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.
**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.
There are dozens of varieties of cacti; short, tall, stout, delicate but none quite as magnificent as the Giant Saguaro cactus.
Quick Saguaro Facts:
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.
The saguaro is the largest cactus in the US.
After the saguaro dies its woody ribs can be used to build roofs, fences, and parts of furniture.
The Giant Saguaro can live to be 200 years old.
In the Sonoran desert the saguaro cactushas a boundless variety of towering armed shapes.
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.
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.
Many saguaros now standing in cactus forests germinated in the mid-1800s !!
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.
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.
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.
Before entering Colossal Cave it was essential to educate ourselves and obtain some “cave basics”. The facts and information we learned about limestone cavesmade our trip profoundly interesting!
Colossal Cave is an archaic KARST CAVE (meaning erosion has produced fissures, sinkholes, caverns and underground streams).
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).
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
In 1879, Solomon Lick, the owner of the nearby hotel, was searching for stray cattle and discovered the entrance to this cave.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Stalactites – “c” for ceiling – hang from the top of caves like icicles
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.
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.
While visiting this cave do adventure down the road to La Posta Quemada Ranch.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Only a few Saguaro flowers bloom each night and close by late morning; thus, giving a greater opportunity for pollination.
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.
bird pollinating the Saguaro cactus blossom
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.
While traveling Arizona we stopped at Saguaro National Park, in Tucson. The park is located in the Sonoran Desert.
The giant cacti, called Saguaros, are protected and preserved within the park.
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!
A saguaro expands like an accordion when it absorbs water which can increase its weight by up to a ton.
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!
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.
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.
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.
We found several bark scorpions in our Arizona yard but this is the first time we found a Giant Desert Hairy Scorpion, Hadrurus 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.
Three species of scorpions are commonly found in the Arizona Desert:
Small Bark Scorpion, Centruroides exilicauda
Striped Tail or Devil’s Scorpion, Vaejovis spinigerus
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.
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.
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.
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!
Scorpion burrows are commonly oval or crescent-shaped.
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.
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.
Various migratory birds wind up off course due to bad weather and end up in Arizona lakes.
Brown Pelicans have an extremely long bill with a large pouch attached on the lower half. The pelicans pouch is used to catch fish.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Pelican birds are the only pelican to plunge dive to catch their prey, other species of pelicans fish from the surface of the water.
They can be seen performing a surface plunge from as high as 20 meters to catch their prey!
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 billon their folded neck.
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.
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.
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.
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 CallAZ Game and Fish at 520-290-9453 and let them know.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lantana, in the verbena family, is a highly attractive drought resistant flowering plant that originated in tropical regions of Africa and the Americas.
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.
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.
There is a difference between drought resistant and drought tolerant plants. Knowing the difference can save you considerable heartache.
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.
The most prominent building at Fort Lowell was the hospital, the adobe remnants still stand under a protective structure.
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.
A lane lined with cottonwood trees, aptly named Cottonwood Lane, glorified the area in front of the officer’s houses.
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 crestedducks with the latest updos.
Catch a glimpse as a pigeon tries to remember the secret code to get passed the duck security.
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 FortLowell Park” as they were planting trees and tidying up the nesting area.
A regal Neotropic Cormorant bird was standing by to make sure we didn’t decide to jump in and go swimming.
Many species of cormorants make a characteristic half-jump as they dive and under water cormorants propel themselves with their feet.
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 outdooractivities and wildlife in the Sonoran Desert.
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.
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.
This towering bird is the most common and largest of North American herons. The Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias, is in the family, Ardeidae.
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.
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.
You will find Great Blue Herons close to bodies of water and routinely nesting in bushes or trees.
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.
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).
How fast can the Great Blue Heron Fly? This large heron can cruise at 20-30 miles per hour. (32 to 48 kilometers)
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 breedingseason.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 monsoonrefers solely to a seasonalwind shift, and not precipitation.
Arizona happens to be located in the area of the United States that experiences a monsoonal circulation. During the summer months, winds shiftfrom a west or northwest direction to a south or southeasterly direction.
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.
Thunderstorm or cumulonimbus clouds are very familiar during monsoon season. These storm clouds cause lightning, hail and heavy rain.
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.
This adjustment in wind direction is the result of two meteorological changes:
the movement northward of the huge upper level subtropical high pressure system, known as the Bermuda High,
and the intense heating of the Mohave Desert creating rising air and surface low pressure, called a thermal low
The southerly low-level winds help to bring in moisture from Mexico. When this moisture encounters the higher terrain of Arizonamountain ranges, it gets lifted and forms thunderstorms.
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.
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”.
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 (typicallySeptember), 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.
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 wingbars are visible at rest and in flight.
The dove sexes look much the same, but the young white wings have a duller and grayer plumage than adults.
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.
Adult white-winged doves have a patch of blue, featherless skin around each crimson red eye.
Adult males and females look-alike; except male doves are larger in size along with an iridescent sheen on their head and neck.
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.
The female white-winged birds don’t usually exhibit this commanding behavior.
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.
In the photos above and below you can plainly see this bird’s white tail tips.
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!
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.
The white-winged dove has a bold white band that appears as a brilliant white crescent when flying.
When the dove’s wings are closed, this area looks like a white bar on the lower edge of the wing.
In the sweltering desert, white-winged doves are able to draw needed moisture from 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.
The Saguaro cactus will produce white flowers from April to June. This beautiful desert show only occurs 2 months out of the year.
This breath-taking Saguaro Cactus Blossom was designated Arizona’s State Flower in 1931.
The Saguaro flowers are velvety white, and emit a sweet nectar that attracts bats. During the night the flowers are pollinated by the Mexican long-tongued bat and the lesser long-nosed bat.
During the daytime the flowers are pollinated by bees and birds.
The Saguaro Cactus (pronounced “sah-wah-roh”), is an icon of the American west.
Arizona’s Saguaro National Park provides the ideal conditions for sustaining dense stands of the famous saguaro cactus, Carnegiea gigantea.
Saguaro blossoms are usually found near the tops of the stems and arms of the giant cactus.
There can be close to a hundred of these creamy white flowers on ONE Saguaro!
Ever wonder what the Saguaro Cactus Flowers smell like? The smell is very strong and I’d have to say these cactus blossoms smell like overripe melons!
We visit Saguaro Park many times throughout the year; but I have to say April through June is some of our favorite months. If we get to the park in the early mornings we are sure to see the Saguaro Cactus with their white flowers open.
One of the great MASTERS of desert survival is The Giant Saguaro Cactus. Every aspect of this cactus plant is specifically designed to thrive in the harsh Sonoran Desert.
At 35 years of age the Saguaro Cactus will start to produce flowers.
The saguaro flower opens after sunset and by next early afternoon the blossom is wilted.
The whitecactus flower repeats itself night after night. They have less than 24 hours to attract an animal to be pollinated.
A Saguaro can only be fertilized from a different cactus – cross pollination.
At the top of the Saguaro flower tube is a dense group of yellow stamens. The Saguaro Cactus has more stamen on its flower than any other desert cactus. Nectar accumulates at the bottom that attracts insects, bats, and birds.
The Saguaroflowers do not bloom all at the same time. Only a few flowers bloom each night waiting to be pollinated and then wilt by early afternoon.
The cactus flowers that were pollinated will become red-fleshed saguaro fruits later in the summer.
The animals, such as bats, that eat the red fruit help spread the Saguaro cactus seeds across the desert.
Each cactus fruit can contain up to 2000 small black seeds. Saguaro fruit is an excellent source of food and moisture for many desert animals.
Arizona has strict regulations about the harvesting, collection or destruction of The Arizona Saguaro Cactus. It is illegal to harm a Saguaro in Arizona.
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.
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 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.
Below are Saguaro cacti at the bottom of Mica Mountain in 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, duringa significant rain, to last a year!
Why are there holes in the Saguaro Cactus? The gilded flicker and Gila woodpecker excavate nest cavities inside the saguaro’s pulpy flesh.
Cactus Wrens are common birds that live in the holes (nests) of the Saguaro Cactus.
When a saguaro reaches 35 years of age it begins to produce flowers.
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.
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.
Native Americans used saguaro boots as water containers.
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 armscan be 200 years old.
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.
These crested saguaro cacti, Carnegia gigantea forma cristata, are rare. Biologists are not sure why these Saguaros grow this fan-like shape.
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.
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.
It is also illegal and detrimental to the desert tortoise populations to collect tortoises from the wild.
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.
Ornate Box Turtles
What is the difference betweenMale 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.
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.
The Desert Tortoise is called – “A LIVING DINOSAUR”
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 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.
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.
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.
** 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.
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.
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.
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.
In the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, tortoises tend to live on steep, rocky hillside slopes in Palo Verde trees/shrubs and Saguaro Cactus areas.
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.
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.
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.
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 aridclimate 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.
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.
Females store sperm and their egg laying occurs in May, June and July.
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.
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.
Unfortunately, slow growth and soft shells make baby tortoises particularly vulnerable to predators.
Arkenstone Cave was discovered near the RinconMountains of Southeastern Arizona in the 1960’s. This livingcave is protected by the county and accessible only to a few scientists and researchers.
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, immeasurablescientific 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.
ARKENSTONE is an active KARSTCAVE, 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, 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.
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.
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 protectLa Tetera and Arkenstone living Caves.
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.
Animals that live in caves are often put in the category called TROGLOBITES. Troglobitic 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.
A previously unknown species of pseudoscorpion was discovered in Arkenstone. The pseudoscorpion has since been listed as one of Pima County’s priority vulnerablespecies!
A small, late Quaternary, (about 2 million yrs ago), deposit of degraded bat guano (poop) in Arkenstone Cave yielded thousands of fossil bat bones.
Rarer bones in the deposit represent a smaller species of bat (Myotis) and the extinctvampire 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.
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 stockiparalleled the extinction of the megafauna.
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.
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).
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 altruisticvampire ways. 🙂
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.
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.
You would think that these would be different species? But so far the research shows they are the same. How amazing is that?
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.
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.