Okay, I’ll say it. I grew up watching Bugs Bunny as a kid and loved the cartoons with the roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) and that bumbling Wile E. Coyote who tried endlessly to capture that speedy bird. I must say that I admired the coyote. He was a persistent fellow and never let failure deter him.
Up until last year, I had never observed a roadrunner and it was different than I expected (too many cartoons). It is in the cuckoo family living in open arid habitats in northern Mexico and in the southwestern United States.
The roadrunner is capable of flight but prefers the ground. We were able to photograph it in a tree which is apparently not common. As you can see, all of our ground pictures are still shots. I did not anticipate the speed of this bird, which can reach speeds of 30 km/h (20 mph). Wildlife encounters are often brief. I had my shutter speed at 1/200 of a second which proved much to slow for a speedster like a roadrunner.
The roadrunner nests in cactus or a thick shrub not far off the ground and will lay 3-5 eggs. These eggs will hatch in about 20 days and the chicks will be capable of running in another 18 days.
Because it lives in an arid environment the diet includes a wide variety of desert organisms including snakes, lizards, scorpions, spiders, and insects. An adult bird is capable of killing rodents and small birds. It can be seen holding larger prey in its bill and smashing it into the ground repeatedly until its victim dies.
Another freshwater turtle we found in the Las Vegas wetlands was the Red-Eared Slider turtle (Trachemys scripta elegans). This turtle is not native to this area. It is bought as a pet but as with many pet owners, they irresponsibly release it into the wild when they don’t want it anymore. We counted as many as 15 turtles in this pond. The danger is that invasive species may out-compete native turtle species causing a decline or eradication of the native Spiny Softshell turtle.
When water temperatures drop below 10 degrees Celcius (50F) turtles are generally not active but brumate. Brumate is a form of hibernation. They will sleep on the bottom of the pond, awaken, swim to the surface, possibly drink water and then proceed back to the bottom. The process repeats itself periodically. During brumation, they do not eat.
Las Vegas had a cold spell with temperatures around freezing at night. There was some snow which is unusual here. This is why we were surprised to see these turtles sunning themselves on the rocks in the early morning. These turtles should not have been as active as they were considering the weather conditions.
Red-Eared Slider turtles can live for 20-30 years. The shell (carapace) averages between 15cm (6 inches) and 30cm (12 inches) in length. Females generally are larger than the males. A large female can lay up to 30 eggs and may lay up to 5 times (clutches) in a year.
We were looking for the spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera), a native species, in the rivers around Las Vegas. Got some tips from a few local people on where we might find them and after 3 days of searching, we found this unusual turtle. Not sure we would find them as the temperatures had been near freezing which is often when turtles brumate (a type of hibernation for reptiles).
The turtle has an unusual tube-like protruding nose which makes it different from any other turtle we have photographed. It has a thin body and the shell (carapace) is somewhat flexible. Near the head, on the edge of the shell, there are some small spines and hence the name spiny softshell turtle.
We discovered them on some rocks on the far side of a fast-moving river. They were larger than we anticipated. The shell averages 40 cm (15 inches) but can be much larger, especially in females. Apparently, they can live for about 50 years.
At about 10 years of age, these turtles will begin to mate. This occurs mid to late spring as the temperatures warm. On average, the female deposits about 20 eggs on the sunny banks of the river generally in a sandy area or a gravel bed.
Like many turtles, they consume a wide variety of food. Insects and various types of vegetation make up a large portion of their diet as well as fish. They will often bury themselves in the river bottom and wait for a fish to pass by and then ambush their prey.