Mojave prickly pear ( Opuntia erinacea )

Mojave prickly pear ( Opuntia erinacea ), or grizzlybear prickly pear, is a fairly common cactus with a wide spread distribution across the desert south. Although their are varieties, this cactus is characterized by the high density of its spines. The spines may be white or pale yellow and reddish in color at the base. The spines may vary is length between one and seven inches in length.

Mojave prickly pear ( Opuntia erinacea )
Mojave prickly pear ( Opuntia erinacea )

The pads of this cactus are medium in size at three to fives inches across and grey-green in appearance. The plant flowers in the spring between May and July. The flowers boast color varieties of yellow to rose.

The cactus is low lying and grows in medium sized clumps which are no more the two feet in height. The reach of the cacti is known to grow up to ten feet across. This plant flourishes in Creosote Bush Scrub, Pinyon-Juniper and Joshua Tree woodlands and are known to grow at up to 7,000 feet in elevation. Typically, this plant is found in well-drained, sandy or gravel soil types. They can be found in washes, canyons and along the slopes of lower mountains.

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Arizona Thistle ( Cirsium arizonicum )

Arizona Thistle ( Cirsium arizonicum ) is a member of the sunflower family and common across the south west. The thistle has a two year live span. For the first year, it thrives as a low lying rosette of thorns. The second year of life, the plant springs into action and can grow up to four feet tall and grows a flower stalk to hold a purple colored flower head high into the air. The flower is known to bloom in red, pink and purple in color.

Arizona Thistle (Cirsium arizonicum)
Arizona Thistle (Cirsium arizonicum)
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Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus)

A member of the cuckoo family, the long legged Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) is an icon of the desert southwest in part to the artistic efforts of Warner Brothers and their animated series featuring “Wile E Coyote”. Road runners are aptly named and may reach a top speed of 26 mph on the ground. Anyone who attempts to stalk them will note their speed and agility as they effortlessly out distance the stalker.

Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus)
Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus)

The road runner is a larger bird than one might realize and typically is between 20 and 24 inches in length. The bird is typically between 10 and 12 inches in height and boasts a wing span on 17 to 24 inches. The upper body is a shade of brown with black streaks and may feature pink spots. This pattern helps break up the outline of the bird and helps provide camouflage. The lower body is commonly white or ran in appearance. The head features a prominent crest of brown features.

Despite the branding and name, the greater roadrunner is capable of flight, although it spends most of its time on the ground. This animal can be found at most elevations between -200 and 7500 feet and favors semi arid scrubland with scattered low lying vegetation. The bird spends its time hunting and stalking its prey. Once sighted prey is quickly run down by the fast legs of this peditor. Common prey items include spiders, insects, scorpions, mice, small birds and lizards and even rattlesnakes.

The greater roadrunner typically forms long pair bonds with its mate. Typically, clutches of 3 – 6 eggs are laid in the spring months. The nests of this bird are commonly found in low brush and cactus and are built by the male. Common with other cuckoos, the roadrunner are known to lay eggs in the nests of other birds, such as the raven.

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Pronghorn ( Antilocapra americana )

A solitary Pronghorn ( Antilocapra americana ) found near Golbin Valley, Utah
A solitary Pronghorn ( Antilocapra americana ) found near Golbin Valley, Utah

Commonly known as an antelope, the Pronghorn ( Antilocapra americana ) is an even toed or hoofed mammal found in the plains of the western United States of America. The Pronghorn in america is mislabeled as an antelope, which is an old world or African species of Antelope. The Latin name, Antilocapra americana means “American goat-antelope”

The Pronghorn lives in brush and grass lands and deserts and survive by grazing on the vegetation. They typically live in herds which may number in the hundreds depending on time of year and food sources.

They have excellent eye sight use this valuable resource to keep a distance from predators in the wide open habitats they are found. They are also the fastest animal in the western hemisphere and can run at speeds up to 60 miles per hour. The result is a reclusive animals that tends to run when it sees any threat, which means these animals can be difficult to get near. Typically, when I see them in the field, it is their white hind quarters travelling at a high rate of speed away from me.

Males typically stand between 51 and 59 inches in height and weigh between 88 and 143 pounds. The female are about the same height, however, more slight at 75 to 106 pounds. Their coloring is quite distinctive and features large white patches on the rumps, belly and heads with black bands on the face and necks. They boast large eyes located towards the tops of their skulls which have a field of view of 320 degrees. This feature allows the animals to maintain distance and allows them to spot predators while resting in the tall grass.

Cougers, Coyotes, Wolfs and Bob Cats are known to prey on the pronghorn. Additionally, they were a valuable food source for many Native American tribes including the Assiniboine, Rapid and Blackfoot Tribes.

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Classification

Kingdom:Animalia
Phylum:Chordata
Class:Mammalia
Order:Artiodactyla
Family:Antilocapridae
Subfamily:Antilocaprinae
Tribe:Antilocaprini
Genus:Antilocapra
Ord, 1818
Species:A. americana[

Southern Cattail (Typha domingensis)

Commonly found in the southern half of the United Stats, the Southern Cattail ( Typha domingensis ) is a a wetland plant which may be found in California, Nevada and Arizona. The Southern Cattail will flower in late spring and summer and produces a densely packed seed spike which may grow up to 13 inches long. The Pistillate spike is the identifying feature on this wetland plant.

Southern Cattail (Typha domingensis)
Southern Cattail (Typha domingensis)

This rhizomatous plant is centered around a simple, erect stem which may grow between 5 and 13 feet tall. Each stem may grow between 6 and 9 long and linear leaves. As with many marsh plants, the cattail has an internal tissue adaptation which allows the direct transfer of air between the leaves and roots, which is similar to a vegetative snorkel. The hot dog shaped brown flower is indicative of a female plant, while the male is characterized by a yellowish tapered cone arrangement.

The cattail is typically found between sea level and 6000 feet in elevation. Native American tries were known to use the plant as thatch, and the young shoots could be utilized as a food source. The seed fluff could also be mixed with tallow and chewed as a gum.

Southern Cattail along a water crossing on the old Mojave road.
Southern Cattail along a water crossing on the old Mojave road.

Recent studies suggest that the Typha is very effective at cleaning the water of bacterial contamination. This includes up to 90% reduction of enterobacteria which is common flora inside of mammalia intestines.