Sonoran Desert Summer

Overview

What could seem less inviting than summer in the desert? For most people, this prospect conjures up the image of relentless heat and parched earth; for biologist John Alcock, summer in Arizona's Sonoran Desert represents an opportunity to investigate the wide variety of life that flourishes in one of the most extreme environments in North America. "Only very special plants and animals can survive and reproduce in a place that may receive as little as six inches of rain in a year," observes Alcock, "a place where ...

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Overview

What could seem less inviting than summer in the desert? For most people, this prospect conjures up the image of relentless heat and parched earth; for biologist John Alcock, summer in Arizona's Sonoran Desert represents an opportunity to investigate the wide variety of life that flourishes in one of the most extreme environments in North America. "Only very special plants and animals can survive and reproduce in a place that may receive as little as six inches of rain in a year," observes Alcock, "a place where the temperature may rise above one hundred degrees each day for months on end." Yet he and other biologists have discovered here startling signs of life hidden in plain view under the summer sun:
- male digger bees compete to reach virgins underground during the early summer mating season;
- the round-tailed ground squirrel goes about its business, sounding alarm calls when danger threatens its kin;
- the big-jawed beetles Dendrobias mandibularis emerge in time to feast on saguaro fruits and to use their mandibles on rival males as well;
- Harris's hawks congregate in groups, showing their affinity for polyandry and communal hunting;
- robberflies mimic the appearance of the bees and wasps on which they prey;
- and peccaries reveal the adaptation of their reproductive cycle to the desert's seasonal rains. The book's 38 chapters introduce readers to these and other desert animals and plants, tracing the course of the season through activities as vibrant as mating rituals and as subtle as the gradual deterioration of a fallen saguaro cactus. Enhanced by the line drawings of Marilyn Hoff Stewart, Sonoran Desert Summer is both an account of how modern biology operates and a celebration of the beauty and diversity that can be found in even the most unpromising places.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Daytime desert temperatures soar above 100F for months on end, and rainfall may be no more than may be no more than ? six inches a year. How do plants and animals survive in such a hostile climate? When he isn't teaching zoology at Arizona State, Alcock investigates desert life from his study site on Usery Mountain in Tonto National Forest, east of Phoenix. Although his specialty is insect reproductive behavior, he is keenly interested in other life forms and their adaptation to the environment. Alcock shows us a giant saguaro cactus, toppled by wind and slowly devoured by bacteria, insects and their predators; male empress butterflies and digger bees lying in wait for virgin females of each species to emerge from the pupal stage; Harris hawks on cooperative hunts. Among the mammals discussed are the woodrat, peccary, rock squirrel and coyote; Alcock notes that in 1987, the government spent $300,000 to destroy coyotes that had killed $54,000 worth of ok? domestic animals. This sequel to Sonoran Spring is a superb piece of natural history writing. Illustrated . First serial to Wilderness magazine. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Evolutionary biologist Alcock highlights the unique plants and animals that thrive in the Sonoran desert of Southern Arizona and Northwestern Mexcio. Using both his own observations and that of other biologists, Alcock shows some of the delights of observing nature at its most ingenious. His essays are lively and interesting--not too technical and not overly simplified. The illustrations are attractive and bring into focus details otherwise easy to miss. A good purchase in the nature writing category.-- Katherine Galloway Garstka, Intergraph Corp., Huntsville, Ala.
Booknews
Alcock (zoology, Arizona State U.) follows up his fine Sonoran desert spring with an intimate natural history of the desert in summer. Wonderful line drawings by Marilyn Hoff Stewart. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780816514380
  • Publisher: University of Arizona Press
  • Publication date: 2/1/1994
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 187
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

John Alcock is Professor of Zoology at Arizona State University.

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Table of Contents

Illustrations
Preface
May 1
The Fall and Decline of a Giant 3
Black Plumage - Desert Heat 8
Goatsucker Myths? 12
Empress Butterflies: Hooked on Hackberry 17
Flash Flood 23
Broom-rapes, Cancer-roots, and Strangle-vetches 26
Freedom Fighters 29
May Twilight 38
Hands Off the Gila Monster! 40
June 45
Poorwill 47
How to Wave to a Predator - and Get Away with It 51
Altruism Among Ground Squirrels 56
June's Saguaro 61
Range Wars 62
The Hard Lives and Hard Times of Brittlebush 66
Burn, Desert, Burn 69
The Usery Mountain Mobbers 73
July 81
How to Win Mates and Influence Enemies 83
Bahia Laura 89
Pleasant Memories 94
July's Saguaro 102
Cooperative Killers and Lovers 104
Of Leks and Carpenter Bees 109
All Used Up 115
July Evening 120
Mimics, Aggressive and Otherwise 121
August 127
Flying in the Rain 129
The Seasons of the Peccary 133
August's Saguaro 137
A Wolf in Vulture's Clothing 142
August Afternoon 146
Carotenoids Make the Man 147
A Recommendation for Scorpions 151
September 159
The Cost of Coyote Meat: An Update 161
A Fur Coat for Summer 166
Hawk Morning 170
The Flexible Phainopepla 171
The Fall of Summer 175
References 177
Index 185
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