A Day in the Desert: Saguaro Wilderness


On the surface it might not look like much is going on in the desert, but even on the hottest, driest days, if you look behind the scenes, the Sonora desert is vibrant. Join us for a day to explore the rhythmic cycles of the wildlife that have adapted to call this wild place home.

This designated wilderness area protects the towering saguaro cacti, which have evolved to thrive in the Sonora desert’s unique five seasons. The saguaro can hold over 200 gallons of water and provides nourishment and refuge for desert wildlife. White-winged doves and gila woodpeckers feed on the saguaro’s white flowers, which bloom at night. The flowers give way to a moist fleshy red fruit, which is enjoyed by birds like the tiny yellow verdin, and ground animals like the large, pig-looking javelina.

The gila woodpecker also uses the saguaro as a home, drilling holes in the soft flesh of the cactus, which heals itself, creating a nest. The temperature inside the cactus is 20º F cooler, making it an ideal place to hide out during the heat of the day. Cactus wrens and Harris’s hawks also nest in the arms of the saguaro, which provide shade and prickly protection.

As the morning sun crosses the landscape, other wildlife look for shade or retreat to their dens or underground burrows to avoid the sun. While the air temperature may hover over 100° F, the ground surface temperature can be closer to 150° F. As the sun disappears and temperatures cool, the desert comes to life. Rattlesnakes, tarantulas, coyotes, bobcats, skunks, and javelina all begin to forage and look for prey.

To thrive despite the lack of water, some animals have developed additional adaption strategies to get through the dry seasons; the gila monster stores fat in its plump tail and the desert tortoise stores water in its bladder.

The ‘night shift’ includes footage that was captured by Saguaro’s remote camera traps as part of a scientific study to monitor the diversity of species and their distribution throughout the park. These cameras are motion triggered and provide glimpses of wildlife such as badgers, gray foxes, and ringtails as they go about their regular business without any human presence.

Producer & Editor: Sarah Gulick | Camera: Sarah Gulick & Erin Finicane

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