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A Night in the Sonoran Desert 

Updated May 14, 2022
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A Night in the Sonoran Desert  essay

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There is something special about the Sonoran Desert during every season, but what’s better is what happens after the sun goes down. Once the sun sets on our Arizona landscape, the air becomes cooler and the flora and fauna put on a show. The night continues to cool until the sun rises again. The air is dry here, so there is not a lot of moisture to keep the heat in. That’s why our Arizona nights can be so cold, but the daytime can be so hot and dry, ranging from temperatures from freezing to well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Many of the flora and fauna here have adapted to the intense summer heat, and the barren desert environment through thousands of years of evolution and natural selection. “How have they done this,” you might ask? Well, many species have adapted to avoid the high daytime temperatures and have adapted to becoming nocturnal or crepuscular (dusk or dawn active).

For instance, the many cacti species we have here at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum have learned to survive in this arid-land by photosynthesizing at night. How do they do it? Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) or CAM Photosynthesis. Like most plants, cacti photosynthesize too. Photosynthesis is the process in which plants collect carbon dioxide through holes in their leaves, called stomata, and convert it to useable forms of energy like sugar and oxygen. Unique to cacti and succulents, CAM Photosynthesis is similar, but the stomata only open at night during cool hours and when the sun is down, so the cacti can experience less water loss through transpiration. During CAM Photosynthesis, the cacti can chemically store carbon dioxide until the sun comes out again to complete the process.

While so many flora and fauna are active at night, that means our local predators also come out at night to hunt. For example, bats. “Birds are on the day shift, bats are on the night shift, fighting the birds for similar resources. Bats have adapted to nocturnal lifestyle to limit competition and to avoid predators, similar to owls and night hawks.” Arizona Game and Fish Wildlife Viewing Program Manager and Wildlife Biologist, Randy Babb, and I talked about the Sonoran Desert and how amazing it is at night. I joined him and some of our Arboretum members at a bat netting night here at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum. He was born and raised here in Arizona, Chandler as a matter of fact, close here to the Arboretum. Similarly, I grew up close to the Arboretum. We both talked about how great it was to have the Arboretum essentially as our backyard.

Randy’s program hosts bat netting nights here and is a great activity to get our members out at night, learning about the desert and the local bat species that call it home. Many people don’t get out at night, and that’s the time to be out at in the desert! If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend it. His program promotes wildlife viewing and conservation through these public or member events while subsequently doing bat monitoring around the state. All the information they collect goes to a state-wide database that the Arizona Game and Fish Department keeps. The database connects back to monitoring and overall management implications for the department, for instance, what they have seen, where they’ve seen it, if populations are changing, etc.

According to Randy, “People say what they value, and they value what they know about.” That’s why it’s so important to educate people of all ages on our desert. It’s part of our mission with The Boyce Thompson Arboretum; get out, educate, research, conserve. We share many of the same goals as these partnering organizations, whether they’re state, federal, non-profit, or private. Like the Arboretum, the Arizona Game and Fish Department hold programs to educate people “to conserve and protect Arizona’s wonderful wildlife so we can all appreciate the everyday magic of it.” Randy helps achieve this goal by running a fantastic program getting people out and seeing the desert and engaging with the wildlife.

Randy has never wanted to work any other place than the Sonoran Desert and isn’t excited about the pine forests of Northern Arizona. “Although it’s a great habitat and very interesting, the biological diversity here in Arizona is here in the Southern part of the state like in the Sonoran Desert and Sky Islands. They are very intriguing and have countless plants and animals and things to look at and learn about that capture the imagination. Think about it. When you see a nature special, National Geographic or whatever, and they’re talking about deserts, it’s almost always filmed right here in our backyard, as opposed to the Chihuahua or Mojave Deserts or the Great Basin. That speaks to the biological diversity.”

Just like many of use desert dwellers, Randy enjoys the solitude and the wildlife of the desert at night. “There’s a whole different world [outside], while were sitting inside watching TV in our houses and people never go out and enjoy it. People don’t engage with it and people don’t know all this stuff is right outside their back door and these incredible stories are unfolding each night. It’s a whole secret world, another dimension. Unlike a whole another dimension all you have to do is just go out and look at it. It’s readily available to anybody; and like so many of these things, you won’t see it unless you are out at night. I love being out listening to the amphibians calling and enjoying the violent monsoon showers and lightning or just standing outside under a starry sky and looking at the milky way.

There’s a lot of gratification in that kind of thing. I appreciate the solitude and the whole beauty of the world at night, there a lot going on and it’s wonderful to be out there with it. The big thing is that just go out and do it! Don’t just spend your nights at home. There’s a whole world out there waiting for anybody that just takes a few moments to do it. It’s not a lot of work, its easily done. Most people don’t go out at night because they just have never done it before. There’s nothing to be afraid of, it’s a great place out there. There’s nothing trying to eat you or get you or anything like that. There’s a lot to enjoy if you just take a few moments to do it.”

A Night in the Sonoran Desert  essay

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A Night in the Sonoran Desert . (2022, May 14). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/a-night-in-the-sonoran-desert/

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