Friday, April 25, 2014

Life in the Sand

Desert Horned Lizard

I like to think I’ve learned how to move around animals in non-threatening ways in order to get close.  It probably has more to do with the nature of the animal.  Does it naturally hold still, blend in and hope it isn’t seen or does it flee as fast and far as possible.  Some hold their ground and defend themselves or bluff with an intimidating display. This horned lizard just didn’t seem to care that I laid down in the sand a few feet away and pointed my camera it's way.  Maybe it had seen photographers before.  It posed nicely in the light for me.  

A pretty little wasp.  We’ll meet her again further down.  

I often tell people I would like to study ants in the field.  I’m not sure if I could really do that but I would really like to learn more about them and other social insects.  They do some amazing things (and I’m not talking about carrying things that weigh more than they do).  

Zebra-Tailed Lizard
These lizards saw me first every time.  They ran away with their tails curled up off the ground in a C shape.  They would usually start running when I was about 10 meters away and they would run for about 20 meters.  I only got close to a few.  

When you’re near the bottom of the food chain it’s good to be hard to see.  

Here’s our wasp friend again.  Looks like she’s a parasitic wasp.

Just a few more paralyzing stings to get this caterpillar to hold still. 

It's hard work to carry the caterpillar to the nest.  

The wasp's larvae will develop inside the body of this paralyzed caterpillar slowly eating it alive.  When the larvae pupate they will erupt out of the caterpillar’s body that they have consumed.  

In one large depression in the dunes I heard bees.  It took me a few minutes but found a bunch of digger bees.  About a month ago I watch an episode of “Life in the Undergrowth” that showed how digger bees are victims of parasitic Blister Beetles.  Here is a link to that part of the episode.  
Life in the Undergrowth - Blister Beetles & Digger Bees

It’s worth watching.  It’s a pretty remarkable sequence of events.  
I believe the digger bees are responsible for these tracks in my previous post.  Were they searching for an existing tunnel that was covered up with the sand or looking for a good place to start a new one?  Or something else?  
Here’s a video I took of the digger bees.  Turn up the sound to hear them buzzing around.  

When I was growing up in Southern California I used to plant tomatoes every year so I could attract a similar type of caterpillar.  Don’t ever remember eating any homegrown tomatoes.  I think the worms completely consumed the plants.  

Coachwhip (Red Racer)
I didn’t get a good picture of this snake.  It’s the type of animal that tries to flee (it's called a racer for a reason).  It didn’t hold still much and I didn’t pursue it too far.  Didn’t want to stress it in the heat of the day.  It might need the energy to flee from a real predator or catch a meal.  
Another Ichneumonidae (a large family of wasps most of which are parasitoids).  
“I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.” Charles Darwin -- From a letter to Asa Gray, 22 May 1860

I wanted to get this scorpion to face me to get a picture of it’s display (it was facing into a small plant).  However, I had stressed it too much already.  I messed up it’s shelter under a board then tried to push it around with a stick.  It plunged it’s stinger into the sand several times in self defense (you can see sand sticking to the venom on it’s stinger).  I didn’t want it to waste it’s venom and energy for a photo.  It needs that to survive.  I replaced it’s shelter and it crawled back under the board to hide from the world.  

This is where I think I know how to move around animals to get close to them.  These Chuckwallas kept their eyes on me but let me get pretty close.  It took some patience on my part too.  

Help! Quicksand!  

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tracks in the Sand

Tracks in the sand record so many stories.  

Some are mysterious like what made these and why?            

Others are more obvious.  A bird.  What kind of bird and what was it doing?  

I think a beetle made this.
Not really sure about this one.

Why did this track suddenly stop?  Did the critter burrow into the sand.  Thinking (or at least hoping) it wasn’t a scorpion, I dug into the sand with my hands to see.  I didn’t find anything.  Did it dig deeper than I did?  Did it tunnel under the sand to a different area?  Was this where it came out of the sand and start crawling away? 

I’m pretty sure I discovered what made these tracks.  

Any ideas?

See my next post for the answer.  

Some traces survive many sand storms.  

A mouse or rat digging in the sand.  Maybe looking for a meal.  

Must be a lizard.  I can almost see it.  

Most tracks I see are so interesting and add to the beauty of the dunes.  I don’t feel the same way about my own tracks.  I feel guilty even though I know they will be gone in a few days.  

I don’t feel as guilty as I hope the person that left these tracks feels.  Driving off established roads is strictly prohibited.  At first I was disgusted that some fool would do this.  This kind of damage can last many years.  I realized that I don’t know the story behind these tracks either.  Maybe it was a rescue team saving some crazy photography who got heat stroke.  

Although this isn’t a track in the sand it's my favorite kind of track in the desert.