now, there is a growing fear history could repeat itself because there is not enough habitat for the birds to nest.

migratory birds in the desert
pair of brown pelicans in Arizona

One of the most prominent characteristics to observe for this large pelican, also called the California Brown Pelican, is the way it forages for food.  It dives beneath the water surface.  Pelicans simply catch the fish in their pouch, drain the water out and swallow the fish immediately.

pelicans in the desert
Brown Pelican plunge for fish
sea birds in arizona
Large pouch of the Brown Pelican bird

Watching the Pelicans effortlessly fly, gallantly dive, and methodically fish was one of the highlights of our year!

These Sea Birds can facilely glide low over the water; so low their wingtips often brush the waves – with occasional slow, powerful wing beats to gain speed.

Brown pelicans in the desert
Lakeside Park migrating birds – pelicans

Brown Pelican birds are the only pelican to plunge dive to catch their prey, other species of pelicans fish from the surface of the water.

wing span of brown pelican bird
Brown Pelican’s wing span can reach 7 feet

They can be seen performing a surface plunge from as high as 20 meters to catch their prey!

pelican birds in tucson phoenix
Brown Pelican dives to collect fish

Click below to watch a short video of Brown Pelicans diving for fish:

In flight, the Brown Pelicans hold their head back on their shoulders and rest their bill on their folded neck.

pelicans in tucson lakes - lakeside
Brown Pelican amazing flight and wing span

Pairs of Brown Pelicans are monogamous for a single season but the pair bond extends only to the nesting area; away from the nest, mates are independent.

Pelicans blown off course in Tucson
Brown Pelicans in Arizona

From the fossil record, it is known that pelicans have been around for over 40 million years.  Brown Pelicans live on both coasts in the United States.

Lakeside Park pelican heron egret Arizona
Brown Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Great White Egret

Nesting and roosting birds are very sensitive to human disturbance, load noises from boats etc…  Nest disturbance is the biggest reason for a bird to abandon its nest. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act makes it illegal to tamper with, or destroy active nests of native wild birds. If there are eggs or babies – you cannot touch the nest or harass the birds in any way.

Brown Pelicans reach sexual maturity at 3-5 years of age.  Adult Brown Pelicans have few natural predators.

migrating birds in Arizona
Great Blue Heron and Brown Pelican at Lakeside Park

Quick Brown Pelican Facts:

  • Young pelicans feed by sticking their bills into their parents’ throats
  • Pelicans build large nest structures on the ground, in trees, or on vegetation
  • The nesting season can extend from January through October
  • Brown pelicans normally lay three eggs and the adults share incubation duties
  • They can dive from 60 feet in the air
  • Brown pelicans can live up to 40 years old
  • A pelican’s throat pouch can hold over 2 gallons of water

If you see Brown Pelicans in Arizona PLEASE Call AZ Game and Fish at 520-290-9453 and let them know.

The difference between drought tolerant and drought resistant plants?

Define drought tolerant.  What is a drought resistant plant? Here is the difference between drought tolerant (true desert plant) and drought resistant (originated in semi-arid places).

A flower or plant that has naturally evolved to survive periods of drought with little water and has the ability to tolerate substantial dehydration of their tissues and organs is drought tolerant.  Xerophytes are the BEST drought tolerant plants, shrubs, trees, and cacti.

cactus plants use little water are heat tolerant
Drought tolerant Saguaro Cactus and Prickly Pear Cactus

Cacti and many plants survive on little water and make Xeriscape not only essential but pleasing to the eye. Derived from the Greek word “xeros”, meaning “dry” and combined with landscape, xeriscape means gardening with less than average water.

drought resistant landscape yard
flowering, hairy cactus with drought tolerant agave plants

Many xerophyte plants have specialized tissues for storing water, as in the stems of cacti and the leaves of succulents. Others have thin, narrow leaves, or even spines, for minimizing water loss.  Xerophyte leaves often have abundant stomata to maximize gas exchange during periods in which water is available, and the stomata are recessed in depressions, which are covered with fine hairs to help trap moisture in the air.

drought resistant tolerant bushes in yard design
xeriscape yard with XEROMORPHIC plants like cactus, yucca, ocotillo

Drought tolerant plants have adapted by making use of either C4 Carbon Fixation or CAM (crassulacean acid metabolism) a carbon fixation pathway that evolved in some plants as an adaptation to arid conditions.

xerophyte plants best drought resistant
A drought tolerant Joshua Tree and Yucca Cactus in this photo

In a plant using full CAM, the stomata, in the leaves, remain shut during the day to reduce the loss of water as vapor, but open at night to collect carbon dioxide (CO2). The CO2 is stored and then used during photosynthesis, which is the process of capturing the suns energy.

what is drought tolerant and resistant plants
Saguaro cactus and Palo Verde Tree are well – adapted drought tolerant plants.

CAM is particularly good for arid conditions because CO2 can be absorbed at night, allowing the pores on the leaves to stay closed during the day and thus reducing water loss. A easy way to explain it is drought tolerant plants can slow down metabolism.

Blue agave cactus plant with spike leaves in desert
Lovely Agave titanota BLUE variety

High elasticity of the cytoplasm and the capacity to withstand compression of the cells during dehydration are characteristic of drought-tolerant plants. What is cytoplasm? An easy definition of cytoplasm is a gel-like casing, covering – containing all the contents of the cell’s organisms, except the nucleus. Most metabolic (chemical reactions) pathways occur in the cytoplasm.

ocotillo tall cactus for drought tolerant yard arizona
Ocotillo Cactus plant in the desert

Not to be confused with drought-tolerant plants, Drought Resistant plants are not true desert plants. Many have originated in semi-arid regions, the area around the Mediterranean, Latin America and sub-Sahara.

Here are pictures of drought resistant plants that are not native desert plants.

color ideas for your desert low water, garden
colors of flowering lantana drought resistant plants next to oleander bushes

Lantana

drought tolerant and heat resistant flowering plants of the desert
The New Gold Lantana along with Trailing Purple Lantana plants
drought tolerant flowering lantana plants
White, Red (Texas) and Gold Lantana drought resistant desert plants

Lantana, in the verbena family, is a highly attractive drought resistant flowering plant that originated in tropical regions of Africa and the Americas.

drought tolerant and heat resistant purple lavender plant
lavender shrub is drought resistant

Lavender

top best drought tolerant flowering plants
young lavender drought resistant plant

This plant has it all: Drought resistant, it looks great, it smells wonderful, and it’s as tough as nails (as long as it’s not too wet).  Lavender is in the mint family and originated in the Old World around the Canary Islands, Africa, India, and Asia.

best drought tolerant heat resistant desert plants
Yarrow, yellow flowering drought resistant plants

Yarrow

Not only does yarrow tolerate heat and drought like a champion, but this easy-growing perennial is also a great cut flower.  Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, originated in regions of Asia and Europe.

best drought tolerant heat resistant desert plants
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) drought resistant plants

There is a difference between drought resistant and drought tolerant plants. Knowing the difference can save you considerable heartache.

Cormorants, crested ducks, cottonwood trees and more… at Fort Lowell Park in Arizona

Our Arizona travels brought us not only to a gentle bird refuge; but the historical Fort Lowell Park in Tucson.  This wildlife oasis streaming with ducks, cormorants, turtles and dragonflies was an United States Army post from 1873 till 1891.

City of Tucson Ft Lowell historic park
Fort Lowell’s wildlife pond in AZ

The most prominent building at Fort Lowell was the hospital, the adobe remnants still stand under a protective structure.

Arizona parks for wildlife, bird watching
Tucson’s historic Ft Lowell in 1900

Ft. Lowell lay in ruins for numerous years. The City of Tucson eventually converted the bulk of the former post into Old Fort Lowell Park, which features ball fields, tennis and racquetball courts, a large public swimming pool, and the Fort Lowell Museum dedicated to its days as an active military installation.

**This is a superb choice if you are looking for Tucson activities.

Tucson Parks with history and wildlife birds
adobe remains of Fort Lowell military installation

A lane lined with cottonwood trees, aptly named Cottonwood Lane, glorified the area in front of the officer’s houses.

Historic Cottonwood Lane in Tucson Arizona
large Cottonwood Tree at Ft Lowell Park

Following World War II, the Fort Lowell area grew into a small village which the predominantly Mexican local residents called El Fuerte.

The Fort Lowell Museum is located in the reconstructed Commanding Officer’s quarters.

Stroll from the remains of the Ft Lowell Hospital towards the wildlife pond to enjoy crested ducks with the latest updos.

ducks with hair on their head in Tucson
Brown colored Crested Duck

Catch a glimpse as a pigeon tries to remember the secret code to get passed the duck security.

Fort Lowell park in Tucson, AZ
pigeon stand off with ducks

Dedicated community members adopted Fort Lowell Park to keep it clean and build a protected area for birds.

During our visit we spoke with some of the impressive volunteers with “Friends of Fort Lowell Park” as they were planting trees and tidying up the nesting area.

Tucson Arizona wildlife park with water
nesting area created by Friends of Fort Lowell Park

A regal Neotropic Cormorant bird was standing by to make sure we didn’t decide to jump in and go swimming.

bird watching parks in Tucson Arizona
neotropic cormorants at Ft Lowell Park

Many species of cormorants make a characteristic half-jump as they dive and under water cormorants propel themselves with their feet.

wildlife oasis park in Tucson Arizona desert
community effort at Fort Lowell Park

Thanks to the collaboration of The Friends of Fort Lowell Park and Tucson Parks and Recreation for giving residents and guests a place to enjoy outdoor activities and wildlife in the Sonoran Desert.

tennis handball swimming park in the Arizona desert
Parks to visit in Tucson – Ft Lowell Park

Local historians have found evidence that Fort Lowell Park sits on a site endowed with a continuous supply of underground water and has been occupied by humans since ancient times.

Great Blue Heron in AZ – Facts and pictures about this Wading Bird

The Great Blue Heron is sometimes seen flapping casually over the desert. It hunts in typical heron fashion; standing by the water’s edge to skewer fish or clinch other aquatic creatures.

Ardea herodias,  North American herons
Great Blue Heron in Tucson Arizona, Ardea herodias

This towering bird is the most common and largest of North American herons. The Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias, is in the family, Ardeidae.

grey blue wading birds Arizona
Great Blue Heron bird fishing

This wading bird is found as far north as the southern Canadian provinces.  ** From the southern United States southwards and on the Pacific coast,  Great Blue Herons are year round residents.

Arizona desert birds by water
Great Blue Heron, tallest Heron bird

As a rule, Great Blue Herons feed while standing still or leisurely wading in shallow water; it strikes at small fish swimming by with its spear-like bill.

blue heron bird exhibit
Great Blue Heron exhibit at Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

You will find Great Blue Herons close to bodies of water and routinely nesting in bushes or trees.

AZ tall Wading birds with blue gray feathers
Great Blue Heron bird

These stately herons are expert fishers. Great Blues capture their prey by walking slowly, or standing still for long periods of time and waiting for fish to come within range of their long necks and blade-like bills.  Talk about patience!

It is not uncommon for a heron to make a 20 or even 30 mile round trip in its quest for a worthy foraging site.

tall wading birds in Arizona Desert
Great Blue Heron at Agua Caliente Park in Tucson

A Great Blue Heron’s deathblow is delivered with a quick thrust of their sharp bill, and then the prey is swallowed whole. Though these birds are best known as fishers;  mice and frogs are also part of their diet.

  • How tall is a Great Blue Heron?  Their height is 3.5 to 4.5 ft  (1.2 to 1.4 meters).
  • What is the Great Blue Heron’s wingspan?  Up to 6.7 ft  (2 meters).
grey birds that look like dinosaurs
wingspan of the Great Blue Heron

How fast can the Great Blue Heron Fly?  This large heron can cruise at 20-30 miles per hour.  (32 to 48 kilometers)

fishing birds flying in Arizona
wing span of the Great Blue Heron

The mature Great Blue Heron has plumes on the lower back at the start of the breeding season.

Below is a short,  incredible video of a deer with a Great Blue Heron.

A heron’s bill is dull yellow, becoming orange briefly at the start of the breeding season.  Their lower legs which are gray will also become orange at the start of the breeding season.

wading bird with long legs and gray feathers
older Great Blue Heron bird with long feathers

Young Great Blue Herons are duller in color, with a blackish-gray crown, and the pattern on the flank only weakly defined; the young herons have no plumes, and the bill is dull gray-yellow.

Great Blue Herons breed in colonies. The male chooses the nest site and displays to attract a female.

pair of heron birds  in Arizona
Male and Female Great Blue Herons with orange bill for breeding season

Great Blue Herons prefer their nest site in a tree 20 to 60 feet above the ground, although shrubs are sometimes used.  The female lays 2 to 7 eggs in a platform made of sticks.

Great Blue Heron in a nest of sticks
nest of the Great Blue Heron

The eggs, which are protected and incubated by both parents, hatch in 25 to 30 days. Herons feed their young regurgitated matter.  Chicks can survive on their own by about two months of age.

large heron wading bird
a young Great Blue Heron in Tucson Arizona

These dignified birds have exemplary eye sight and that is how they locate their food.  Great Blue Herons feed at the water’s edge both day and night; typically dawn and dusk.

When does Monsoon season start? What causes Monsoon?

The official start date of the Arizona Monsoon season is June 15.  In 2008, the National Weather Service determined the AZ Monsoon starting date along with the ending date of September 30.

Tucson Phoenix Monsoon weather
storm clouds Monsoon season

What causes monsoon?

Traders sailing the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea used the word monsoon to describe a system of alternating winds which blow from the northeast during the northern winter and from the southwest, during the northern summer. Therefore, the term monsoon refers solely to a seasonal wind shift, and not precipitation.

Mexican monsoon cloud
Arizona Mexico Border storm clouds

Arizona happens to be located in the area of the United States that experiences a monsoonal circulation. During the summer months, winds shift from a west or northwest direction to a south or southeasterly direction.

Monsoon weather for Arizona
Microburst clouds during Monsoon

This wind shift allows moisture from the Gulf of California and the Gulf of Mexico to stream into Arizona.  A monsoonal circulation produces a radical change in moisture conditions throughout the entire state.

Arizona thunderstorm dark clouds
Monsoon storm clouds over Coronado Mountains

Thunderstorm or cumulonimbus clouds are very familiar during monsoon season.  These storm clouds cause lightning, hail and heavy rain.

Arizona desert Monsoon Storms
dark thunderstorm burst clouds

What Arizona experiences during the summer months is only a small part of a larger circulation that encompasses much of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. Thus, it sometimes is also known as the Mexican monsoon. The National Weather Service calls it the North American Monsoon.

microburst monsoon storm cloud
Monsoon clouds Mexican Arizona Border

This adjustment in wind direction is the result of two meteorological changes:

  1. the movement northward of the huge upper level subtropical high pressure system, known as the Bermuda High,
  2. and the intense heating of the Mohave Desert creating rising air and surface low pressure, called a thermal low
severe dark thunderstorm cumulus cloud
Monsoon Storm clouds on top of mountains

The southerly low-level winds help to bring in moisture from Mexico. When this moisture encounters the higher terrain of Arizona mountain ranges, it gets lifted and forms thunderstorms.

dark storm Clouds on arizona border
Monsoon storm Coronado Mountains

Small driving factors such as: atmosphere interaction, land elevation, soil moisture and vegetation all play a part in what drives the Arizona Monsoon; but it is also why predicting storm intensity is so difficult.

When such high volume rain descends upon the Arizona desert the ground and the surface streets flood. Quite often the rain pools on streets during monsoon storms causing dangerous driving conditions.

cumulus thunderstorm cloud
Storm burst clouds at Arizona Mexico Border

The monsoon circulation does not produce thunderstorms every day during the summer months, but rather monsoon storms occur in a pattern known as “bursts” and “breaks”.

best Microburst storm cloud photo
Monsoon microburst cumulus cloud

This cycle of bursts and breaks will continue from the onset of the monsoon (typically June), until the time when cold fronts begin to move across the state of Arizona (typically September), which will return our winds to a westerly or northwesterly direction.

We hope you enjoyed this article.  Our goal was to make Monsoon Season easier to understand.

White-winged Doves pollinate Giant Saguaro Cacti

An essential bird pollinator and seed dispenser for the saguaro cactus plant is the white-winged dove.

The white-winged dove, Zenaida asiatica, is a large grayish brown stout bird with the renowned white stripe on their wings.  This bird’s distinctive white wing bars are visible at rest and in flight.

birds with white tip on wings
White winged dove in the desert

The dove sexes look much the same, but the young white wings have a duller and grayer plumage than adults.

white winged dove baby bird
juvenile white winged dove has brown eyes and no blue ring

Juvenile white-winged doves have no blue orbital ring and their legs are brighter pinkish red. These young doves also have brown eyes instead of the adult bird red eyes.

White winged Dove

Adult white-winged doves have a patch of blue, featherless skin around each crimson red eye.

adult male dove bird with red eyes
Male White Winged dove – red eyes w blue ring

Adult males and females look-alike; except male doves are larger in size along with an iridescent sheen on their head and neck.

male white winged dove arizona birds
Male doves puff their chest to show dominance

The white-winged males show various dominant behaviors.  He may crow around.  This means the male dove puffs his chest up and walks around making cooing noises and bobbing his head up and down.

white winged doves in the desert
Male and female doves with red eyes and blue ring

The female white-winged birds don’t usually exhibit this commanding behavior.

dove birds in Arizona at birdfeeder
white winged dove’s white stripe

White-winged doves feed on a variety of seeds, grains, and cactus fruit.  The doves occurring in the Sonoran Desert rely heavily on the pollen, nectar and red fruit of the saguaro cactus, Carnegeia gigantea, for nutrition and water.

white winged dove bird feathers
dove with white tail tip feathers

In the photos above and below you can plainly see this bird’s white tail tips.

bird with white feathers on tail
white winged dove birds in the desert

Male doves seek areas with easy access to food and water; they will defend their breeding territories against intruders and competitors.

These tenacious birds can fly 25 or more miles to find water!

dove bird with white stripe
wing span of white winged dove

Their lifespan in the wild is about 10-15 years.  It is routine for white-winged dove pairs and families to stay together for life.

dove birds in the desert arizona birds
White winged dove tail and wings

The white-winged dove has a bold white band that appears as a brilliant white crescent when flying.

white stripe of the dove bird in arizona
white bar of the White winged dove

When the dove’s wings are closed, this area looks like a white bar on the lower edge of the wing.

arizona desert dove at bird feeder
tenacious birds – white winged doves

In the sweltering desert, white-winged doves are able to draw needed moisture from saguaro cactus fruit.

saguaro cactus with bird pollinating
White winged dove eats Saguaro cactus fruit
birds live on saguaro cactus flowers and fruit
white winged dove with saguaro cactus fruit

White-winged doves are a familiar sight at Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona. The doves migrate to the desert when the saguaro cactus are blooming.  These birds nourish themselves on the buffet of saguaro cactus blossoms and fruit.

Interesting Saguaro Cactus Facts

One of Arizona’s most majestic, lovable desert cactus plants is the Saguaro, Carnegiea gigantea. Being aware of the saguaro’s history and incredible internal design, it is an honor to walk close to the Giant Saguaro that is over 150 years old and standing tall.

Sonoran Desert cactus tall
Giant Saguaro Cactus of Arizona

These desert cacti are large, tree-like columnar cacti that develop branches (or arms) as they age.

Saguaro Cactus can not tolerate freezing temperatures in the winter and this is what limits their range.

Saguaro National Park
Saguaro Cactus

Saguaro FACTS:  Saguaros are a very slow growing cactus.  A 10 year old plant might only be 2 inches tall.

How tall can a Saguaro Cactus grow?  It can grow 40 to 60 feet tall.

Arizona Saguaro Giant Cactus
Saguaro Cactus on Mica Mountain
60 foot Saguaro Cactus plant
A Tall Saguaro Cactus

Below are Saguaro cacti at the bottom of Mica Mountain in Saguaro National Park.

Mica Mountain Saguaro National Park

Saguaro cactus roots are only 4-6 inches deep and travel out as far from the plant as it is tall. There is one deep tap root that extends down into the ground.

A Saguaro Cactus can gather enough water through its remarkable root system, during a significant rain, to last a year!

holes in big cactus
Holes in Saguaro Cactus for birds nest

Why are there holes in the Saguaro Cactus?  The gilded flicker and Gila woodpecker excavate nest cavities inside the saguaro’s pulpy flesh.

Birds nesting in the Arizona Saguaro Cactus

Cactus Wrens are common birds that live in the holes (nests) of the Saguaro Cactus.

red fruit of cactus
Saguaro Cactus Flowers bloom, then turn to fruit

When a saguaro reaches 35 years of age it begins to produce flowers.

white flower on cactus arizona
Saguaro cactus Bloom – Flower

A Saguaro can only be fertilized from a different cactus – cross pollination.  Only a few bloom each night awaiting to be pollinated and close by late morning.

pollinated cactus flower to fruit
red fruit on Saguaro Cactus
dead saguaro cactus ribs
A living and dead Saguaro Cactus.

Because the major part of a desert saguaro cactus is made up of water, an adult plant may weigh 6 tons or more. This tremendous weight is supported by a circular skeleton of inter-connected, woody ribs.

After the saguaro dies its wood ribs can be used to build roofs, fences, and parts of furniture.  The holes that birds nested in are called saguaro boots.

holes in cactus in Arizona
Saguaro Boot used by Native American

Native Americans used saguaro boots as water containers.

200 year old tall saguaro cactus
Saguaro Cactus next to a biker to compare the size

Saguaro branches normally begin to appear when the cactus reaches 50 to 70 years of age.

The average life span of a saguaro is approximately 175 years of age.  Experts have estimated that a Saguaro Cactus with more than 5 arms can be 200 years old.

nurse tree for saguaro cactus
Yellow Palo Verde Tree is a nurse tree

Young saguaro cacti can be very hard to find because they grow under the protection of a “nurse tree”.  The nurse tree releases nitrogen in the soil which the Saguaros and other desert cacti use to grow healthy and strong.

Saguaros sometimes grow in odd shapes or forms. The growing tip of the cactus occasionally produces a fan-like form which is referred to as crested or cristate.

rare arizona cactus
Cristate Saguaro Cactus

These crested saguaro cacti, Carnegia gigantea forma cristata, are rare.  Biologists are not sure why these Saguaros grow this fan-like shape.

Fan like shaped cactus rare
Crested, Cristate, Fan-like Saguaro Cactus from AZ
crested cristate cactus in Tucson Phoenix
rare Saguaro in Tucson

Arizona has strict regulations about the harvesting, collection or destruction of  The Arizona Saguaro Cactus. It is illegal to harm a Saguaro in Arizona. During building or construction, precautions must be taken to move every saguaro that may be affected.

Desert turtles in Arizona – difference between male and female tortoises

ARIZONA TORTOISE | Turtles – Do NOT pick up the Desert Tortoise unless it is in harms way. The Tortoise will get scared and release the water in its bladder and most likely die during the dry season.

turtles in the desert
Arizona Desert Tortoise, Gopherus agassizii

It is also illegal and detrimental to the desert tortoise populations to collect tortoises from the wild.

Arizona turtle tortoise
desert tortoise have tails

Removing any of the six species of Arizona’s native turtle / tortoise can severely affect local populations because they reproduce very slowly in natural conditions.

  • Desert Tortoises
  • Ornate Box Turtles
  • Mud Turtles
  • Painted Turtles

What is the difference between Male and Female Tortoises?

It can take up to 20 years before the Desert Tortoise starts showing physical characteristics that are typical of the 2 sexes.  The sex of a tortoise is based on the temperature of the nest and NOT genetics.

Phoenix Desert Tortoise
Desert Tortoise in Sonoran Desert, AZ

One way to tell the difference between the female and male tortoise is by the TAIL.  A male tortoise has a larger tail than the female.   The female’s is very short.  Also, male tortoises have 2 chin glands that are enlarged during mating season.  Sometimes a white gooey liquid comes out of the male’s chin glands.

dinosaurs in Arizona
Desert Tortoise at Colossal Cave, AZ

The Desert Tortoise is called – “A LIVING DINOSAUR”

Facts:

Dinosaurs became extinct but turtles & tortoises have thrived in their present form for approximately 150 million years.

This Tortoise is one of four species that have remained unchanged since the Oligocene Epoch  27-37 million years ago.

Arizona Tortoise photos
Desert Tortoise eating cactus

Arizona Game and Fish Department’s TURTLE PROJECT works to manage and conserve all six species of turtles/tortoises.  They receive hundreds of young and adult Tortoises that have been displaced due to construction or raised in captivity. The TURTLE PROJECT has Tortoises available for adoption.

A captive tortoise has to be raised in captivity for the rest of its life.   It can live to be 100 years old.

Gopherus agassizii
Desert Tortoise back elephant like legs

If a captured tortoise is released in the wild it can introduce diseases and jeopardize the wild populations.  URTD (an upper respiratory infection) has caused catastrophic die-offs in the Mojave tortoise population, resulting in Mojave Tortoise being placed on the federal listing under the Endangered Species Act

If you are interested in Tortoises but are not in the position to adopt, you can still participate in the Sponsor-a-Turtle program.  By donating to the Turtles Project, you will help project biologists purchase specialized gear so that they may continue to plan and implement conservation and management.  Click here to download the Sponsor-a-Turtle program brochure.

Arizona tortoise turtle
Desert Tortoise eating dark greens

A tortoise is a high-domed turtle, with “columnar” legs,  or elephant-like.  It is more terrestrial ( an animal that lives on land as opposed to water) than the turtle is, Arizona Tortoises go to water only to drink or bathe. They are NOT designed for swimming.

When the tortoise/turtle species emerges from winter torpor(brumation),  it will eat new growth cacti and their flowers, grasses and some shrubs.

tortoise in Arizona eat prickly pear cactus
Desert Tortoise ate cactus fruit

** What is Brumation – it is different than hibernation; when mammals hibernate, they actually sleep; when reptiles brumate, their metabolism slows down making them less active, and so they just barely need to eat.

male female Arizona Tortoise Turtle
male and female desert Tortoise in Arizona

Reptiles can often go through the whole winter without eating.  Brumation is triggered by lack of heat and the decrease in daylight hours.

A single tortoise may have a dozen or more burrows distributed over its home range. These burrows may be used by different tortoises at different times. Some of their burrows just extend beyond the shell of the tortoise inside.

Tortoise Den in Arizona
Male Desert Tortoise in the den

The tortoise is able to live where ground temperatures may exceed 140 degrees F, because of its ability to dig underground burrows and escape the heat.

Image courtesy of AZ Game and Fish Dept. http://www.azgfd.gov/

Desert tortoises generally emerge from their burrows mid-March to feed. During this approximate six week period: fresh green grass and spring wildflowers are their primary nutritional source.

Arizona Tortoise, Tucson Turtle
Gopherus agassizi, Desert Tortoise eat grass

In the Sonoran Desert of Arizona,  tortoises tend to live on steep, rocky hillside slopes in Palo Verde trees/shrubs and Saguaro Cactus areas.

Sonoran Desert Tortoise Turtle
Desert Tortoise in Tucson, Arizona

The tortoise’s forelimbs are flattened with well-developed muscles for digging burrows and the hind limbs are elephantine in which the female tortoise uses to dig her nests.

Desert tortoise turtle
Female Desert Tortoise in Arizona
Desert Tortoise in Arizona
Desert Tortoise Shell

Fighting may occur any time male tortoises encounter each-other. When fighting the desert tortoise/turtle will use the gular scutes to ram and flip other males. A flipped male will usually right itself after the defeat, but if it cannot, it will die.

female and male tortoise difference
male on the left and female tortoise on the right

The turtle shell is a highly complicated shield for the tortoise;, completely enclosing all the vital organs and in some tortoise/turtle species even the head.

Arizona Desert Tortoise turtle
The Shell of a Desert Tortoise

Helping to make the desert tortoise suited for desert-life is the ability to acquire almost all of its water from the plants that it eats. Because desert tortoises live in an arid climate where most of the rainfall occurs during the monsoon; the Tortoise is able to store water in its bladder for use during drought.

Adult tortoises have very few natural predators because of its thick, scaly skin and hard shell. In the Sonoran desert, mountain lions are their main predators.  Worse than predation, however, is the pressure the species is under from development, the construction of roads, and other human activities that degrade its habitat and cause mortality.

tucson tortoise turtle
Desert tortoise eating

Courting, mating and copulation may occur any time that tortoises are above ground; however, there seems to be more of this behavior in late summer and early fall when the testosterone levels peak in male tortoises.

Arizona male Tortoise copulating
Desert Tortoise, Turtles mating

 

Females store sperm and their egg laying occurs in May, June and July.

desert turtle young tortoise
small baby desert tortoise

A mature female tortoise might lay 4-8 white, hard-shelled eggs in a clutch and produce 2, sometimes 3 clutches in a season. Only a few tortoise eggs out of every hundred actually make it to adulthood.

arizona young tortoise hatchling
baby desert tortoise

After laying her eggs, the female tortoise leaves the nest.  The soil temperatures support growth of the embryos.  The incubation period is 90 to 120 days.

Tucson baby desert tortoise turtle
Tiny baby desert tortoise

Unfortunately, slow growth and soft shells make baby tortoises particularly vulnerable to predators.

 

Arkenstone Cave in AZ – Protected living cave at Colossal Park

Arkenstone Cave was discovered near the Rincon Mountains of Southeastern Arizona in the 1960’s.  This living cave is protected by the county and accessible only to a few scientists and researchers.

wet live cave in Arizona
Arkenstone Cave in Arizona

We have spent a great deal of time investigating information regarding Arkenstone and La Tetera Caves.  Our most important finding has been the fact that Pima County regards these living caves as treasure troves of precious, immeasurable scientific information.

Access is extremely limited; but a visit to Colossal Cave Mountain Park Museum can provide the curious with results of the past and latest research conducted inside Arkenstone Cave.

Here are some of the research highlights provided from the Museum Caving Rooms at Colossal Cave east of Tucson, AZ.

Colossal Cave Mountain Park
Arkenstone Cave is used for research

ARKENSTONE is an active KARST CAVE, which means the breaking down of limestone has produced fissures, sinkholes, caverns and underground streams.

Most caves are formed in limestone.  Simply put, it dissolves from precipitation mixing with carbon dioxide and the decaying organic material in the soil.  This dissolution process is extremely slow.  Thousands upon thousands of years!

Arkenstone karst caves
Karst diagram, Limestone Caves

Karst image courtesy of  www.geocaching.com

Arkenstone, La Tetera and Colossal Caves are located in Colossal Cave Mountain Park, Arizona.  Colossal Cave is dry and considered a dead cave.  La Tetera and Arkenstone are alive and adorned with calcium carbonate formations produced through slow precipitation.

SPELEOTHEMS in Arkenstone Cave
Arkenstone Cave Crystal formations

Mineral deposits in caves are called SPELEOTHEMS.

ARKENSTONE CAVE is called:

  • a WILD cave
  • a WET cave
  • a LIVE, “active” cave

What does this mean… A wild cave has no provisions for the general public and is dangerous without expert equipment and experience.  A wet cave has precipitation.

Colossal Cave Mountain Park Caves
Tower Coral, crystal formations on the floor of Arkenstone Cave

A live cave has life forms, insects, faunal, animal, species and unusual speleothems.

Pima County and Colossal Park employees have an overwhelming desire and responsibility to protect La Tetera and Arkenstone living Caves.

research caves protected in Pima County
species found in Arkenstone Cave, Colossal Mountain Park, AZ

Several new species have been found in Arkenstone that are endemic to Arkenstone, meaning they only exist in Arkenstone Cave.  A few researchers have special grants to work in these living Arizona Caves.

In recent years, 7 new species of fauna have been found.  The Arkenstone Cave exhibit at Colossal Mountain Park Museum gives detailed descriptions.

Arizona Wet Caves, Arkenstone
research at Arkenstone Cave

Animals that live in caves are often put in the category called TROGLOBITESTroglobitic species tend to be very unusual organisms.  For example, they may have loss of pigment or no eyes.  These characteristics would be adaptations to their subterranean life.

live caves in Arizona
Pseudoscorpion found in Arkenstone Cave

A previously unknown species of pseudoscorpion was discovered in Arkenstone.  The pseudoscorpion has since been listed as one of Pima County’s priority vulnerable species!

vampire bats in Arkenstone Cave
Bat Bones found in Arkenstone Cave

A small, late Quaternary, (about 2 million yrs ago), deposit of degraded bat guano (poop) in Arkenstone Cave yielded thousands of fossil bat bones.

Colossal Park living caves, La Tetera Arkenstone
Arkenstone Cave Exhibit and research

Rarer bones in the deposit represent a smaller species of bat (Myotis) and the extinct vampire bat Desmodus stocki.

This is the first record of D. stocki in what is now the Sonoran Desert and the second location for the vampire bat species in Arizona.

Rincon Mountains Arkenstone Living Cave
Extinct Vampire Bat found in Arkenstone Cave

Due to leaching in the alkaline cave environment, the bones could not be dated by radiocarbon, but the fossils probably date to the late Pleistocene Age  —  (Late Pleistocene Bats from Arkenstone Cave, Arizona by Nicholas Czaplewski and William Peachey, December 2003)

The Late Pleistocene age was dominated by glaciation  Many larger land animals, MEGAFAUNA, became extinct over this ICE AGE.  Experts estimated that 30% of the Earth’s surface was covered by ice.  Pleistocene vampire bats most likely were capable of surviving in cooler temperatures than the modern bats of today.

The extinction of Desmodus stocki paralleled the extinction of the megafauna.

Pleistoncene Ice Coverage on Earth
Photo of Earth during the Ice Age, The Pleistocene

Research indicates that Arkenstone Cave was the site of a maternity colony of Myotis thysanodes.  Myotis thysandoes is a larger species of bat, mammal.  These bats begin nursing colonies, female nurse bats remain at the roost while other adults are out foraging.

Arkenstone, La Tetera Cave Arizona
extinct vampire bat, Desmodus stocki

Virtually all of the bones collected were of that species.  Remains of Desmodus are consistent with a single individual, and those of a small Myotis (bat) consistent with two individuals (Czaplewski and Peachey 2003).

altruistic example, bats
Arkenstone Cave discovery of extinct vampire bats

Desmodus stocki was 20% larger than the still extant common vampire bat.   Lets put aside the scary name, VAMPIRE, and let me share some benevolent behavior of Vampire Bats that may gain your admiration for the Pleistocene bat, Desmodus Stocki.

Vampire Bats are one of the few animal species that show caring behavior for those beyond their family group.  They even adopt orphaned bats and will share their food.  Look at the photo above for more altruistic vampire ways.  🙂

vampire bats, Arkenstone Cave
common vampire bat skull, teeth

Scientists state that fossil records of Desmodus stocki are uncommon because these bats mainly roosted in hollow trees and any remains would decay along with the wood.

Arkenstone Cave Arizona
new species found in Arkenstone and Kartchner Caves

photo above is courtesy of  Journal of Cave and Karst Studies

A new species of Nicoletiidae (Insecta: Zygentoma) has been discovered in Arkenstone and Kartchner Caves.  This species pictured above lives in deeper areas of Arkenstone Cave than it does in Kartchner.
The 2 caves are approximately 23 miles apart and in isolated Karst areas with no possible connection to each other.
Rincon Mountains Caves Arizona
Caves at Colossal Cave Mountain Park
You would think that these would be different species?  But so far the research shows they are the same.  How amazing is that?
caves at Colossal Mountain Park in Vail AZ
Arkenstone Cave
Cave species are very fragile and some live in a specific cave and no where else in the world.   These TROGLOBITES are accustomed to a near constant temperature and humidity.  Even the slightest disturbance can disrupt the life cycles of these amazing species.
Arizona active wild caves, Arkenstone
Crystal formations in Arkenstone Cave
As updated research becomes available we will add new articles.
fringed myotis is found across the western United States.
The fringed myotis is found across the western United States. It has been found as far east as the Trans-Pecos region of Texas during summer months, as far north as British Columbia and as far south as Mexico.
The fringed myotis is found across the western United States. It has been found as far east as the Trans-Pecos region of Texas during summer months, as far north as British Columbia and as far south as Mexico.