Our second stop in Texas is quite different from the first. We are camping in Palo Duro Canyon State Park, which is the largest canyon in Texas (and the largest canyon I’ve ever visited). It is 120 miles long, 800 feet deep and 20 miles wide. Another novel aspect of the park is its temperature, which has reached over 51 degrees Celsius (another first for me)! The views in the canyon are spectacular, especially the sight from the lighthouse rock formation. The hike to this formation was a great because it was easier to find elusive cicadas in the small trees. This park boasts some impressive invertebrate fauna, like scorpions and tarantulas. Perhaps even more notable than the tarantulas are the tarantula hawks; these are huge wasps that have a sting capable of subduing a tarantula (not a sting we would want to experience). The vertebrate species in the park are also exciting, especially the reptiles. There are many whiptailed lizards, a fabled species to a Canadian biology student because of their parthenogenetic reproduction (all of the lizards are female, and they reproduce without males), but a common species to anyone who has visited Texas or Arizona. The lizard that we are really eager to see is the Texas horned lizard (also known has a horny toad).
Update: We finally saw two horned lizards the morning that we left! First Valerie spotted a tiny baby horned lizard on the road near our campsite. Then Jay spotted an adult one darting across the road as we left the park gates.
July 6, 2011
One night at Catalina State Park, near Tucson, Arizona, when I was hunting for Wolf Spiders, some motion caught my eye at the base of an Acacia tree near our campsite. There was a long line of medium-sized ants marching up and down the tree trunk. About one in 6 ants was carrying a small Acacia leaf. Acacia trees have compound leaves. Each leaflet turns out to be the perfect size for one ant to manage almost effortlessly. At the base of the tree was the entrance to their nest. Some ants carried their leaf into the nest, but most dumped their harvest at the entrance.
As you probably know, Leaf-cutting Ants don’t actually eat the leaves they harvest. Rather, the leaves are used as compost. They’re the growing medium for the particular species of fungus they cultivate. The mold consumes the leaves and the ants harvest the mold to feed their colony. Pretty sophisticated!