Natural History

Genetics of Mexican wolves – assessment of possible hybridization with other canids

A new study, commissioned by the Pima Natural Resource Conservation District*, examined the genetics of Mexican wolves (Canis lupus baileyi) and assessed the possibility of hybridization with dogs of Native American origin and or/coyotes. You can read the entire study here.

The basic finding from this research and other research cited within the report are that all North American wolves are hybrids with coyotes, and a few are hybrids with dogs. The current captive-bred population of Mexican wolves shows no hybridization with coyotes or dogs, but some previous research did detect some Mexican wolf-coyote hybrids.

Here are some highlights from the report:

The study concluded “living Mexican wolves are not derived from hybridization with Native American dogs. The results also did not indicate recent hybridization between Mexican wolves and coyotes. However, one wolf-dog hybrid was detected in wolves from Idaho. Our study used captive-reared Mexican wolves, therefor future analyses of wild-born wolves and dogs living in the same areas are needed to determine if hybridization is occurring in the wild population of Mexican wolves in Mexico, New Mexico and Arizona.”

The report notes that other studies have found wolf-dog hybrids in northern wolves .

“A second hybridization concern involves wolves and coyotes. Wolves and coyotes share a recent common ancestor during the Pleistocene (Ice Ages) in North America and their subsequent occupation of the same ranges may result in some level of hybridization. Indeed, evidence of historic and recent hybridization comes from mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences, y-chromosome, SNPs and whole genome sequences (WGS).”

“… land use changes following European colonization of North America have favored the spread of coyotes while wolf populations have declined, resulting in substantial levels of hybridization between these two species in some areas (e.g. Eastern North America). This same process also resulted in hybridization with domestic dogs, contributing to three species hybrids in some populations…”

“..all North American wolves …have significant amounts of coyote ancestry. In addition, we detect a strong geographic cline in the proportion of coyote ancestry across North American canids: Alaskan and Yellowstone wolves have 8 to 8.5% coyote ancestry, Great Lakes wolves have 21.7 to 23.9% coyote ancestry, Algonquin wolves have at least 32.5 to 35.5% coyote ancestry, and Quebec sequences have more than 50% coyote ancestry. [A] Mexican wolf… had a coyote ancestry of approximately 11%. The significance of these results, as well as those of previous authors, is that wolf-coyote hybridization occurs naturally, and the process can be accelerated in human-dominated landscapes that favor coyotes.”

“The captive Mexican wolf samples were divergent from other wolves as well as coyotes and dogs of European, East Asian, and North American descent.”

“Additionally, the remnant Mexican wolf population was subject to, and has the genetic signal of, one of the most severe, recent genetic bottlenecks in conservation history. It was founded from just seven remaining individuals separated into three lineages, subsequently inbred in captivity, and then lineages cross-bred to attempt a genetic rescue.”

We see from this study that the science is not settled. There are still several outstanding questions regarding Mexican wolves in the wild.

Question for readers: Should an animal group that is variously hybridized with other animals qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act?

*About the Pima Natural Resource Conservation District (link)

The Pima NRCD is a State-authorized local unit of government that has been given a broad mandate to provide for the restoration and conservation of lands and soil resources, the preservation of water rights and the control and prevention of soil erosion, and thereby to conserve natural resources, conserve wildlife, protect the tax base, protect public lands and protect and restore this state’s rivers and streams and associated riparian habitats, including fish and wildlife resources that are dependent on those habitats, and in such manner to protect and promote the public health, safety and general welfare of the people.

Arizona’s 42 Conservation Districts cover the entire state of Arizona, and parts of New Mexico and Utah on the Navajo Nation. Arizona’s Conservation Districts are in a unique position to lead local conservation partnership efforts that achieve landscape level results across all land ownerships in Arizona. They have authority to enter into agreements with private landowners, state and federal agencies, tribes, and others to implement a local conservation program in their District. The Conservation District model has proven itself over the last 75 years to be the most effective approach to achieving sound management of Arizona’s natural resources.

Pima NRCD believes private lands provide the tax base that supports most county and state services. Additionally, private lands are the underlying lands for historic federal and state grazing leases, as these lands are the basis for economic productivity.

Disclosure: I am a board member of Pima NRCD.

 

See also:

Wolf attacks on humans in North America

Are Mexican wolves in Arizona actually wolf-dog hybrids?

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Pima Pineapple Cactus recovery

The Pima Pineapple cactus (Coryphantha scheeri var. robustispina) is a small (pineapple-sized) cactus that inhabits grasslands and desert scrub in Pima County and parts of Santa Cruz County, Arizona, and parts of northern Sonora, Mexico, at elevations below 4,000 feet. About 90 percent of its historic range is in Pima County.

The cactus is sparsely distributed within its range, but does have some high-density clusters. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) this species is incapable of self-fertilization, which means pollen from another individual cactus is required.

The Pima Pineapple cactus is a low-growing hemispherical cactus that may be found as single or multi-stemmed plants. Mature plants measure 4-18 inches tall and 3-7 inches in diameter. The spines are stout and arranged in clusters with one central hooked spine and 6-15 radial straight spines. Spines are originally straw colored, but become black with age. Flowers are yellow and the fruit is a green ellipsoid. See photos here. The flowers are pollinated mainly by bees. Seeds are dispersed by rodents, rabbits, and ants.

Because the cactus is small and inconspicuous, it is subject to danger from grassland fires, livestock grazing, off-road vehicles, and housing development.

The Pima Pineapple cactus was listed as endangered by FWS on September 23, 1993. FWS never got around to establishing “critical habitat” but now is proposing a recovery plan which you can read here (76 pages). If we follow the plan, which will cost $62,910,560, FWS says they can delist the cactus by the year 2046. There have been many studies of the cactus, but FWS still doesn’t know how many there are scattered around its habitat.

The main recommendations of the recovery plan boil down to protecting existing habitat from human intervention, invasive species, and wildfires. In other words, restrict land usage. FWS also recommends acquisition of private lands to increase habitat and limit development.

The plan recommends monitoring the cactus for at least 15 years. It so happens that Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge (BANWR) established in 1985, comprising 117,464-acres, lies in southern Pima County within the range of the cactus. Has not the FWS been paying attention to the cactus on the Refuge during the past 25 years?

Ironically, management of BANWR may have caused the population of the cactus to plunge. When BANWR was established, they removed all cattle. The result was that the grass grew taller which promoted more damaging wildfires which damaged more cactus. Tall grass also discouraged jackrabbits which are the primary agent of seed dispersal. In tall grass, jackrabbits can’t run fast enough to escape predators.

I have an alternative suggestion. In order to preserve the cactus, delist it and farm it. Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge could be used as an initial farm stock source with many plots dedicated to the cactus. FWS could, if the cactus were delisted, allow commercial nurseries to grow and sell the plants to people who would like them for their yards or gardens, something that is problematical as long as the cactus is listed as “endangered.” This small cactus would make a good potted plant for porches and patios.

See also:

The Flaws in the Endangered Species Act

Thought to be extinct – when science is wrong

Species extinction is a natural phenomenon, but sometimes, as Mark Twain wrote: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” The Endangered Species Act has been used for good to help some species and for political reasons to stop or inhibit mines, logging, farming, and many other activities. Below is a collection of articles which show that some reports of extinction were in error. Sometimes, “settled science” is wrong. (Note, most links have photos.)

Long-lost Tasmanian tiger may have been found

September 6, 2017

Do Tasmanian tigers still exist? A few trackers believe they have found evidence — releasing alleged footage of proof. The grainy and fleeting videotape, according to The Mercury, showed Tasmanian tigers (also known as thylacines) in their natural state: a thylacine walking slowly at a distance, a thylacine nose at the camera lens, and a thylacine with a cub.

Official accounts, according to The Mercury, suggest the thylacine became extinct on the Australian mainland more than 2000 years ago, although unverified “sightings” occur across many states of Australia from time to time. (Read more)

Boy finds ‘extinct’ frog in Ecuador and helps revive species

July 7, 2017

A school-age boy has rediscovered an Ecuadorian frog considered extinct for at least 30 years. The animal has now successfully bred in captivity.

The colourful Jambato harlequin frog (Atelopus ignescens) was once so widespread in Ecuador that it turned up in people’s homes, was something children played with and was used as an ingredient in traditional medicine. Then it was suddenly wiped out, probably by a combination of climate change and fungal disease. (Read more)

Frog not sighted in 30 years and declared extinct reappears in Costa Rica

June 07, 2017

SAN JOSE – Costa Rican scientists reported the reappearance of an endemic frog species that had not been sighted for three decades (Heredia robber frog, Craugastor escoces.) It was declared extinct in 2004 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (UICN). (Read more)

Seychelles snail, believed extinct due to climate change, found ‘alive and well,’ says group

Sep 8, 2014, NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A snail once thought to have been among the first species to go extinct because

of climate change has reappeared in the wild. The Aldabra banded snail, declared extinct seven years ago, was rediscovered on Aug. 23 in the Indian Ocean island nation of Seychelles. The mollusk, which is endemic to the Aldabra coral atoll — a UNESCO World Heritage Site — had not been seen on the islands since 1997, said the Seychelles Islands Foundation. Read more And here

‘Extinct’ corpse-eating fly back from the dead

July 9, 2013

Behold the bone-skipper, high in the running for the strangest fly on Earth. For the bone-skipper, fresh carcasses just won’t do. No, these flies prefer large, dead bodies in advanced stages of decay. And unlike most flies, they are active in early winter, from November to January, usually after dark. They also disappeared from human notice and were declared extinct for more than a century. That’s why they’ve often been considered almost mythical or legendary, said Pierfilippo Cerretti, a researcher at the Sapienza University of Rome. In the past few years, three species of bone-skipper have been rediscovered in Europe, setting off a buzz among fly aficionados. (Read more)

Biologists find rare snake near Gila River

July 6, 2013

The northern Mexican garter snake was once thought to be extinct in New Mexico. Not so, according to biologists at the Albuquerque BioPark. They found three of the snakes in early June near the Gila River and another three later in the month. Two of the snakes were studied, tagged and released. The remaining four were brought to the Albuquerque Zoo to establish a breeding population.(Read more)

An ‘extinct’ frog make s a comeback in Israel

Jerusalem, June 4, 2013 — The first amphibian to have been officially declared extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has been rediscovered in the north of Israel after some 60 years and turns out to be a unique “living fossil,” without close relatives among other living frogs.

The Hula painted frog was catalogued within the Discoglossus group when it was first discovered in the Hula Valley of Israel in the early 1940s. The frog was thought to have disappeared following the drying up of the Hula Lake at the end of the 1950s, and was declared extinct by the IUCN in 1996. As a result, the opportunity to discover more about this species’ history, biology and ecology was thought to have disappeared. (Read more)

Cute rodent species surfaces after 113 years

May 19, 2011

Scientists thought a mysterious guinea pig-sized rodent species that hadn’t been seen in 113 years was long extinct. Until one of them ambled up to two volunteer naturalists at a nature reserve in Colombia two weeks ago. The nocturnal animal, the elusive red-crested tree rat, turned up just as the scientists were heading off to bed, at 9:30 p.m. on May 4. It spent two hours watching as the volunteer biologists took photos of it, the n calmly ambled off into the darkness. (Read more)

India team uncovers 12 frog species

Sep 18, 2011, New Delhi – Years of combing tropical mountain forests, shining flashlights under rocks and listening for croaks in the night have paid off for Indian scientists who have discovered 12 new frog species plus three others thought to have been extinct. (Read more)

Pygmy tarsier, a tiny primate, rediscovered in Indonesia

November 19, 2008

The tiny Furby-like pygmy tarsier, presumed to be extinct, was found during a recent expedition to Indonesia. And the cuddly, huge-eyed nocturnal critter is the very definition of cute. Gursky-Doyen of Texas A&M

University traveled into the mountains of Sulawesi Island in Indonesia to confirm that the pygmy tarsier was unequivocally extinct, but ended up becoming the first person in more than 80 years to spot a live one. (Read more)

Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Rediscovered in Arkansas

April 28, 2005

A group of wildlife scientists believe the ivory-billed woodpecker is not extinct. They say they have made seven firm sightings of the bird in central Arkansas. The landmark find caps a search that began more than 60 years ago, after biologists said North America’s largest woodpecker had become extinct in the United States. (Read more) Note: this contention is still controversial – see here.

Coelacanths fish

Coelacanths (seel-a-canths) were once known only from fossils and were thought to have gone extinct approximately 65 million years ago (mya), during the great extinction in which the dinosaurs disappeared. Today, there are two known living species.

The first living coelacanth was discovered in 1938. For many years, living coelacanths were known only from the western Indian Ocean, primarily from the Comoros Islands, but in September 1997 and again in July 1998, coelacanths were captured in northern Sulawesi, Indonesia, nearly 6,000 miles to the east of the Comoros. Read more

The moral of this story is that even “settled science” can be wrong. A good scientist should always be skeptical.

 

Related: For the past several years alarmist scientists have claimed that humans are causing “the sixth mass extinction” on Earth. Smithsonian paleontologist Doug Erwin debunks this claim in the article: “Earth Is Not in the Midst of a Sixth Mass Extinction.”

Erwin is one of the world’s experts on the End-Permian mass extinction, an unthinkable volcanic nightmare that nearly ended life on earth 252 million years ago. He proposed that earth’s great mass extinctions might unfold like these power grid failures: most of the losses may come, not from the initial shock—software glitches in the case of power grid failures, and asteroids and volcanoes in the case of ancient mass extinctions—but from the secondary cascade of failures that follow. These are devastating chain reactions that no one understands.

 

Watching a Western Spotted Orbweaver spider

For the past two weeks, I’ve been watching a spider build an intricate web near my back porch. The circular web is suspended from an ironwork fence by many strands of spider silk.

I have tentatively identified this spider as a Western Spotted Orbweaver (Neoscona Oaxacensis ) also known as a zig-zag spider. It is a pretty spider with a body length of just under one-half inch.

This spider occurs throughout the mid-west and western U.S., Mexico, Central American and parts of South America. Like most spiders, the orbweaver has venom to subdue its prey, but most sources say the venom is not harmful to humans.

The spiders eat insects and anything else that gets caught in its web. It also eats spider silk. You can watch a short video from the Boyce Thompson Arboretum which shows this spider in action:

Spider silk is a protein fiber. Spiders can produce as many as seven different types of silk. Wikipedia has a long and detailed article on spider silk (link). I will summarize.

Spider silk is five times as strong as the same weight of steel and some silk can stretch up to five times its length without breaking.

Types of silk (from Wikipedia):

Major-ampullate (dragline) silk: Used for the web’s outer rim and spokes and also for the lifeline. Can be as strong per unit weight as steel, but much tougher.

Capture-spiral (flagelliform) silk: Used for the capturing lines of the web. Sticky, extremely stretchy and tough. The capture spiral is sticky due to droplets of aggregate (a spider glue) that is placed on the spiral. The elasticity of flagelliform allows for enough time for the aggregate to adhere to the aerial prey flying into the web.

Tubiliform silk: Used for protective egg sacs. Stiffest silk.

Aciniform silk: Used to wrap and secure freshly captured prey. Two to three times as tough as the other silks, including dragline.

Minor-ampullate silk: Used for temporary scaffolding during web construction.

Piriform: Piriform serves as the attachment disk to dragline silk. Piriform is used in attaching spider silks together to construct a stable web.

It seems that spiders are more complicated than one would initially think. Have you seen this spider around your garden?

See also:

The Arizona Brown Spider – a reclusive beastie

Black Widow Spiders
A green lynx spider may be lurking in your yard

Who’s Afraid of Tarantulas?

The Monsoon Spawned Two New Flowering Plants In My Yard – Sida and Capitellata

The rains of the summer monsoon have given rise to some exotic flowering plants in my yard. My wife calls them weeds. Recently, I noticed two flowering plants by the pool that I had not seen in my yard before. I sent photographs to botanist Mark Fleming at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum who identified them for me.

The first is Sida abutifolia. Common names include Spreading Sida, Prostrate Mallow, and Spreading Fanpetal.

 

Sida is a tropical plant whose range now includes southern Arizona and New Mexico, most of Texas, and southernmost Florida.

Sida is classified as an herb that grows up to one foot high and has ground-hugging stems that have small spikes. The leaves are about one inch long and the yellow flowers are about 3/4 inch in diameter. See a more scientific description and more photos from SEINet.

This plant has what I regard as strange behavior. Most of the time the flowers are closed. They all open together around 2pm and close again after two hours. This behavior has been repeated for about two weeks so far. It would seem that this limits the opportunity for pollenation.

In Mexico, Sida was used medicinally to treat boils and kidney problems (Source).

 

The second plant is Euphorbia capitellata aka Chamaesyce capitellata, a member of the Spurge Family. It has a lovely common name: head sandmat. Other names include capitate sandmat and head spurge.

The white flowers are less than 1/4 inch in diameter when open. The flowers look pointed before they open fully. The leaves are about one inch long. See a more scientific description and more photos from SEINet.

Capitellata is a small perennial plant with a woody base from which the herbaceous stems regrow year after year. It has a milky sap that can be a skin or eye irritant.

Capitellata is native to Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and northern Mexico.

See also:

A London Rocket in my yard 

The Tiny Common Ground-Dove

 

The Common Ground-Dove (Columbina passerina) is about the size of a sparrow with a body length of six to seven inches and a wingspan of 10 inches. It is the smallest dove in the U.S.

This dove occurs along the southern border of the U.S. from California to Florida. Its range includes Mexico, parts of Central America, Caribbean islands, and northern South America.

“Common Ground-Doves are sandy brown overall, with large, dark spots on the wing coverts. In flight the wings show rich rufous patches. Males have a pinkish wash on the head, neck, and chest, and bluish crowns; females are duller. Both sexes have fine, dark scaling on the neck and chest, and pinkish-red bills with a dark tip. Common Ground-Doves live in open or shrubby areas with tall grasses or groves of trees, including riparian corridors and open savannas. They also live in towns and suburbs, where they frequent yards and hedges.” (Cornell) The male is pictured above. See more photos here.

Ground-Doves eat primarily seeds from grasses and weeds. They may eat as many as 2,500 seeds every day. They also eat berries, insects, and snail shells (for the calcium to produce “crop milk” for nestlings).

Both male and female build the nest, usually a depression in the ground lined with grasses. They also nest in shrubs and trees. The male and female share incubation duty (12-14 days) and both feed the nestlings until they fledge (11-14 days). Normal clutch size is one to three eggs.

According to Cornell, “During the day Common Ground-Doves spend time on the ground searching for seeds and roosting. They may also roost in trees or shrubs at any hour of the day or night. They nod their heads as they walk, often holding their tails slightly elevated, and they usually make short, low, and direct flights. When startled they can quickly burst into nearby cover, but they are not a very anxious bird—allowing humans to get very close without appearing bothered.” Listen to their cooing sound here.

See also:

White-winged Doves

Mourning Doves

Inca Doves – small and surprising

Eurasian Collared-Doves

 

Inca Doves – small and surprising

The Inca Dove (Columbina inca) is a small dove with a body length of about 8 inches. It is smaller than a Mourning dove and the White-winged dove. The Inca Dove’s color is light brownish gray and has a scaled appearance on its back. The tail is slender and has white sides. At rest, this dove is very dull looking. That changes in flight or when the dove is displaying. Then the bright rufus-colored primaries on the underside of the wings are visible. Male doves use the display of raising one wing over their backs to defend their territory against other males.

During courtship, the male bobs its head, raises its tail high over back and spreads it widely to show off black and white markings.

Inca doves occur in the southwestern U.S. and most of Mexico. They are found around human settlements throughout much of the Sonoran Desert region. They seem to prefer open areas with sparse shrub cover and scattered trees such as palo verde and oak.

They are seed and fruit eaters. Doves grind seeds in their muscular stomachs (or gizzards) using sand or gravel much like internal teeth.

According to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, “The Inca Dove has the longest breeding season of any Arizona bird: January to November. That fact, plus its preference for grass and weed seeds, have made the Inca Dove the most abundant bird in southwestern urban areas, after the house sparrow.”

According to Audubon, Nest sites vary, usually in trees or shrubs 5-20 feet above ground, sometimes as high as 50 feet. Nests (built by female, with material gathered by male) are a small platform of twigs, stems, leaves, sometimes lined with grass.

Both parents incubate the eggs for about two weeks. Upon hatching, the chicks are fed “pigeon milk” produced by both parents. “Both males and females produce this substance in their crops (the pouch just above the stomach that birds use to store food). The walls of the crop swell with fat and proteins until the cells in the crop wall begin shedding, producing a nutritious, milky-colored secretion. Despite its appearance, it’s not related to the milk produced by mammals.” – (Cornell)

The chicks fledge within two weeks of hatching and may be tended by the parents for another week or two.

Inca doves have a distinct sound. Listen here. Do you recognize it?

See also:

White-winged Doves

Mourning Doves

Eurasian Collared-Doves

Golden Paper Wasps

Paper wasps (genus Polistes) are the most common wasps of the Sonoran desert. They are about one inch long and often brightly colored (see photo gallery). According to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, common paper wasps include the yellow (aka golden) paper wasp, the Navajo paper wasp, which is deep chocolate brown with the end of the abdomen yellowish; and the Arizona paper wasp, which is slightly smaller and more spindle-shaped than the other two and is brownish-red with thin yellow cross bands on the abdomen.

A golden paper wasp (Polistes aurifer) has been inspecting my house recently, but so far, I have not seen any nests. This wasp drinks from my pool. It can land on and walk on the water because it does not break surface tension. These wasps are not usually aggressive except when defending a nest. The nest is built using tree bark and wood fibers mixed with saliva.

ASDM: The paper wasp is a social insect whose life cycle begins as a solitary mated queen. The queen overwinters deep in rock cracks, behind peeling tar paper, or inside enclosures. In spring the queen builds a paper nest suspended from a thin stalk in a protected rock crevice, among thick vegetation such as dead fan palm leaves, or under the overhang of a man-made structure. She constructs a small cluster of paper hexagonal cells and lays an egg in each. The queen then feeds the larvae that hatch from these eggs a diet of caterpillar ‘meat balls.’ When the first young worker wasps emerge from their pupal cells, they assume the tasks of hunting caterpillars, collecting material for making papier-mâché for nest expansion, and collecting water for cooling. The queen then ceases all work except egg laying. By late spring, the colonies have grown to contain 20 to 50 wasps; by late summer as many as 200 wasps may be present. At this time new queens and males are reared. After mating, the new queens imbibe nectar to fatten for the winter. By late fall, the queen mother and workers die, the nest is abandoned, and the next generation of queens goes into hibernation.

Most wasps are specialized hunters that track down their prey using smell and sight combined with knowledge of the habitat, activity periods, and behavior of the prey. A solitary wasp usually subdues its prey with a sting that either kills the prey or paralyzes it briefly or permanently. (Tarantulas stung by tarantula hawks can live completely paralyzed for months.) Social wasps, including paper wasps, never sting their prey. Instead, they use their powerful cutting mandibles to chew the prey into pieces to feed directly to their larvae. The venom of social wasps is used only for defense. (Read more from ASDM)

Most wasps are carnivores that feed on other insects and arthropods. A few species have become herbivores, like bees, and feed on nectar and pollen.

Although wasps are not pleasant to have around, they are beneficial because they are pollinators.

See also: Tarantula Hawks Deliver The Big Sting  

Ocelots – an occasional Arizona visitor

Ocelots (Leopardus pardalis) are medium-sized, spotted neotropical cats whose principal range is Central and South America. They also occur in Mexico, South Texas, and occasionally in southern Arizona.

Juvenile bobcats and mountain lions may be mistaken for ocelots because they, too, are spotted. Another spotted cat is the Margay, but it is much smaller, about the size of a house cat.

Full-grown ocelots have a head and body length of 22 to 38 inches, a tail length of 8 to 10 inches. They can weigh between 18 and 35 pounds. The smaller ocelots tend to occur in the northern part of their range. Ocelots are quite varied depending on location and there are 10 recognized subspecies.

Ocelots have a distinctive bright white spot within black on the back of their ears. Their short smooth body fur is creamy colored on the sides and back and whitish underneath. Both areas sport black spots.

According to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, “Ocelots prefer dense thornscrub, live oak scrub, or riparian areas with an overstory cover.”

Ocelots hunt mainly at night, but may be seen during cloudy or rainy days. Ocelots are solitary animals that maintain territories which are scent-marked by urine spraying and forming dung piles. Males have territories up to 18 square miles. Females have territories of up to 6 square miles. Male territories can overlap several female territories. Social interaction is minimal.

Ocelots feed on a variety of small mammals and birds, as well as some reptiles, amphibians, and fish. They also take young pigs, kids, and lambs, and domestic poultry. Ocelot dens may be a cave in a rocky bluff, a hollow tree, or the densest part of a thorny thicket. Two young are born in late summer or fall. Like other young of the cat family, they are covered with a scanty growth of hair, and the eyes are closed at birth. Gestation has been estimated to last 70-80 days and captive kittens opened their eyes 15-18 days after birth. (Source)

Arizona Game & Fish Department biologists investigate and keep track of ocelot sightings in Arizona. See reports and photos: Feb 5, 2012 in Huachuca Mountains, and another report of the same incident here. Sighting in Cochise County, Dec 2, 2011.

An ocelot was photographed between April 8 and May 21, 2014 near the site of the proposed Rosemont mine in the Santa Rita Mountains according to the US Fish & Wildlife Service. That sighting came two days before the U.S. Forest Service delayed its final decision on the $1.2 billion mine project, in part because of the ocelot. – Arizona Daily Star

Ocelots have been extensively hunted for their fur, kept as pets, and worshiped by ancient Central and South American cultures.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

Black-bellied Whistling ducks (Dendrocygna autumnalis) range from southern Arizona, south Texas and Louisiana, through parts of Mexico and Central American to Brazil. Their range is expanding northward.

These large ducks (body length about 22 inches, wingspan 37 inches) are reddish brown, have a black belly, white wing patches, and a pink to orange bill. They are long-legged, long-necked, and are sociable and noisy. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes them as “boisterous.”

My own experience with these ducks is confined to the mixed-species aviary at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Often, a gang of these noisy ducks will follow me around, pecking at my legs and attempt to untie my shoelaces.

Whistling ducks can be found in marshes, ponds, and lakes where they feed on aquatic animals such as snails. Their main diet, however, consists of seeds and grains. Whistling ducks frequent grasslands and agricultural areas where they feed on many agricultural crops including sorghum, millet, corn, rice, and wheat. They also eat insects and spiders.

Whistling ducks are casual about nesting. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology: they usually nest in tree hollows where a limb has broken or the trunk has rotted away. They typically don’t build a nest; they lay their eggs directly on whatever debris has collected there. Cavity openings range from 5–12 inches across. When nesting on the ground, they make a scrape or a shallow bowl of grasses, with thick vegetation overhead, such as willow, mesquite, or cactus. They typically lay 9 to18 eggs which are incubated for 25 to 30 days. Hatchlings are nearly independent upon hatching.

About the noise. Whistling ducks do not make the “quacking” noise of other ducks. Rather they have a range of sounds. Listen here.

According to ASDM, United States populations are increasing, probably because of nest boxes. This species was rare in Arizona before 1949 but has since become a rather common nesting bird.