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Jack The Rabbit

This is "Jack" the jack rabbit.

He and his friends and family share the Park with dozens of other species.

 

 

 

Natural History
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Desert TortoiseWildlife...

Colossal Cave Mountain Park is home or refuge to hundreds of species of mammals, birds, and reptiles—and who knows about the moths, butterflies, beetles, and other invertebrates?

Among the mammals, Pack Rats, Deer Mice, Spotted Skunks, Striped Skunks, Ringtails, Foxes, Badgers, Raccoons, Javelina, Bobcats, and Mountain Lions all call Colossal Cave Mountain Park home. And, of course, bats.

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Colossal Cave Mountain Park is home to dozens of species of mammals.

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Ringtail. Sometimes called the Ring-tailed Cat or Miner's Cat, the Ringtail is not a member of the cat family but is in the raccoon family. These residents of the Southwest are most common in areas of rocky cliffs and ledges. They are agile climbers and descend into rock crevices and caves in search of rats, mice, bats, and other food. (Drawing by Sandy Truett.)   Ringtail

Coatimundi   Coatimundi. Called Coati (ko–AH–tee) or Chulo, it also is a member of the raccoon family. They are known from southeastern Arizona but most occur to the south in Mexico, Central America, and tropical South America. They are most active in the daytime and generally feed in bands of up to 50 individuals. They feed on insects and small vertebrates that they expose by rooting in the debris on the ground, and on berries, fruits, and bird eggs that they secure by climbing trees. (Drawing by Sandy Truett.)

Collared Peccary. Often called the Javelina (Hah–veh–LEE–na), this is a member of a New World family of mammals only distantly related to the Old World true pigs and hogs. They are common, in small herds, in the Park region. On hot summer days, they often seek the cool areas just inside the entrances to caves or abandoned mines. They feed on cacti and other native vegetation. (Drawing by Sandy Truett.)   Javelina

Rock Squirrel   Rock Squirrel. This is a member of the ground squirrel group, and is not a tree squirrel, even though it is easily mistaken for one of the tree squirrels. It is about a foot in length and has a tail that is long (8 inches) and bushy. They live in small groups, especially in rocky areas. In the Park, most are inactive during the colder months, from November to late February. They feed on flowers, fruits, seeds, and green growth. (Drawing by Sandy Truett.)

Striped Skunk. This is one of the four kinds of skunks that occur in the Colossal Cave Mountain Park region. It is common throughout most of the United States, Mexico, and Central America. The black and white color pattern is a warning to one and all that the skunk is prepared to engage in chemical warfare to defend itself. Beware when you encounter one on an evening hike in the region. (Drawing by Helen Wilson).   Striped Skunk

Townsend's Big-eared Bat   Townsend's Big-eared Bat. This insect-eating bat is found in the Park in the summer months. Maternity colonies consisting of groups of females and their young have been found roosting in obscure parts of Colossal Cave. During the evening they leave the Cave to feed on insects which they capture in flight or, hovering briefly, pluck from the surface of a leaf. Winters are mostly spent in hibernation in cool caves, mines, and rock crevices, probably at the higher elevations of the Rincons and nearby Santa Rita mountains. (Drawing by Sandy Truett.)

Long-nosed Bat. Like the Coatimundi, the occurrence of this mammal in the United States is confined to southeastern Arizona. In the early summer, these bats visit southern Arizona where they feed mainly on the nectar and soft pulp of the ripe fruits of saguaros. Later they move into the higher regions to feed on the nectar of various agaves. The fall and winter months are spent in the warmer parts of Mexico where they feed on the nectar of other plants. Maternity colonies of up to several thousand have been recorded in southern Arizona. (Drawing by Sandy Truett.)   Long-nosed Bat

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See more about the bats found in the Park on our Bats and More Bats page.

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Desert Hyacinth

Desert Hyacinth

Perennial bulbs, used for food by pioneers and native American Indians.

 

Wildflowers...

To date, the Colossal Cave Mountain Park plant list records nearly a thousand species. Many of these are the wildflowers, cacti, trees, and shrubs for which the desert spring "blooms" are famous!

This remarkable diversity in a relatively small area is due in large part to the Park's location: It is situated in the Sonoran-Chihuahuan transition zone, so a number of Chihuahuan species occur here that aren't found elsewhere in the Tucson valley. It sits on a multi-directional crossroads, both ancient and contemporary, for plant and wildlife migrations. Plant populations have shifted over the centuries in response to climate changes, enriching the Park flora.

The extremely complex geology of the area (the Park offers the sole Tucson Basin example of a desert limestone terrain), and topography which varies from rocky mountainsides to a riparian zone ensures that the Park offers a wide diversity of plant habitats-even aquatic sites. Due to the variety of soil types, slope aspects, and altitude ranges, each species finds its own niche and thrives.

On average, only about one spring in ten will produce a truly grand wildflower display. While plentiful rainfall during the previous fall is thought by many desert dwellers to be a prerequisite for a good spring bloom, this is not the only factor-spacing and duration of the rains seem to play a part, for example. And so the complete set of conditions needed to trigger a great wildflower display remain a mystery.

Mexican Poppy

Mexican Poppy

The best loved desert wildflower. They are found throughout the Park and have an exceptionally showy flower.



The beginning, duration, and end of each wildflower bloom also depends upon complex interactions of a host of factors, including the mix of plant species that have survived until their blooming time, the available moisture, the daily temperature extremes which the plants undergo, and the elevation at which they occur.

Elevation-and the resulting differences in average temperature-is the biggest single factor in the timing of the bloom. In the Tucson area, the first show is at Picacho Peak State Park (about 1,900 feet) in February. The flush of bloom moves up through Tucson (2,400 feet) and arrives at Colossal Cave Mountain Park in the foothills of the Rincon Mountains (3,600 feet) about a month later.

Cooper's Paperflower

Paperflower is so called because the flowers dry and stay on the shrubs for weeks.

Cooper's Paperflower   Although we speak of the spring bloom, in a good wildflower year there is an ongoing flower show beginning with the spring wildflowers and-after a brief hiatus during the intense heat of early summer-continuing with a second wave of bloom occurring with the summer monsoon rains. 

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To see more unique artifacts visit the Park's Museum .

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Mature Saguaro

A mature saguaro
considered to be at least 125 years old.

 

 

Cristate Saguaro

A cristate or crested saguaro (atypical form).

 

 

Saguaro

Saguaros are columnar cactus, extremely slow-growing, ultimately achieving ages of 200–225 years and heights of 50 feet.

 

The Giant Saguaro: Carnegiea giganiea...

Saguaro FlowersThese magnificent plants evoke the Sonoran desert as no other. Although the saguaro blossom is the Arizona state flower, saguaros have a quite limited range. They are found only in southern Arizona and northwestern Sonora, seldom higher than 4,000 feet elevation, in areas with annual rainfall of about 9" or more.

Saguaros are columnar cactus, extremely slow-growing, ultimately achieving ages of 200–225 years and heights of 50 feet. They bloom for the first time around age 35, and start to grow arms when they are about 12 feet tall, between 40 and 60 years of age. Saguaros are made up of a woody skeleton of ribs, succulent, water-retaining flesh, and a thick waxy skin that prevents water loss. Their fluted stems can fatten up by almost 50% as they take on and store rainwater. During dry seasons, their girth slowly contracts as they use the stored water.

Most saguaros start their lives in the shelter of a "nurse plant," usually a mesquite or palo verde tree, that provides shade, humidity, and richer soil—and a clear illustration of the saguaro's life cycle. Saguaro fruits are relished by birds, particularly White-wing Doves, whose favorite perching and nesting places are desert trees. The tiny seeds pass through the birds' digestive systems to the ground and, if the right conditions are present, they germinate.

Saguaro Shoe or Boot Saguaros are sometimes called "desert apartment houses." In addition to providing nest sites on the arms saguaros are colonized by Gila Woodpeckers and Gilded Flickers, who hollow out holes in their stems. These they use for a year and leave for lizards, insects, and other birds. To counteract what could be devastating moisture loss, the saguaro secretes a substance that hardens to form a callus lining the damaged area, creating a water barrier and a nice nest hole. Eventually, when the saguaro dies and the flesh decays away, what remains are the ribs and the saguaro "shoes" or "boots." In the Park's Ranch Museum is a unique artifact that was found in Colossal Cave: a saguaro shoe that was picked up and put to use a millennium ago by a Hohokam hunter as a sinew holder.

Peak bloom usually occurs in May. Large, satiny, white blossoms crown the central trunk and arms of the cactus, opening at dusk for pollination by two local species of nectar-feeding bats: Leptonycteris curasoae, the Long-nosed Bat, and Choeronycteris mexicana, the Mexican Long-tongued Bat. A second nectar flow takes place at dawn, enticing day pollinators—bees, other insects, and birds.

Saguaro Fruit People sometimes think that saguaros have red flowers. These are actually the ripe fruits, which split open like four- or five-petaled blossoms revealing bright red flesh. Birds and insects revel in the fruits. Most desert mammals do, too, after the fruits fall or are knocked from the cactus, although the Tohono O'odham people don't wait. They collect the fruits with long saguaro-rib fruit-pickers and make a variety of dishes from them, including a fermented drink.

Threats to the saguaro include wind and rain, which can cause them to fall over, disease, wildfire, climate change, and habitat loss. Although there are population declines in some saguaro forests, as a species the saguaro is stable—reassuring status for this great icon of the desert.

 

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Colossal Cave Mountain Park
16721 E. Old Spanish Trail
Vail, AZ 85641 - 520.647.PARK (7275)
info@colossalcave.com

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