Pronghorn In A Sea Of Grass
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Those of you who do not reside in southern Arizona but who may visit here occasionally may think of this area as being an unvaried desert. Nothing could be further from the truth. The habitats and ecosystems of the region are tremendously varied. Local habitats can be as different from each other as night is from day. The area in the immediate vicinity of Tucson is mostly desert, but even this community has its variations. Drive a few miles out of town, however, and things can change dramatically, depending on which direction one takes.
Around Patagonia and Sonoita, 50 miles or so from Tucson, one encounters miles of rolling grasslands. The altitude there is considerably higher than that of the Tucson area — between about 4,000 and 5,000 feet above sea level as compared to the 2,500 feet or so of Tucson — and the climate is wetter and cooler than in Tucson. The climate is idea for grasslands. The area looks more like the plains of eastern Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana than it does the desert environment near Tucson.
The habitat is ideal for prairie dwelling mammals, including Pronghorn. I encountered them there a few weeks ago and published some images of them on this blog. I was delighted to see them again this past Sunday, very close to where I’d last seen them.
We were driving amidst a sea of grass, grass that extended for miles in every direction, when we saw the Pronghorn. They were close to the road. They moved off a bit when we piled out of the vehicle to photograph them but stayed close enough to enable us to take their pictures.
These animals evolved as plains dwellers and they are at home only on open grasslands like the grasslands around Sonoita and Patagonia.
They are evolved to run fast. Indeed, no land animal can run at a sustained pace as long or as fast as can a Pronghorn.
It’s a good question as to why these animals can run so fast given that there are no large predators in the grasslands that would threaten them. The answer is that they evolved eons ago at a time when there were several large predators out and about in North America that would have loved to dine on Pronghorn. Pronghorn are, in fact, living fossils, survivors of an era that has long passed.
Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 400 DO, aperture preferred setting, ISO 500, f6.3, shutter speeds varied.