Sonoran Desert Adventures

I actually made it into the field today, like a real biologist. I was in the Santa Rita mountains chasing butterflies with one of my postdoctoral mentors. There were butterflies, wasps, jackrabbits, various birds, and --exciting for me-- the Sonoran bumblebee, Bombus sonorus. They were even nectar robbing. For you non-insect people out there, nectar robbing is where an insect bypasses that whole crawling into the flower, getting coated with pollen, and acting like a pollinator should game. They cut a slit at the end of the flower and just take the nectar. Little thieves. I've read about it, but never actually seen it.

The butterflies we were chasing were pipevine swallowtails, and they only lay eggs on one type of plant. This plant is small, grows close to the ground, and is hard to find (especially this time of year). The easiest way to find a plant is to follow a butterfly. The females do this host searching flight that is really distinctive, and boy do they home in on these plants. Truly amazing. The more I learn about the system, the more completely fascinating it becomes. I was watching these butterflies learn in the lab, and it was one trial learning: one experience and they knew what "flower" to look for. Super cool stuff.

Now I'm a little tired and feel sun-worn. My sunblock, excellent hat, pants and long-sleeved shirt ensured no sunburn, but the bright light and the dryness really has an effect. I drank plenty of water before, during and after, but I just want to dive into a pool of water and then curl up in a dark room surrounded by soft things.

Why soft things? Because the desert is sharp and spiky. Cactus is prickly, but so was just about every plant and tree I saw. Trees covered in spines. Dead plant material made up of huge spines. Shrubs with little spines everywhere. I stepped on a spiny something or other that nearly went all the way through my shoe! So spiny things, dry things, rattlesnakes (though I didn't see anything), flies buzzing about, glaring sun. Certainly not a welcoming kind of ecosystem, if you ask me. But beautiful nonetheless.


Elsa said...

Just thinking about desert makes me thirsty. I guess I'll go out and walk in hot Minnesota.

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