Saturday, July 2, 2011

Desert Potholes

One of my absolute favorite things found here in the desert are potholes and the creatures living in them! Forgive me if I've already posted about these (I don't remember)--I don't know why I wouldn't have because I think they are fascinating! Potholes are depressions in the slickrock, and can be tiny to the size of bathtubs, hot tubs or tanks!

Here I am acting like I'm in a hot tub....

Deep potholes can hold rainwater for more than a month! These are an important water source for mule deer, desert bighorn sheep and many other animals.

Aquatic animals and insects even take advantage of this water source, including a couple species of amphibian (spadefoot toad and red-spotted toad), fairy shrimp, clam shrimp, tadpole shrimp and a variety of aquatic insects. When potholes are dry they don't look like much, but once it rains, eggs start hatching! The one I'm "sitting" in, but not touching, will be full of life when it is full of water. This one is up on the mesa top, close to Spring Canyon Point above the Green River.

Animals that have dried up, laying in wait, rehydrate and continue their lives. Some insect larvae can lose up to 80% of the water in their bodies!

Tadpole shrimp photo taken by a co-worker. I think they look like tiny horseshoe crabs.

Picture of a real horseshoe crab. We don't have those here but I'd like to see one someday!

Spadefoot toad, taken by Crystal, a co-worker. I've seen their tadpoles, but not the actual toad in real life, only pictures. I'm jealous!

It's fun to see and hear amphibians on the mesa top, because it seems like that's the last place they should be found! There are no permanent water sources, but these amphibians mature quickly (in less than two weeks) and are then able to leave the water source. Spadefoot toads mature from tadpole to toad, then bury themselves in the mud, waiting for the next rainstorm. Then they come up to the surface, mate, lay their eggs in potholes and the whole process starts over.

I took groups of 3rd graders to the potholes here in the park. It was fun, but hard for them to remember to not step in or touch the potholes. This year they were all dry, but other years they actually got to see the tadpole and fairy shrimp swimming around.


Hugh said...

Neat. I love how life finds a way. And I understand how difficult it might be to keep a Grade 3-er from stepping into a pothole.

Gilbrides said...

Wow, those are really cool! I really should plan a trip up and come visit you! :)