Saguaros, Leopard Frogs, and Butterflies – Oh My!

August 21, 2020

Section I – Pollard Walk Butterfly Surveys

We are surveying butterflies at Saguaro National Park East using a couple of different methods. The first is called a Pollard Walk. It involves slowing walking, hiking, or climbing over huge boulders in drainages while collection observations of butterflies. These observations are written down and photos are taken when possible to use as vouchers. Photo vouchers include key characteristics of each species so that they can be distinguished from each other. We will use these photo vouchers to create a guide to the butterfly species at the park for members of the community to use.  

Section II – Stationary Butterfly Surveys

The second type of survey we conducted this week was Stationary. It involved navigation to a predetermined coordinate and collecting data over a long period of time in that area. This allows other data to be collected such as any caterpillars that can found. We searched for them in nearby vegetation taking care to look at plants that showed signs of herbivory. We did not find any caterpillars and did not see many butterflies, hopefully after the rain yesterday this area will green up and we will see more activity when we repeat this survey soon.

Section III – Pollinator Garden Work

My interpretive component of this research will involve Pollinator Gardens. In the Sonoran Desert there are many different pollinators (see section in poster below) that must be accommodated in pollinator gardens. These gardens must also utilize passive rainwater harvesting techniques because conserving water is essential. We will be developing more pollinator gardens around the visitors center and eventually some in Saguaro National Park West. These gardens are in the early stages of planning so I will get to help other folx and interns do rock work (passive water harvesting), restoration work (native seed collection in certain areas of the park), and interpretive work (signs in Spanish and English identifying pollinators that may come to the gardens and how they can participate in our community science projects).

I am truly grateful for the opportunity to participate in the project and for how the folx in this internship and at the Park have supported my passion for this work. ¡Muchas gracias!

Section IV – Dragonfly Larvae Collection

This internship also encourages and enables us to participate in other research projects. This week we helped collect dragonfly larvae from Tenajas. Tenajas (from the Spanish, tinaja, which is a large clay pot/vessel) are large pools of perennial water in our deserts. These pools are carved into stone in mountain drainages over long periods of time through erosion processes. The pools we collected in were so perfect, sitting in some of the largest and beautifully flowing rock formations I have ever seen. They looked like water frozen in mid flow and then transformed into red, black, brown, purple, white, and gray rock. The color variation is what is truly amazing. I know many folx think the desert is drab – a series of dulled browns and greens where all plants are dead, dried and crisped by the heat and sun. This is not what our desert looks like. I am hoping to record video of these types of areas soon so you all can see it for yourself.

During this dragonfly larvae survey we learned about other parts of the ecosystems (the Tenajas and the dragonflies) and about different survey methods. The dragonfly larvae live in the silt in these Tenajas for sometimes as long as 6-7 years depending on the species. During this time they act as some of the top predators consuming large amounts of the other inhabitants of these pools. During this time they can bioaccumulate things such as Mercury that can then be measured and used as indicators of the Mercury levels in the environment.

Section IV – Miscellaneous Observations

Below are some really beautiful and gnarly things we saw such as a spider predating a butterfly, a dessicated Sonoran Desert Toad, cactus blooms, a tiny Canyon treefrog, tiny tadpoles, and Tenaja ecosystems.

Section V – Some Poetry

The smell of creosote blowing on a hot wind down the paths that so many have walked for so many generations. From the traditional inhabitants of this land, to migrants, to NPS enthusiasts, to bike riders, and horse riders. All their stories are what I heard on that wind carrying the scent of creosote. All their culture, laughter, blisters, run-ins with cactus, songs, footsteps, bike wheels turning, and their hoofbeats. I could feel the warmth of the sun, the lifegiving sun, the same sun that carries the power of growth and the fear of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. I could touch the earth below my feet and the air on that wind, but it also connected me to the fire, water, and spirit within – uniting all the elements. All this was carried to me on a simple, lazy breeze at the end of the first day of surveying at Saguaro National Park East. Then to close out my thoughts, I saw one of the most magnificent Saguaros. Saguaros are our sacred protectors here in our desert among the creosote and the sage and each other.

-Mallary (They) 

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