Year of great desert

 

Tour to Neocene

 

13. Year of great desert

 

 

 

Woods and meadows in a Neocene had extended, and the area of deserts and semideserts was reduced. But nevertheless there are places on the Earth where life should struggle for water. One of such places is the south of Northern America, Mexican plateau. Rains are plentiful here only in spring and in autumn, summer is dry, and winter is cool, though without frost. The Caribbean islands gather on themselves all rains from Atlantic, therefore only small part of rains gets to the continent. Hot summer heats up air mass above mountains, and clouds from the sea as if come upon an invisible wall of heat, not promoting inside of continent. And the desert is formed.
Life in desert of Mexico begins with beginning of rains. When first drops fall to the dry ground, blown up founts of dust, inhabitants of desert start to wake up after winter catalepsy. It should be made quickly - it is necessary to accumulate water for future use to go through extremely dry summer when each sip of water can save the life. And some small plants manage to live all life during the short period of rains - they will die in the beginning of a summer, but their seeds will go through inclement hot time and for the next year will sprout. For few days bulbs and tubers waiting for this hour within all winter literally "blow up" by bunches of leaves and flowers. All these plants, ephemers and ephemeroids, are shown from the ground only for some weeks then hide in the ground again. And herbivores hurry up to receive the share at this holiday of life.
In desert big herds of deermaras wander. It is the species, related to South-American one, but it is more fragile by constitution and differently colored. It is possible to tell, that South-Americans “have taken a revenge” for failure in time of “great faunae exchange” in Pliocene and Pleistocene when species of North-American origin had superseded and numerous and have put on edge of extinction various species of southerners. Now the situation had changed: though Panama isthmus appeared under water, through Antilles deermaras of South America had settled to the north; here they were bred in great number, having evolved to new species. They have achieved success in competition for existence - their herds are numerous, and the variability of species of these running rodents is rather big. However aboriginal species had remained, and they obviously are not going to give in.
Deermaras eat plants, nervously shaking ears and timidly looking back on sides at each suspicious rustle. But when a crash of breaking branches of bushes is hearing, the herd darts off and runs away. And bushes are left by the strange animal similar to huge prickly bear with long claws. It is one of large inhabitants of desert - the bear porcupine, the descendant of the North-American porcupine. He does not have an affair up to deermaras: it is the vegetarian. Having sniffed ground, the porcupine sticks claws in ground and quickly digs out a bulb of certain plant. Having griped it between palms of forepaws, the animal cracks plant, loudly crunching, and chews long, enjoying its taste. Then he continues detour of the territory, gathering food and not being late anywhere for a long time. Colouring of this animal, the male, is remarkable: he is almost black with a white spot on the chest.
When rains stop for some days, the ground dries up also the Whitechest follows on edge of the territory. There, on border of estates of few porcupines, there is a special place - the dust bath. This is the place of meeting of animals, and the place where it is possible to learn news about the neighbours. The dust bath is big deepening in the ground, filled with thick layer of dust. Near it there is a big heap of the compressed and dried up dung of porcupines – the real "bulletin board". Whitechest sniffs at it, learning much about life of neighbours. So, to a smell of the Striped Spike, the mature female from the next territory, two more weak smells are added meaning, that at her twins were born. And a smell of the Black, large old male, is not felt - probably, this winter appeared last for him. But there is also completely unfamiliar smell of any male. It is clear, that he was here, but long time ago: the smell is weak and was not updated for a long time.
Having read "news", Whitechest goes to the bath. He is rather bothered with parasites all winter bred in his wool. Having sniffed around the dust, the animal lies down in it with pleasure and starts to fill it on sides and back by paws. Having lain down a little in a dust, he is sharply stirred up, having raised a grey dust cloud around of himself. Suddenly the animal pricks up his ears: he hears familiar bird's shout among grass. Peering small eyes, Whitechest notices two white crests in grass. They come nearer, and to the dusty bath two fragile long-legged birds, pair of grass herons, run out. Their nest is nearby, but eggs are not laid yet, therefore both birds can feed together. Herons start to pick parasites dropped out of wool of the porcupine. Whitechest silently grunts and lies down in dust again. He feels, that on his back pair of feet runs, and sharp beak sometimes pinches his skin. But together with it an itch from numerous insects leaves him, and it calms an animal. Breath becomes smoother, and Whitechest falls in somnolence. But to him is short to sleep: shout of one heron wakes him. Having risen on hinder legs, Whitechest sees, how the female of the porcupine of strange motley coloring comes nearer to the dust bath. It is the Striped Spike, and after her two cubs hasten. And one cub is remarkable by dark brown colouring and characteristic white spot on chest.
Whitechest would not so like to face with the female at cubs, and he abandons the dusty bath. And herons start clearing of new clients.
Whitechest bypasses the estates, and near to thickets of bushes meets other neighbours, large flightless birds. Ostrich turkeys are occupied now with courtship. The huge male seems even more than really is because it had opened wings and has stood on end feathers on the body. It perambulates around of several females, stamping by legs. "Dewlap" above its beak became long from a rush of blood, and now dangles at each movement of the giant. From time to time it stops and shakes by wings and tail, having turned to females. In the answer they ceremoniously bow, lifting up tails to backs, and clap by tiny wings. Heads at all birds are red from flowed blood, and blue circles of skin around of eyes became convex, as if birds had worn glasses. Such ritual can repeat long time, and Whitechest, having taken a look at birds, walks further.
Every new day the sun heats more hotly, and one from the most dangerous inhabitants of desert soon wakes up. In precipice of dried out river channel the huge hole, plugged by whole dry bush is visible. The plug starts to move, and at last it is pushed out from within by the owner of a hole - the three-meter long dragon-looking creature. It slowly gets out of a hole and by uncertain step follows on the huge flat stone heated by the sun. It is the gila-dragon, one of the most dangerous animals of desert. Now, it seems, he has not come yet in full might after wintering: the basis of his tail is lean, and the skin on stomach and paws is plicated. But it is only consequence of wintering, and it will pass at good feed. While the lizard is heated on a stone, having closed eyes. It has nobody to be afraid - anybody in these places will not cope with it.
Some days had passed. Whitechest bathes in dust bath, and small herons work on his skin, cleaning it. They work in shifts - in the nest of birds eggs had laid, and one of birds hatches the clutch while another one eats and has a rest. Whitechest succeeds to doze a little right in the sun place, but the disturbing voice of grass heron wakes him. The heron shouts loudly and shrill - danger is obviously very great, and the porcupine stands in fighting rack: having risen on hinder legs, he holds forepaws ready to impact. And it just by the way: from high grass the gila-dragon jumps out. The huge lizard, probably, did not expect for any answer of prey, therefore it shows in every way readiness for attack. The gila-dragon hisses, shakes the head and opens a mouth widely. But the porcupine is not that opponent possible to be attacked unpunishedly: by claws he can put serious wounds. But the gila-dragon is armed with strong poison: it is enough its one sting, and the adult porcupine will sick many days, and the cub will die almost at once. Both opponents are worthy each other, and both ones are absolutely not glad to this meeting. Therefore both ones start to recede, trying not to show the fear. The porcupine sniffs at the ground, searching for imagined roots, but by tail of an eye he observes of the predator. And the gila-dragon turns sideways and starts to shake a tail from side to side, glancing on the porcupine. But both giants gradually miss, drilling each other by sights. At last, they leave from each other on safe distance and abandon the battlefield. Whitechest hears someone's steps, and does not go to calm down: his claws still on call. On traces of the gila-dragon the striped large-headed creature with strong jaws, the marsupial hyena, runs. This predator frequently eats rests of catch of large predators, practically not spending efforts to have plentiful and tasty meal. This marsupial hyena is the female. From the beginning of winter she carries in marsupium three cubs, and now they need more feed. But this time the striped predator goes away with empty mouth: the hunter had left hungry, catch had remained alive and ready to protect himself. Having smelt air, marsupial hyena hides in grass after the scaly patron. She should be more cautious: the gila-dragon will easily cope with her if she will not keep aloof.
The gila-dragon goes away to search for easier catch. The lizard tries air with thin long tongue, trying to define, what animals are nearby. Having sensed a delicious promising smell, the huge reptile goes on an odorous trace.
Ostrich turkeys nest on the ground. This way their ancestors, North-American turkeys and the majority of gallinaceous birds had made it. Even if they would be able to fly, nothing would change it in their habits. The nest of ostrich turkey is a huge construction of branches and grass among thickets of plants. In this nest there are about twenty eggs – the result of work of three females from the harem of one male. The nest is vigilantly protected by several large birds while one of them hatches the clutch. The ostrich turkey male sometimes replaces females on clutch, but mostly he is occupied with protection of nesting area. And he finds out the scaly predator steadily coming nearer to a nest the first. Chicks in eggs are almost ready to hatching: they cheep from under egg shells. And it gives to birds protecting nest the resolution. For the excited voice of the male two females free from hatching run. In pack birds try to drive off the unbidden visitor. Birds spread wings, try to surround and to peck the lizard. However the gila-dragon is not frightened at all of their aggression. On the contrary it estimates the chances: not it had come to catch, and the meal itself had found it. It is necessary only to manage to take it lost-free. Birds hesitate, attacking the gila-dragon: the parental instinct and an instinct of self-preservation dictate them different things. If they can be more courageous and quick, together they easily would banish the reptile from the nest.
Indecision of large birds gives bravery to the gila-monster, and it attacks birds. By strong impact of the tail the huge reptile knocks down one of females, is instantly turning around, puts the bite, some seconds holds teeth closed on the side of prey, then lets off the turkey and runs off aside. The lizard is not defeated and does not recede - it simply waits. The bitten ostrich turkey jumps up on legs and runs after neighbours moving away. But it appreciablly lags behind them, stumbles along, and some minutes later lies down on the ground. In one minute it is dead.
Following in the tracks the gila-dragon finds the prey. He snaps at the carcass of a bird and drags it in nearest bush - away from curious sights of scavengers and predators. But the sensitive smell has already conducted the marsupial hyena to its catch. The female with swollen because of grown-up cubs marsupium expects not far, longingly inhaling the smell of catch of the gila-dragon.
Reptiles eat not so much - when the gila-monster had finished the meal, the share of the marsupial hyena includes fresh plucks of the bird and one fleshy leg. Now the hyena, and her cubs crawling in marsupium will be full both.
To the beginning of summer the nature prepares for annual test for durability and endurance. The grass becomes thin and dry, most part of spring plants had dead, or had hidden under the ground and suffer dry season as tubers and bulbs. Only prickly spheres and columns of cactuses are proudly towering above drying out grass. As if marking a victory of life over death, they bloom with bright flowers, being involved in daytime by beetles, and at night by small bats.
Whitechest does not suffer yet from famine - he is able to search for roots and tubers of plants, and near few ponds and rivulets the grass is still fresh. At him unexpected satellites had appeared: ostrich turkeys and their hatch. Three adult birds and their motley spotty chicks accompany with a huge rodent, keeping aloof from him. They do not compete for food to the Whitechest, simple it is more easy for them to search for food near to him. Whitechest knows, that dry stalks with rests of large bright flower give out place of tuber of desert fireflower. The porcupine digs out juicy tuber from depth more half meter, the same time throwing out on a surface tens kilograms of ground containing soil animal - spiders and larvae of insects. Huge turkeys peck these invertebrates. When the porcupine goes out, having to had eaten the next tuber, ostrich turkeys rummage in the hole left by him a long time, searching for forage.
But every day it begins more difficultly to search for food. And when ponds dry up, not famine but thirst becomes a main problem of desert inhabitants. In desert it is a lot of water-gathering plants. The high camomile tree contains juicy damp core under a thin bark. But getting water from this plant is not possible even to especially thirst animal. The deermara, standing on hind legs near this tree, tries to break juicy branch. It is undifficult: friable core crushes after impact of its legs easily. It is much more difficult to get moisture - on a break lacteal juice which on air at once thickens to sticky rubber-like mass oozes out. Having made dirty nose itself, the deermara moves off and walks to search for other source of water. The relative of the camomile tree, strange slowly growing plant “hedgehog bed” hides water even more reliably - in thick tuber-like stalk. This stalk is protected from animals interested to regale themselves with juicy core by prickly branches which are kept on plant till many years. Only branches of the current year are alive. Later they will die off and begin to protect plant by strong dry spikes. Even the thick cactus similar the flank is protected worse from herbivores. The porcupine also uses it, preferring to get water from cactuses. By sharp lateral impact of claw he cuts down a top of plant and cautiously starts to eat away waterish core. The sap of plant is bitter and viscous, but it does not stop the porcupine. The cactus will not dry out - it simply will give from "hemp" some lateral sprouts. Many cactuses in desert have on them traces of activity of huge porcupines - they are surrounded by young sprouts.
Whitechest for some days had drunk water only from two cactuses, but it is not enough to him. He finds a large spherical cactus hiding in dry grass, and accurately sticks claws in it. Pulp of a plant yields to it unexpectedly easy, and from within a cactus loud hissing is learning, in the beginning single one, and then for some voices. Snakes meet in desert, and Whitechest prefers not to meet them closely. He quickly runs off aside a strange cactus. It is difficult to tell, whether he had understood, that it was no snakes in this cactus. Hissing was made by caterpillars of the moth, desert cactus hawkmoth. Caterpillars of this moth are able to blow an outgrowth departing from intestines, and to squeeze out air through a mouth with effort, hissing as the snake. Thus oculate stain on their pectoral segments makes full impression of snake head. This way insect succeeds to scare away many small predators.
In searches of water Whitechest comes to channel of the shallow river. Now it had absolutely dried up, but above some places swarms of midges hover. It is the important mark, and the porcupine goes to one such place. Having sniffed around the ground and crust of dry silt, he starts to dig. Near his sides two heaps of sand increase, and the hole gradually goes deep. At last Whitechest finds that had searched: at the bottom of a hole a little of the muddy slush accumulates. It is the water and if there is nothing other to drink, it can be drunk.
Having slaked, Whitechest departs from the river and lies down to have a rest among bushes. And to well made by him deermaras start to gather. Sharp sense of smell helps them to define presence of water vapor in air, and they quickly run on its smell. Animals get into the hole of the porcupine on some animals at once, push and loudly express the indignation by the shout similar to the sheep bleating.
Having had a rest, Whitechest continues to wander on the territory in searches of food. He slowly bypasses a habitual route the estates, from time to time marking territory by urine and dung. He senses smells well, and prefers to communicate with neighbours with the help of smells. For him an atmosphere is the real open book. And some pages of this book can appear simply awful: from dry thickets of a grass it breathes as a smell of death. The smell is very old, therefore the porcupine is not afraid of predator presence. He comes nearer to a source of smell, and sees on the ground a body of the deermara. It was killed long time ago, and on the body soft tissues together with skin and wool are eaten basically. There it had remained only ribs, backbone and head of an animal. Whitechest goes away, not having paid attention to the motley feather which had stuck to remains of an animal.
Heat of desert is not a problem for some animals. In the afternoon when the sun is merciless hot, above violet inflorescences of “hedgehog bed” large moths appear, cracking by wings – they are imago of cactus hawkmoths. Moths suck nectar hurriedly, in passing carrying pollen from plant to plant.
At night the “hedgehog bed” becomes a place for surprising performance of the nature, coming once at seven years. From the ground around of bushes almost simultaneously hundreds hexapod creatures with the forward legs similar to sickles appear. They creep on bushes and on the spot fade, turning to densely combined creatures similar to the huge flea. This is one more species of desert insect – the hopping stonecicada. It dexterously imitates stone, living on stony screes near plants of “hedgehog bed”. Their larvae develop, having stuck to long roots of this plant. Adult insects some days accumulate strength, and then in hottest time of day when in the sky there is no even a little cloud, and birds sit in shadow, above desert their loud shrill chirr sounds.
During detour of the territory Whitechest finds victims of a drought: young and adult deermaras, chicks of ostrich turkeys. One find is especially unpleasant: it is the dead cub of the porcupine, one of pack of the Striped Spike. Having sniffed around the withered little body of the dead cub, Whitechest stirs up a head and goes away from this place. This moment is waited by the marsupial hyena. Her cubs had already left mother’s marsupium, and now the family finds food together. The body of the small porcupine is no more, than simply meal for them, one of many carcasses of desert inhabitants which are given by drought to predators each year.
In searches of a shadow Whitechest goes down to a channel of the river. Trees grow here and it is possible to have a little rest in shadow place. However Whitechest is not unique one who wants cool. Under the tree he notices the pair of strange biped creatures. They have rounded big heads, sharp-clawed legs and short body. When the giant rodent had approached closely, both creatures have turned to him and have changed: they have opened wings, have tousled feathers and have click sharp short beaks. These strangers are the pair of flightless prairie groundowls. They for a long time had accustomed in this territory, but they preferred to not meet the porcupine. Now their existence has abandoned to be a secret for Whitechest. Owls leave shadow of trees, clicking beaks, and the porcupine stands in the fighting rack and holds on call his claws. Together owls could cope the porcupine, but it could be finished badly for one of them - the porcupine puts to enemies terrible wounds by blows of forepaws. Opponents do not wish fight, and try to go out, showing each other might and power. When Whitechest goes away, owls come back in shadow of trees.
Summer proceeds not eternally, and once from the north the cool air carrying rain comes. Plants browsed by herbivores quickly grow. Cactuses, gnawed by porcupines during the drought, restore stocks of moisture and heal wounds.
The long-awaited cool is perceived by animals as the signal – it is time to make ready for winter. The gila-dragon hunts various animals, accumulating fat in tail. It is necessary for him for successful hibernation.
Porcupines also gorge on for future use fresh greenery, accumulating fat stock on waist and in tail. In autumn for them breeding season comes. For this important event in the annual cycle animals gather in boundary territories where there are tournaments between males, and females ready to pairing, wander near this place. Here, at one such area Whitechest meets old contenders and neighbours. The old male Greymuzzle hardly can be the serious contender to anybody of younger competitors. Black is too young, he does not try to win. It is his debut in mating tournaments, and in the first year of maturity him, most likely, will not win. And Red, an animal of dry grass color, and White Glasses, light brown giant, are rather serious contenders.
When the mating duel begins, males meet muzzles. In the beginning they rear spikes and curve backs, hoping to impress the opponent. Animals loudly puff and breathe noisy against each other at this moment. If it does not have an effect, males stamp by forepaws. And here Red hands over - he abandons mating ring. White Glasses and Whitechest gnaw at each other a sight, as if cats in March. Both animals beat by tails the ground, wind heads and rear crests of wool and spikes on heads. Contenders are equal by might and do not hasten to surrender. At last fragile balance is broken: White Glasses rushes on Whitechest and pushes his chest by shoulder. Both opponents fall down in dust, Whitechest pushes away White Glasses and jumps up on legs, and then he rushes on the opponent itself. White Glasses is kept on legs, but he gets strong bruise of a shoulder. Both animals separate, showing huge incisors to each other. However they can not bite: it would be dangerous even to large animals. The powerful natural instinct interferes with use of this weapon. Tired and exhausted, contenders part. Around of mating ring some females had gathered, therefore exhausting fight is senseless - each contender has chance to have posterity.
Whitechest approaches to one of females - mature chestnut-red "lady", and sniffs at her muzzle. At the female ready to pairing near the eye the repugnatorial gland opens, and Whitechest smells these secretions. At him it is quite good chance to have posterity.
At other animals an autumn life lasts languidly, and to winter stops at all. One of such creatures is the gila-dragon. The giant lizard creeps up to precipice in which there is a hole where it had hibernated many years. But the gila-dragon is guarded with the smell: it smells as old meat. Cautiously trying air by tongue, the reptile creeps up to the hole entrance, and looks inside. It is met with loud lingering shout: in the hole the female of prairie groundowl is sitting. She is in desperate position - the way to escape has blocked by the huge lizard, whose sting is dangerous. In-fighting in the hole against the huge reptile is senseless and hopeless. And at this time the giant is rising closer, hoping to win its lawful estate.
Suddenly sharp pain pierces the back of the gila-dragon and forces it to abandon the hole. The male of prairie groundowl had returned, and he is ready to help the female. Prairie groundowls are monodins, and connection between partners is strong. Therefore where one owl is, necessarily another one is also.
The gila-dragon turns by head to the new opponent. But today might is not on its party: in autumn cool the body of the reptile is not such mobile, and owls are warm-blooded animals, and their quickness does not depend on temperature of air. While the gila-dragon had distracted to the prairie groundowl male, the female had jumped out of a hole, and at the lizard two opponents have appeared. While the reptile lunges on one of them, another one strikes a blow by beak or paws. Scratches and wounds cover the body of gila-dragon, and the ground under its paws reddens from blood. In some minutes of fight the lizard falls lifeless to legs of owls. The victory is at their side, hole is too.
Winter at spaces of desert is rather soft. Seldom, no more than one or two days per one year, in the morning on ground hoarfrost appears, and pools become covered by ice. Usually at night it is cool, and it can even be warm in the afternoon. Herds of deermaras are grazed on plain, eating grass slowly growing even in winter. Together with them packs of grown up ostrich turkeys keep. In spring these birds will disperse to harems and can hatch posterity. But now their existence is not so serenely: at them the enemy hunting in winter had appeared. Prairie groundowls pursue these animals, attacking from an ambush.
The herd of deermaras grazing among bushes, is in the big danger. Prairie groundowls covered in thickets observe of them. When one animal is separated from herd and approaches to bushes too close, birds attack almost simultaneously. Sharp claws of these predators put to the mara terrible wounds and it instantly dies. And scared neighbours of the killed mara escape away from pair of feathered murderers. But this meeting with prairie groundowls is not last for them. Many deermaras will be killed by owls during the winter.
Owls greedy start to tear off still warm body of prey and to swallow pieces of meat together with wool and ligaments. It is connected to features of their digestion: similarly to owls in historical time, Neocaenic owls from time to time should belch castings - lumps of wool and bones of catch.
Rests of prairie groundowl’s catch are eaten by the marsupial hyena. Last year's cubs had left this female in the beginning of winter, and in her marsupium four cubs similar to worms having been born few days ago already crawl. To eat rests of catch of owls is not so favourable - these birds remain after themselves unless wretched pieces of meat on bones of catch. But jaws of the marsupial hyena easily crack them, reaching up to narrow. There is also one advantage for the hyena eating rests of owl catch: if the gila-dragon had hunting once a week, owls hunt almost every day, constantly supplying the marsupial hyena with rests of catch. Therefore she does not live in misery at new feathered “lords of plains”.
Whitechest does not fall to hibernation: to him winter is not terrible. At him the rich underfur saving from frost has grown. He wanders on the territory, gathering forage. Sappy bases of plant leaves, bulbs and roots are contained to his winter forage. In thickets of cactuses Whitechest finds red sweetish fruits of these plants. Together with his dung seeds of cactuses will get in ground and will give sprouts far from parent plant. And cactuses will help the porcupine when the drought will come.
Deermaras not always live in desert mountains. In the summer some herds of these animals migrate to the north - in an empire of plains and high grasses. But there these rodents are compelled to compete with numerous hoofed mammals, original relicts of epoch of Holocene.

Bestiary

Bear porcupine (Aepythizon ursinus)
Order: Rodents (Rodentia)
Family: Erethizontidae

The huge representative of family Erethizontidae, its nearest modern relative is the North-American (Canadian) porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum). The bear porcupine is remarkable by huge size: it weighs up to 500 kg, length of a body is up to 2 meters. Animal lives only on the ground, can’t climb on trees. The tail is very fat and short, in a stock of fat for winter is accumulated. Forepaws are armed with long claws (up to 20 cm), using for digging ground and cutting of prickly cactuses, because of it the animal at walking bases on the external side of forepaw (as the gorilla). It can easily move on four, and only on hind paws. Head is very large. incisors are long - up to 15 cm. The body is covered with thin wool (before winter the rich underfur grows up); on back, waist and tail there are long spikes (length up to 15 - 20 cm). On a crown spikes are very long - up to 30 cm, forming the "crest" serving for demonstration to opponents. Colouring of wool varies strongly: the basic background can be from black up to sandy-brown, spikes are from black up to striped, white - grey or light brown, on muzzle and chest there can be white or yellow spots ("glasses", strip along nose bridge, spot on chest).
Animal eats plants, tubers, larvae of insects, occasionally eats carrion. In drought the animal is capable to get water, splitting cactuses by claws. Breeding season is at the autumn, in spring the female gives rise to two advanced cubs covered with wool. After 2-nd week of life at them spikes start to grow. Sexual maturity comes in 4 years, life duration is till 40 years. Animal never fall to hibernation.

Desert deermara (Paracervimara aridophyla)
Order: Rodents (Rodentia)
Family: Cervimaridae

Picture by Lambert

Initial image by Pavel Volkov

The relative of the South-American deermara. Differs from it by cryptic "desert" colouring – yellow-brown without dark strip on back. At males, as against males of South-American species, not only "glasses" are white, but also all bottom part of a head up to a throat is. A constitution of animal is more graceful, that improves heat exchange. On legs around of hoof-like claws there are "brushes" of rich wool allowing to go on sand freely.
The animal is remarkable by endurance: it can not to drink during long time, being content with moisture from plants.

Ostrich turkey (Dromeogallus meleagroides)
Order: Gallinaceous birds (Galliformes)
Family: Phasianidae

Huge flightless bird, the descendant of the turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) living in North America adapted for inhabiting in planes in conditions of a hot summer and cool snowless winter.
The male in height is up to 150 cm (weights up to 60 kg), female - up to 120 cm (50 kg), weight of egg is up to 600 g, growth of hatched chick - 20 cm. Constitution of adult bird is massive, a neck and legs are long and featherless. Skin on head is bright red-colored, around of eyes it is blue. Beak is very wide and high. Above a beak it grows the "dewlap" increased at irritation. On throat the big "purse" (a plica of skin) grows, having the function of heat irradiation in hot weather. The skin of "purse" is plentifully penetrated with the blood vessels removing superfluous heat. Legs are three-toed, the internal toe is short, the fourth toe is reduced up to small claw. Claws are short, hoof-like. Males have long heels. Feathering of males is copper-red with greenish shine, wing and tail feathers are black with white edges, on the chest a bunch of thin hanging down white feathers grows. The female has cryptic sandy-yellowish coloring with single randomly scattered brown and grey spots.
Wings are short. At females have short brown feathers on wings (wings seem "semi-plucked"), at males primary feathers have turned to big soft "plumes" used in breeding demonstrations. Bird lives by groups of one male and several females. Birds of both sexes hatch the clutch (the male makes it less often), all members of group look after chicks. The group nests together, but each female builds its own nest. In clutch there is up to 10 eggs, an incubating lasts about 40 days. Chicks hatch with opened eyes, covered with motley gray-brown down. At the age of 5 months they become independent and gather in small groups which later are separating to families.
Bird feeds by plants, is capable to dig out roots and tubers of grasses by beak, eats small vertebrates, carrion.
Adult birds are capable to accelerate momentum up to 60 kms per hour. If there is no opportunity to escape, birds defend themselves actively, trying to strike the opponent by paws and beak.

Gila-dragon (Helodermopsis monstrosus)
Order: Squamates (Squamata)
Family: Helodermatidae

Picture by Sauron from FurNation

This huge predatory lizard is the descendant of modern gila-monsters (Heloderma).
It grows up to 3 - 3,5 meters long, weights up to 200 kg, the male is longer and more thin, the female is shorter, but more massive. Body is short and wide, head is massive, tail is thick, serving for accumulating of fat stock for the period of hibernation. Colouring of skin varies, representing the combination of irregular-shaped spots forming cross strips; primary colors are sandy-yellow and dark brown. Scales forms some longitudinal lines of large scutes along back and crest along the ridge. Paws are sharp-clawed, five-fingered, they are partially shifted under the body.
This predator eats large vertebrates, sometimes gathering carrion. Teeth are conic, on third pair of teeth of the top jaw there are the longitudinal grooves connected with poisonous glands. At the sting in a body of prey strong neurotoxic poison flows, killing for half an hour an animal weight up to 200 kg. The lizard puts to catch the sting then it lets off prey and departs aside, pursuing the bitten animal at walk and waiting while it will die. The animal tears catch off to pieces by claws and teeth.
The female lays in small hole up to 10 eggs in weight on 200 grammes, during incubating time it protects nest area. Young lizards (their length is up to 30 cm) hatch at the end of one summer. The first winter they will spend in holes of rodents, further dig their own ones. Lizard lives up to 90 - 100 years.
For winter it falls to hibernation in shelter: the big hole which is updated from year to year and is used till many years. During the winter hole entrance is closed with the big ball of grass and bushes.

Prairie Groundowl (Deinostrix sphinga)
Order: Owls (Strigiformes)
Family: Strigidae

Picture by Amplion

Large flightless bird, the descendant of the burrowing owl (Speotyto cunicularia). Height of an adult bird is up to 120 cm, weight is more than 40 kg. The male is smaller then female. Wings are big, but the bird can not fly. Legs are long, allow to accelerate momentum up to 50 kms per hour on short distance. Claws on three toes are short, on internal forward toe there is long knife-like hooked one (up to 9 cm in length). This claw allows a bird to kill quickly catch - large running rodents. Sometimes the owl attacks cubs of the bear porcupine. At a pursuit the finger with "fighting" claw keeps raised (as at dinosaur Velociraptor) then the footprint of this owl seems strange: one finger is directed forward, and two are turned back. The feathering is colored brown with spots of black and sand color, helps to mask in bush, trapping catch. Bird hunts more often on dawn or in gloaming, at a feeding of nestlings it can do it in the afternoon. Eyes are large, an iris of the eye is of orange-red color, sight and hearing are keen. Voice sounds like loud hoot, the scared owl utters long chatter.
It nests on the ground in shelters, can occupy holes of the gila-dragon. Breeding season is in late spring. In clutch there are 2 - 3 eggs, both parents hatch and feed nestlings. To an autumn nestlings become independent. Sexual maturity is in 4 years, life duration is till 40 years.

Marsupial hyena (Phascohyaena tigrina)
Order: Didelphimorphia
Family: Didelphidae



Picture by Tim Morris

Initial image - pictured by Pavel Volkov

This marsupial animal of a southern origin is the descendant of South-American opossums (Didelphis). Specialization to predating has resulted in changing of animal anatomy and behavior. The marsupial hyena looks like massive large dog; length of a body is up to 1 meter, tail - up to 50 cm, growth at a shoulder is up to 60 cm, weight - up to 70 kg (the female is heavier than the male approximately on 10 %). Head is massive, jaws are short and strong, capable to crack bones. Colouring is sandy-yellow, on the head, neck and shoulders there are short cross black strips. On back and crupper stripes are longer, prolong to sides and hips (colouring is somewhat reminiscent the marsupial wolf). The tail is covered with thin wool, is not prehensile. Legs are similar to dog’s ones, claws are not so sharp and does not involve. Paw pads are covered with thick cornificated skin that allows an animal to run on heated up stones and sand. It runs slowly (up to 40 kms per hour on a short distance), but is capable to chase large catch, pursuing it by step or jog-trot up to 6 - 8 hours running. Catch includes more often small vertebrates and large insects. Marsupial hyena eats carrion and preys large animals in winter. Frequently it keeps near to prairie groundowls or gila-dragons, eating rests of their catch. It is solitary predator, some animals can be observed only near large carcass. Some time pair of animals during the courtship or the female with youngsters keeps together. The breeding season lasts since winter till late spring. The female gives rise only to 2 - 3 cubs. The marsupium is well advanced, opening back. Pregnancy is short - 13 day, cubs are born underdeveloped, as at all marsupials. They still in marsupium about 40 days, later they sit on back of mother, clinging paws for her wool. At the age of 2-month cubs stay in lair (hole under roots of the trees, rotted hollow trunk of large tree). Since 5 months cubs study to hunt together with mother. 8-month aged youngsters, as a rule, live independently. Cubs of last pack remain with mother for winter, abandoning her to the beginning of breeding season. Sexual maturity comes at 2-nd year of life, life expectancy in a nature is usual no more than 13 - 15 years. The voice is similar to bark of the small dog, aggressive animal roars drawlingly and hoarsely.

Grass heron (Nanoardea pratensis)
Order: Stork (Ciconiiformes)
Family: Ardeidae

Small species of herons, evolved to terrestrial habit of life in wide plains because of climate dryness in early Neocene.
Bird with long neck and legs is about 60 cm height (weights up to 500 g). It flies well, for winter migrates to South America. Coloring of body is cryptic: on sandy-yellow background there are longitudinal brown, black and grey strokes. On a head there is a white crest. At excitement of a bird (for example, in case of alarm) it rises, signaling about a condition of bird. The heron eats ground invertebrates and tiny vertebrates, frequently renders services of the cleaner to huge porcupines. Keen sight and good hearing allow the bird to distinguish occurrence of possible predator long time before the porcupine. The bird flies reluctantly, in case of danger hides in dry grass, having stood vertically. Voice sounds like croak, in case of alarm it sounds very frequently and long.
Bird nests by pairs on the ground among thick prickly bush or cactuses; in clutch there are 3 - 4 eggs. Nestlings hatch blind, covered with rare down. In one week they begin to see clearly and their feathers begin to appear. Monthly fledglings leave the nest and feed together with parents. Young birds leave parents before migration to wintering.

Cactus hawkmoth (Cactosphinx cactivora)
Order: Butterflies (Lepidoptera)
Family: Sphingidae

Picture by Alexey Tatarinov

The large day time moth (length of a body is about 6 cm, wingspan - up to 15 cm, length of the proboscis - up to 10 cm), living on cactuses. Coloring of forward wings simulates a coloring of cactus stalk: darkly-green with some white longitudinal strokes. Back wings are painted bright red color with metallic shine, strongly reflecting ultra-violet beams (it serves for recognition each other by insects). Moth lives at cactuses, keeping on stalks between edges. This moth flies during hottest time of day, eats nectar of cactuses, preferring tubular flowers of bright paintings: reddish orange and violet. For feeding moth "hangs" above a flower, making by wings up to 30 flaps per second. It lays eggs by small portions (no more than 8 - 12 ones) on stalks of spherical cactuses in places where the trunk is damaged. Caterpillars sink into in pulp of stalk and eat it away, keeping undamaged an external bark of the plant, therefore the eaten inside cactus in outward appearance does not differ from healthy. If the quantity of forage is not enough, caterpillars are capable to leave the eaten plant and to search new one. Coloring of caterpillars is somewhat reminiscent snake’s one: on a rusty-brown background it is the black colored "grid". The forepart of the body is thicken a little, on its sides there is pair of spots simulating eyes. From intestines of a caterpillar aside back the outgrowth, capable to be filled by air departs. Disturbed caterpillars puff out this outgrowth, and then gradually let air out, simulating snake hissing. This moment they are shaken to sides, simulating movements of the annoyed snake. Also at protected caterpillar double outgrowths on the first pectoral segment, simulating snake tongue are stuck out. The caterpillar ready to a metamorphosis grows to length 10 - 11 cm; it finds a refuge on trunks of trees under a bark, or among spikes of cactuses where it pupates. For summer two generations of this species appear. The first generation of moths excluses after hottest time of summer. The second generation hibernates at the stage of chrysalis, being exclused to the moment of cactus flowering.

Hopping stonecicada (Cryptotibicen apterus)
Order: Homoptera
Family: Cicadidae

Picture by Amplion

This species is large insect, inhabiting in deserts. Appearance of it is very original: the insect imitates a stone. The form of a body of imago is rounded, surface of body is rough, covered with hairs, color is changeable: from dark brown to dun. The insect is wingless, up to 6 cm long. It can jump similarly to the grasshopper: third pair of legs is very strong. It keeps activity in fierce heat when most part of insectivorous animals is hidden in shelter. Males utter loud sounds reminding a sound of a circular saw. Adult insects suck the sap of “hedgehog bed” plant with the help of long proboscis. Development is long, mass metamorphosis takes place once in 7 years. Larvae live, having stuck to roots of “hedgehog bed”, but the first 2 years of life they are digging predators eating small invertebrates (including neighbours), further they search roots of "hedgehog bed” and live on them 5 years as parasites of a plant. Metamorphosis happens at time of drought, insects keep on stony ground near to food plants. After pairing the female lays eggs in ground, and for this purpose it searches for a hole of any digging animal.

Herbary

Camomile tree (Pyrethroyucca spinosissma)
Order: Asterales
Family: Asteraceae

After change of the climate which has occurred in epoch, previous to Neocene, conditions of life in deserts, and also areas of deserts had strongly changed, that had caused extinction of many characteristic desert plants, including Joshua trees (Yucca). When nature conditions became more stable, niche of the extinct plants new ones began to occupy.
Camomile tree is one of new immigrants to desert, ecological analogue of the Joshua tree which had became extinct to Neocene. Similarly to Joshua tree, it forms in semidesert “shadowless woods” of thin growing trees 4 - 5 meters height.
The camomile tree belongs to family Asteraceae (Asteraceae), its inflorescence is up to 10 cm in diameter, reminds a large head of camomile (it is named because of it): long ray florets are white, located on edge in two lines, middle is occupied by tiny yellow monecious disk florets. The plant grows as a little-branching tree. The trunk is lignescent only from the outside, a friable sappy core serves for storage of stock of water. It is penetrated with numerous lacteals containing lacteal juice. If anybody breaks the branch, lacteal juice (containing a lot of rubber) at once thickens and closes damaged area. This is adaptation for preservation of water from numerous large herbivores. The broken branch quickly takes roots due to internal stocks of moisture, but because of absence of taproot it can survive long time (and even seed) only on sufficiently damp ground (for example, near to reservoirs).
Leaves are simple and pinnate, peaked, prickly on tips of lobes. Spikes also cover the top side of leaves. The trunk is covered by rests of dry leaves: it is the adaptation for protection from overheat and herbivores.
The root system has the long taproot reaching water-bearing layers of ground on depth up to 20 - 25 meters. Also the main root forms horizontal roots forming additional buds from which sprouts of new trees depart. Actually the wood at the area up to 10 - 15 thousand square meters can be root shoots of only 2 - 3 ancestral trees.
Tree has 2 waves of growing: vernal and autumnal. Flowering lasts in 2-nd half of summer (in the autumnal wave of growing), after recession of drought. Seeds are tiny, pappiferous, carrying on the big distances. Seeds sprout in spring, right after increase of day time temperature up to +5°С, sprouts easily tolerate light frosts. Before the drought sprout has time to collect enough moisture for survival. Later it forms a long taproot. On 10-th year of life the plant blooms for the first time and starts to give root shoots. Live duration is till 300 years.

Desert fireflower (Psammodahlia aquifera)
Order: Asterales
Family: Asteraceae

Perennial plant of family Asteraceae (Asteraceae), the inhabitant of desert and semidesertic areas, the descendant of a plant, well-known as garden: Dahlia x cultorum.
Elevated part of a plant is grassy, height of numerous tubular hollow stalks is up to 2 m. Leaves are wide, covered with thin layer of a wax coating. Inflorescences are reddish-orange, ends of semiflosculous flowers are yellow (it is named "fireflower" because of it), diameter up to 5 cm. The vegetation lasts from the ending of spring light frosts up to peak of a drought (from middle of February on middle of July), in other time the elevated part of plant dries off. Under the ground on depth of 1 meter and more, large tubers (weight up to 10 kg) are forming, protected by the layer of ground from winter colds and herbivores. Intensive growth of tubers lasts during spring rains (March - April), in May and the beginning of June plant flowers. Seeds grow ripe in the beginning of drought season, sprout in season of autumn rains. For 2 months (up to winter light frosts) the young plant has time to form the small tuber. Contraction of roots after first light frosts involves it in ground on depth up to 50 cm. Plant begins to blossom at 2-nd year of life, lives till 15 years.

“Hedgehog bed” (Pseudosenecio echinatum)
Order: Asterales
Family: Asteraceae

Perennial plant of family Asteraceae (Asteraceae), the descendant of plants of groundsel genus (Senecio), distinguished by the variety of life forms: from grasses up to trees. Plant grows on stony places, takes long thin water-bearing roots to water-bearing layers of ground (on depth up to 30 meters).
The plant has the cushion growth form, numerous prickly branched stalks in length up to 1 m grow aside from perennial caudex (its weight can be up to 50 kg). In caudex water is reserved but to get it for ground animal is extremely inconveniently: dried out stalks are kept on plant till 2 years, forming rich "pillow" of thorns. Only digging animals can parasitize at this plant but undermine it is difficultly because of stony ground where the “hedgehog bed” grows.
Leaves are silvery-downed, lacerated, each lobe has a spike at the tip. Inflorescences (heads) are tiny and ordinary-looking, gray-blue, reflecting ultra-violet light. They form cluster on the end of a long central peduncle. Plant blossoms in droughty season when large flies and wasps are active. Spiky seeds ripen at the end of summer, are carrying, sticking to feathering of birds and body of large insects, keep ability to sprout till 12 years. The plant begins to blossom for the first time on 20-th year of life, lives till 150 years.

Next

Main page of the project