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.
What is the small tree with yellow flowers and round leaves in Arizona? The Caesalpinia mexicana, Mexican Bird of Paradise, is a flowering plant species in the pea family, Fabaceae. This drought tolerant, perennial tree is native to Mexico and the extreme lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas.
All parts of this Mexican plant are poisonous. The showy Mexican Bird of Paradise shrub thrives in dry conditions. Once the roots are established, they are drought tolerant.
If you are looking for a small shade tree that is flowering and easy to care for; the Mexican Bird of Paradise is perfect for your yard and a good choice for xeriscape desert gardens.
Caesalpinia mexicana, Mexican Poinciana, does best in full sun. It is a perennial flowering tree that is heat resistant; with rounded leaves and spikes of solid yellow flower clusters. The fragrant yellow flowers of this Bird of Paradise are very showy and will bloom throughout the year! The USDA Hardiness Zone is 9.
In the photo ABOVE see the rounded shape of the leaves and the yellow flowers.
The “Red Bird of Paradise”, – commonly but mistakenly called (The Mexican Bird of Paradise), – has Red, Orange and Yellow Flowers. See the Picture below.
The Mexican Bird of Paradise bush can be pruned and trained into a small tree.
How to grow bird of paradise plants from Bean Pods
Germinating the seeds for this Mexican Bird of Paradise will be easy! Simply soak the seeds from the bean pods in water for 48 hours or like many people use a damp paper towel. If you are using the paper towel method to germinate your seeds-when a white shoot appears-plant it with the white shoot facing DOWN.
To plant and grow your bird of paradise — plant the seed in peat pots. Cover the seeds lightly with damp vermiculite or your choice of a good soil.
Bird of Paradise seeds need at least 8 hours of sun, but not direct sun it will be too hot! You can start to give them a little more direct sun after the first leaves appear.
Peat Pots are great and make growing and transplanting your Mexican, Yellow or Red Bird of Paradise seedlings much easier. Start your seeds indoors and when you are ready to plant your Bird of Paradise just put the entire pot in the ground. Roots will penetrate the peat potand the pot disintegrates enriching the soil.
Apple Annie’sis a “you pick” orchard in Willcox, Arizona. It is about 1 1/2 hours from Tucson through the exhilarating countryside. A must see for travelers or anyone looking for a gladdening family activity. The farm is well marked and easy to find.
This WILLCOX ORCHARD was started in the 1980’s by a husband, wife and their 2 young children. They humbly began with only tasty apples and their famous apple pie.
Nowadays you can pick juicy peaches, Asian pears, bell peppers, corn, etc… Apple Annie’s is a farmers’ market dream!
The start of the Fall season is complete with PUMPKINS of all sizes, shapes and colors that are available for picking at Apple Annie’s HUGE pumpkin patch.
One of the best parts of Apple Annie’sOrchard is they sell “cider donuts” and your tummy will thank you! If you are adventurous, try a taste of the zesty jalapeno honey mustard, horseradish pickles and other oddly paired condiments.
For anyone traveling to Phoenix or Tucson, AZ the drive to Apple Annie’s Orchard is a great way to spend a relaxing, memorable day in the country. Remember to bring your camera and keep in mind fall days on the farm can be cold in Willcox.
Before planning your trip to Willcox, you can call Annie’s Crop Hotline at 520-384-2084to hear a list of what the farm is currently harvesting.
Children can choose a wheelbarrow or bucket and pick their own vegetables while learning about farming.
For extra thrills make a reservation at the CORN MAZE. Apple Annie’s added 3 levels of difficulty waiting to gobble you up! Halfway through the maze is a high bridge with a great view of the farm; but, it will not give away the solution.
Rest your feet by relaxing on a tractor pulled hay ride in “Farmer John’s truck”. God bless you Apple Annie’s for all your hard work and dedication to the community. Oh and of course the YUMMY home made foods!
“When we planted the first apple trees we asked God for His blessing and guidance in this new venture, but we never envisioned the plans that He had for us! We planned for a commercially harvested crop, but His plans were for us to share our orchard, the farm experience, and the lifestyle that we love, with thousands of families from around the state. We consider it a real privilege to be able to offer an old-fashioned farm experience to today’s busy families!” ~ John and Annie Holcomb
What is MONSOON? The word monsoon is derived from the Arabic word mausim, which means season. Traders fishing the waters off the Arabian and Indian coasts noted that dry northeast winds in the winter suddenly turn southwest during the summer, and bring heavy rains to Asia.
We now know that these Monsoon large wind shifts from dry desert areas to moist tropical areas occur in other parts of the world including Arizona. Strong yearly variations of temperature over land masses is a primary cause of MONSOON.
The monsoon weather in Arizona is not as intense as Monsoon season in Asia and India mainly because the Mexican Pleateau is not as high or as large as the Tibetan Plateau in Asia. In Arizona, the monsoon process starts with the hot and dry weather of May and June.
Most of Arizona’s humid air comes from the Sea of Cortez and the Gulf of Mexico. Our hot desert sun heats the moist air causing the familiar thunderstorm cumulonimbus clouds.
Cumulus clouds are a type of cloud with noticeable vertical development and clearly defined edges. Cumulus means “heap” or “pile” in Latin. These clouds typically form when warm air rises and reaches a level of cool air, where the moisture in the air condenses.
If the top of the cumulus cloud reaches above the altitude where the temperature is at or below the freezing level, then precipitation from the cloud is possible.
Usually by May or June, our strong Arizona heat causes temperatures to soar over these desert land areas. The intense heat causes surface air pressure to fall, forming an area of low pressure known as a thermal low.
Eventually, the cooler and much more humid air over the ocean is drawn toward the hot, dry air over land. This moist air moving onto the hot land eventually becomes unstable and develops into thunderstorms.
Once this occurs and rain begins to fall, humidity levels increase over land, which only triggers more thunderstorms. Now you have the Arizona Monsoon Season!
This cycle will continue until land areas begin to cool in the early fall and the monsoon gradually ends.
Until the late 1970s, there was serious debate about whether a monsoon truly existed in North America. However, considerable research, which culminated in the Southwest Arizona Monsoon Project (SWAMP) in 1990 and 1993, established the fact that a bonafide monsoon, characterized by large-scale wind and rainfall shifts in the summer, develops over much of Mexico and the intermountain region of the U.S.
Rainfall during the monsoon varies with distinct “burst” periods of heavy rain and “break” periods with little or no rain. Monsoon precipitation accounts for a substantial portion of annual precipitation in northwest Mexico and the Southwest U.S.
Many have asked – Is the Red Bird of Paradise plant toxic?
All 3 of the bird of paradise flowering bushes are poisonous.
The orange and yellow flowers of the Caesalpinia pulcherrima, make a stunning bush.
The true Mexican Bird of Paradise tree has yellow flowers and round leaves.
The Yellow Bird of paradise plant has clusters of yellowflowers with a long red stamen.
All of these beautiful desert bushes belong to the genus Caesalpinia. But DO NOT eat any part of the 3 Bird of Paradise plants.
Caesalpinia is a genus of flowering plants in the legume family, FABACEAE. The fruit of these Bird of Paradise desert bushes is a long, flat seed pod.
The seed pods are toxic! Watch small children and pets around these shrubs.
The level of toxicity for the bird of paradise plants is low. The leaves contain hydrocyanic acid. The toxins in the bean pods are tannins. The role of tannins in many species of plants is to protect it from predators.
Ingesting any part of bird of paradise plants can cause gastrointestinal irritation. Nausea, diarrhea and vomiting are symptoms of bird of paradise poisoning.
While the Red, Yellow and Mexican Bird of Paradise’s toxins are not life-threatening; keep in mind that diarrhea and vomiting can produce dehydration. These symptoms should be taken seriously and you should seek medical treatment.
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.
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.
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.
One of the largest pest control companies in the world, TRULY NOLEN, was founded in Miami, FL in 1938 by Truly Wheatfield Nolen.
Mr. Nolen was known for his complete dedication to his customers; said to be a hard worker; spending 7 days a week at building his business. Truly Wheatfield Nolen passed in 1965 but his legacy lives on through his children and his grandchildren. Truly Wheatfield Nolen’s son, Truly David Nolen, runs the business with the corporate office located in Tucson, AZ.
Truly Nolen America was founded by the son, Truly David Nolen who also started the franchise opportunites.
According to Willie Langdon, garage manager for Truly Nolen in Florida, the car restorations are effected in the shop at the rear of the offices.
There are several shops throughout the country that Truly Nolen owns to restore classic automobiles so advertising can be displayed. The main antique car restoration shop is in Tucson, ARIZONA.
Truly Nolen America and Truly Nolen International are one of the largest family-owned pest-control companies in the world, with some 90-100 service centers and franchises in ten states and more than 41 foreign countries. Not only are the TRULY NOLEN cars extraordinary; but their pest service is to! We have used them for years and give high recommendations.
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.
The MANDEVILLA vine is growing well. This Mandevilla plant is native to Central and South America – named after Henry Mandeville (1773-1861), a British diplomat and gardener.
Mandevilla, also known as Brazilian jasmine, Dipladenia, is a flowering tropical plant that originated in the hills above Rio de Janeiro.
Mandevillas develop spectacular flowers in warm climates. They are perfect here in the hot desert Arizona garden. One of our secrets for cultivating this luscious pink variety (they come in white, red and yellow) is the part shade design.
**We purchased the 4 trellises from Home Depot, bent them slightly to fit the arch and then screwed them together.
An important part of Mandevilla care is the light it receives. The Mandevilla vines need some shade. We used 4 large plastic garden trellises by the front door as you can see in the photo. Mandevilla plants love bright indirect or filtered sunlight, but will get burned in full sun especially this Arizona sun.
Mandevillas are a vine and will need some type of support, we used garden ties and tape to help train it along the trellis.
Some say the Mandevilla Vine is not a Perennialplant because it will NOT survive if temperatures reach below 50 degrees. BUT this past winter Southern Arizona reached down to the 30’s and as you can see this beautiful plant is thriving and full of pink flowers. Mandevillas have brought tropical flair to our Arizona front yard and desert garden.
Mandevilla plants are critter proof – squirrels and packrats leave this plant alone!
There are over 100 species of Mandevilla plants. The blooms start out as a lighter color and get darker as they age.
We make it a point to take visitors to Agua Caliente Park. This is an amazing lagoon; a get away from the prickly pear cacti and saguaros. It’s hard to tell that you’re even in Tucson. Agua Caliente presents you with an abundance of mature shade trees and lush backgrounds for picnics, weddings and even Plein-Air paintings.
Roy P. Drachman Agua Caliente Park has a natural hot spring that flows through faults between gneissic rock and has been a long-inhabited settlement.
What is gneissic rock? This type of rock has minerals arranged into layers which seem to be bands that alternate darker and lighter colors. The banding is developed under high temperature and pressure conditions.
Ok now, is Agua Caliente a park, a lake, or a wildlife habitat? Well this natural spring is a bit of everything! Pack a picnic, hang out and be sure to bring a camera.
If you enjoy bird watching then Agua Caliente Park is worth a visit. The Tucson Audubon Society is housed in the original Ranch home.
Take a look inside this historic building and enjoy the gift shop and gallery.
The eccentricity of the mountains and mature palm trees are reflected with vibrant color in the water.
Here you can picnic at a 101 acre aquatic / riparian habitat surrounded by the Sonoran Desert.
At Agua Caliente you will see a variety of wildlife including herons, Arizona turtles and a variety of ducks.
The natural spring flow fluctuates at various times during the year due to drought. While visiting Agua Caliente you many see the lower ponds dry.
Relax on a bench and watch dozens of turtles sunning themselves. While visiting the park it feels like we arrived in some exotic place hidden in the Sonoran Desert.
The ducks, birds and turtles entertain us at our picnic table while we wait for the Tucson sunsets.
It is a wonderful reprieve from the heat and definitely not what you would expect to find in Tucson, Arizona.
Adding to its charm, professional photographers frequent Agua Caliente with clients who want a stunning background.
There is a huge mesquite tree east of the ranch house estimated to be over 250 years old!
To sustain this elderly mesquite tree, Agua Caliente’s administration use brick columns and steel poles to support the enormous branches.
Agua Caliente Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
This extreme east Tucson park is truly an oasis in the desert and is highly recommended for you, your family and friends.