By Jaime Rudd, WIL Scientific Aid
Spring is a transformative season in California’s Colorado Desert. The mild weather and gentle rains that trickle down during this time of year are what entices the desert flora and fauna to awaken from their dormancy.
California’s Colorado Desert. This desert is a subdivision of the larger Sonoran Desert that encompasses Arizona, southeastern California, most of the Baja California peninsula, the islands of the Gulf of California, and much of the state of Sonora, Mexico. Map image courtesy of http://www.grabovrat.com. Inset photo courtesy of Jaime Rudd.
Colorful desert flowers come into bloom and sweeten the air as moths, butterflies, bees and other insects bustle about collecting pollen all the while fertilizing each blossom. Various desert reptiles come out from torpor and sprawl upon the sand as the sun’s rays rest upon their backs. The invertebrates and small mammals, when not offering new life of their own, are out collecting seeds and eating the newly arrived vegetation. It is also the time of year when the mild-mannered spring desert welcomes the next generation of desert kit foxes (Vulpes macrotis).
A mated pair of desert kit foxes. The male (top photo), stretches after a night of hunting for both his mate (bottom photo) and himself. These foxes both serve as disease sentinels in the California Department of Fish & Wildlife’s (CDFW) desert kit fox disease monitoring project. Each fox is equipped with a radio collar that emits a unique frequency allowing biologists to monitor their survival after an outbreak of canine distemper virus (CDV) occurred in this desert valley the year before. Photo courtesy of CDFW, Region 6.
Monogamous in nature, kit foxes form pair-bonds that can be lifelong. During the early stage of pup-rearing and care, the female will hermit herself inside the den. Her mate is busier than usual, setting out to hunt for two, returning to the den with prey.
This female desert kit fox keeps a close eye on her den. She has 4 pups that her and her mate have been diligently been providing for. Photo courtesy of CDFW, Region 6.
Once the pups are old enough, they are coaxed from their subterranean shelter under the watchful eye of their parents.
Already a couple of months old, the pups begin to explore a bit more while their parents remain close by. Photo courtesy of CDFW, Region 6.
At nearly 3 months old, these pups are gaining more independence. While neither parent is seen in the photograph, they remain nearby. Photo courtesy of CDFW, Region 6.
The pups will continue to stay with their parents for the duration of spring and early summer. The later summer months bring with it heat, independence, and all too often difficult life lessons. It is in these later months that the journey into adulthood and harsh desert introductions may end for some.
Remote cameras captured these images of a bobcat (Lynx rufus, top photo) and a coyote (Canis latrans, bottom photo) passing through a desert kit fox den complex. Photo courtesy of CDFW, Region 6.
But for now, the season is young and it is still a time when the desert truly gives life, both day and night.
This male desert kit fox looks over his 4 pups on a cool desert evening. Sunset is one of the most active times for desert kit foxes as the adults prepare to leave their den complexes (and their young) for an evening hunt. Photo courtesy of CDFW, Region 6.
The Wildlife Investigations Laboratory would like to thank Jose Figueroa & David Elms from our Region 6 CDFW office for the wonderful photos captured by remote camera. Remote cameras have been a useful, non-invasive tool for biologists to detect animal presence and monitor the health and physical condition of these desert dwellers. All the photos featured in this story belong to a single mated pair that is being monitored as part of CDFW’s desert kit fox disease monitoring efforts in Riverside County.