Jurassic Park: Sonoran Desert

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, August 2, 2017 10:32 PM

Today I put this question into the google: why are there so many prehistoric creatures in the desert? I got various answers, most of which weren’t remotely related to what I was looking for, probably because it was the wrong question. Some of the links talked about why prehistoric creatures were so big, which many attributed to more oxygen in the air as well as more land. There is something called Cope’s Rule which says that as animals evolve over time, they naturally get bigger, until they’re wiped out by a mass extinction and are replaced by smaller animals that gradually grow bigger until they, too, are wiped out. And so on. 

What I should have asked, and did eventually, was: current prehistoric looking creatures sonoran desert. I got some very interesting information including this: the Sonoran desert, that lush and prickly place we call home, is actually considered to be tropical. Makes sense when you consider that July, which just ended two days ago, was our wettest ever recorded. Naturally, everything is green and getting greener. On any given day, one can travel through desert grasslands, desertscrub, thornscrub, and tropical deciduous forest habitats between here and Mexico’s Sonora. 

According to the desert museum, our little corner of prehistoria is fairly recent in terms of geologic time and is one of the youngest communities on the continent at about 8 million years old. The area where we live, in Tucson, is only about 9000 years old, with our plants and animals developing about 4500 years ago. During this time, what we now view as our beautiful, green, fabulously prickly desert became what it is today, with its trees and cactus and creatures.

It is the creatures that I would like to speak about because they are plentiful and this summer, they are freaking huge. Prehistoric huge. We knew when we moved into an area that is far removed from the city and is, in fact, outside the city lines, that we’d encounter creatures. We had a slight inkling of what those creatures might be and we waited patiently to see them. There would be rattlesnakes and tarantulas – those we knew for sure. Everything else we just braced for.

We’ve had plentiful deer. We’ve had javelina. There have been plenty of road runners and quail and ravens and falcons. We’ve see osprey and white-winged doves. There have been bob cats and ring-tailed cats, grass hoppers five inches long and lizards galore. Gila monsters? Check. Tarantulas? Yep. 

And then the rains of July hit and suddenly, the creatures are prolific. And huge. We’ve had toads but we always have toads. Now, though, we have toads the size of my hands and I have big hands. We have desert tortoises traversing the driveway and tucking themselves against the house and into the rocks. Every day brings another sizable creature here in the Sonoran. 

Which makes sense because there is actually a dinosaur named Sonorasaurus, named for the Sonoran desert. 

Still, I prefer to just refer to it as Jurassic Park: Tucson. Where we’re living it out loud, and watching where we step. 

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live out loud

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