Saturday, January 3, 2015

Snowy Palms: An Omen of Death

Recently, parts of Southern California experienced some surprisingly cold weather, as falling snow graced the tops of the palm trees around Christmas time.  A White Christmas is nothing terribly surprising for folks like myself, born and raised in Colorado, but for California natives it was definitely more of a surprise.  People had pulled over on the side of the highway for an opportunity to play in the snow, throwing snowballs and taking selfies all over the place.
Wind turbines in the foreground, and snow capped mountains in the background in the middle of the desert just outside of Palm Desert in California.
A family stopped along Interstate-15 in Temecula, California to play in the snow, a scene that could easily have been lifted out of Colorado, if not for the trees adorned with green leaves, and especially the palm tree in the background.
A snow selfie on the side of the Interstate-15 in Temecula, California.
Although the winter freeze was very exciting for many of the residents, for the native residents of Southern California's deserts, the freeze would be much less welcome.  Over millions of years, the animals that call these seemingly barren slopes home have evolved to cope with extreme environmental stress typical of those experienced in the desert.  Aridity and extreme heat of course play major roles in any desert ecosystem, and many of the adaptations of desert animals are in response to these climatic factors.
The bobcat (Lynx rufus), one of the residents of the Southern California deserts.  This particular individual was at The Living Desert in Palm Desert.
A captive desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) at The Living Desert.  This subspecies is native to the southern United States and Mexico.
A western diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox), also native to the southern United States and northern Mexico.
A wild greater roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) that I chased through a Target parking lot.  
A wild California ground squirrel (Spermophilus beecheyi) that we saw foraging around at The Living Desert.
A hummingbird, possibly an Anna's hummingbird (Calypte anna).  Hummingbirds in Colorado will fly south for the winter, in order to avoid harsh weather like that seen in Southern California last week,
Of course, environmental conditions that fall well outside the norm are arguably equally important for animals native to a specific biome or region.  Even if a population of animals thrives in the harsh, arid landscape of Southern California, if all it takes is a single night of snow to wipe out the population, unusual weather (such as that seen in the area last week) can be extremely troublesome.  Extreme weather can also help control populations, and can be what keeps other animals from colonizing an area.  For example, if a population of desert rodent attempts to colonize the mountains around Palm Desert, but is unable to cope with the occasional snow storm, then that type of rodent would be much less likely to survive and thrive there.
Part of the mountains west of La Quinta and Rancho Mirage, prior to the snowstorm.
The same mountains, following the snowstorm.
Works Cited:

Hummingbirds found in California, USA. (n.d.). Retrieved January 4, 2015, from http://beautyofbirds.com/hummingbirdscalifornia.html

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