Western Banded Gecko

Western Banded Gecko, Courtesy NPS
Western Banded Gecko
Courtesy NPS

They might catch your eye as they dart under sagebrush. Or maybe startle you with their pushups on a boulder. Odds are, you won’t leave Arches or Canyonlands national parks without seeing a Western Banded Gecko.

These lizards can grow to six inches in length, though that’s on the large side, and half of that length might be their tail. Pale-pink and brown-banded translucent skin distinguishes Western Banded Geckos from all other lizards that live in the same desert surroundings, and their heads and bodies are speckled with light brown. The brown bands are vibrant in young Western Banded Geckos, and then change into blotches, or spots, with age.

The small scales that cover their body are soft to touch, and their slender toes leave no room for pads. Movable eyelids and vertical pupils also set them apart.

The Western Banded Gecko typically are spotted in rocky or sandy desert areas in the American Southwest. They are fond of open, dry deserts, desert grasslands, and catching the sun in the canyons. You can spot them, or one of the eight subspecies, in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, as well as in Arches and Canyonlands.

Like other geckos, these lizards generally avoid the day heat and prefer the cool night air. They seek shelter during the day near or under rocks, burrows, and spaces beneath vegetative debris, and even trash piles if necessary. They frequent rodent burrows as they hunt insects, spiders, small arthropods, and baby scorpions.

The Western Banded Gecko stalks its prey, capturing and crushing it with its jaws in a final, fatal lunge. The small gecko is one of the few reptiles credited with controlling the scorpion population, by eating their young. The Western Banded Gecko can also mimic a scorpion, by turning its tail upwards, and waving it to repel predators.

In addition to this deception, Western Banded Geckos use other methods to divert predators. Be forewarned: if you plan on catching a Western Banded Gecko, be prepared to hear a squeak or chirp in disagreement. You may even see them detach their tail. Their tail has particular fracture planes, allowing the lizard to easily detach and escape, similar to other lizards. Blood vessels surrounding the tail rapidly close, so they can prevent blood loss. Regrowth of their tails happens quickly, as it is mostly made up of cartilage.

Though the tail serves as an easy escape route, it means a lot to a Western Banded Gecko: that’s where it stores its food and water. Their tail allows these animals to survive during lean times, up to nine months. As you can imagine, losing a tail puts their life in danger, so look but don’t touch.

For Wild About Utah and National Parks Traveler, I’m Kurt Repanshek.

Credits:
Image: Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek, www.nationalparkstraveler.com
Text:     Kurt Repanshek, NationalParksTraveler.com.


Additional Reading:

The Arches Of Zion National Park

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Kolob Arch
Zions National Park
Photo Courtesy NPS

Hoodoo Arch
Zions National Park
Photo Courtesy NPS

Historic Crawford Arch
Zions National Park
Photo Courtesy NPS

Hidden Arch
Zions National Park
Photo Courtesy NPS


Though another national park in Utah is famous for arches, Zion National Park has more than you might imagine.

Doubt it? Next time you visit the park, take a good look around. All the elements for arch building are readily on hand in Zion.

A natural arch is formed when deep cracks penetrate into a sandstone layer. Erosion wears away the exposed rock layers and the surface cracks expand, isolating narrow sandstone walls, or fins. Water, frost, and the release of tensions in the rock cause crumbling and flaking of the porous sandstone and eventually cut through some of the fins. The resulting holes become enlarged to arch proportions by rockfalls and weathering.

Worldwide, arches number in the tens of thousands, and probably no place is more suited for their creation than the Colorado Plateau, home of Zion National Park. The vast geology of Zion has created environments as widespread and varied as the topography of the park itself.

Hidden in its geologic grandeur are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of freestanding arches of all shapes and sizes. Although freestanding arches may be found in many different types of geologic formations, the Navajo Sandstone formation, which makes up the magnificent cliffs of Zion, provides a fertile setting for the creation of these ribbons of rock.

Among the many arches in Zion, two stand out: Crawford Arch and Kolob Arch. Crawford Arch is the most visible, clinging to the base of Bridge Mountain a thousand feet above the Zion Canyon floor. It’s frequently pointed out to casual observers by an interpretive sign located on the front patio of the Human History Museum.

The other famous arch in Zion is not so easily seen. Located deep in the backcountry of the national park’s Kolob Canyons District — it takes a seven-mile hike in to reach– Kolob Arch is hidden in a small side canyon, perched high on the canyon wall.

For most of the 20th century, many believed that Kolob was in fact the world’s largest freestanding arch, leading to years of debate and the motivation for various parties of adventurous thrill seekers to climb on and around the massive span in hopes of securing a defensible measurement.

The Natural Arch and Bridge Society long has pondered this question, and using lasers and an agreed upon definition of what should be measured says Landscape Arch is the world’s longest stone arch. But don’t be surprised if the debate continues.

The definition used by the society centers on the “maximum horizontal extent of the opening.” That opening beneath Landscape Arch measures right around 290.1 (plus or minus 0.8 feet) feet across.

The opening beneath Zion National Park’sKolob Arch, which long had been in the running for world’s largest, measures 287.4 feet (plus or minus 2 feet), according to the group.

Despite its isolated location, Kolob Arch has become a favorite backcountry destination for thousands of visitors to Zion. They discover what most arch seekers will tell you: while beauty awaits every seeker at the end of the path, the reward begins unfolding at the trailhead.

Anxious to see another arch, but not ready for a 14-mile roundtrip hike? Then head for Double Alcove ARch. A 5-mile roundtrip along the Taylor Creek Trail takes you into a narrow box canyon toward the Double Arch Alcove, where erosion has carved out natural openings in the Navajo sandstone.

For Wild About Utah and National Parks Traveler, I’m Kurt Repanshek.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek, www.nationalparkstraveler.com
Text:     Kurt Repanshek/, NationalParksTraveler.com.


Additional Reading:

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/browse/Arches%20National%20Park

http://www.nps.gov/zion/index.htm

Pot Holes and Fairy Shrimp

Aerial view of potholes in Navajo sandstone, Grand County, Utah. Photo Courtesy USGS
Aerial view of potholes in Navajo sandstone, Grand County, Utah.

Photo Courtesy USGS 

Click to view larger image of , Photo Courtesy USGAdult fairy shrimp
Branchinecta packardi.
Photo Courtesy USGS 

Click to view larger image of Adult Vernal Pool Fairy Shrimp, Photo Courtesy USGSAdult Vernal Pool Fairy Shrimp
Branchinecta lynchi
Photo Courtesy USGS 
 

Shrimp in the desert landscape of Canyonlands National Park? Yep. You can find them, –fairy shrimp– when the rainy season arrives and turns dry, dusty potholes into water-filled rock basins brimming with life.

A surprising array of creatures relies on these potholes for life, and one of the most curious is the fairy shrimp. These unique crustaceans are found in small potholes that dot sandstone outcrops found in America’s Southwest. Their eggs maintain resilience during the dry season, and when spring rains arrive, the shrimp hatch.

There are more than 300 varieties of fairy shrimp, the most common being the Vernal Pool Fairy Shrimp. These little guys measure between a half-inch to one-and-a-half inches long as adults. They can be found anywhere ephemeral pools are present, though the majority of their population resides in California and Oregon.

Fairy shrimp vary in color depending on the menu found in their particular pool of residency, ranging from translucent, to orange, even to blue! They feature 11 pairs of legs to propel themselves upside-down, or more scientifically, ventral side-up.

They also use these incredibly helpful legs to eat unicellular algae, ciliates (sil-ee-its), and bacteria by filter and suspension feeding methods. They filter-feed by pumping water through filtration structures — located in their multi-purpose legs — thus capturing the food. They also are adept at suspension feeding by plucking food floating in the water, again, with their tentacle-like legs. They may also grab or scrape food from the surfaces of other things in their vernal pool, such as sticks and rocks.

What’s truly amazing is how fairy shrimp reproduce. They typically lay drought-tolerant eggs during the summer that over-winter in the dried sediment on the pot hole bottom and then hatch in the spring when the potholes fill with rainwater However, if drought sets in, eggs can be transferred to other pools by floating in gusts of wind or being carried by a particularly curious animal.

These eggs are tough and can withstand varying temperatures, drought, and even the test of time; eggs in laboratory settings have survived intact up to 15 years before hatching.

Under the right conditions, you can observe fairy shrimp in Canyonlands, Arches, and Death Valley national parks. Canyonlands and Arches boast at least two species of fairy shrimp: the Packard Ferry Shrimp, also known as the Rock Pool Ferry Shrimp or the Arizona Ferry Shrimp, and the Great Plains Ferry Shrimp.

Fairy shrimp hatch in the Spring, right after the potholes and vernal pools re-fill with water, so that will be your prime time to look for these interesting creatures. As travelers, you can do your part to help the fairy shrimp by leaving their vernal pools alone. Drinking water, stepping in, or touching a pool can throw off the entire mini-eco-system located in this fascinating habitat.

And remember, our fingers are very salty, so even if you’re using a gentle touch, do not put your fingers in a vernal pool, as it just might raise the salinity and throw off the dissolved oxygen percentage needed for fairy shrimp to survive.

For Wild About Utah and National Parks Traveler, I’m Kurt Repanshek.

Credits:
Image: Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek, www.nationalparkstraveler.com
Text:     Kurt Repanshek, NationalParksTraveler.com.

Additional Reading:

http://digitallibrary.utah.gov/awweb/awarchive?type=file&item=22782

http://www.nwf.org/wildlife/wildlife-library/invertebrates/vernal-pool-fairy-shrimp.aspx

http://www.arizonafairyshrimp.com/fairyshrimp.html

http://geochange.er.usgs.gov/sw/impacts/biology/vernal/

http://www.nasa.gov/centers/dryden/news/X-Press/shrimp_spotlight.html

http://www.fws.gov/sacramento/es_kids/Vernal-Pool-Fairy-Shrimp/es_kids_vernal-pool-fairy-shrimp.htm

Capitol Reef

Fruita and the Wingate Cliffs
Capitol Reef National Park
Photo Courtesy US NPS

Orchard
Capitol Reef National Park
Photo Courtesy US NPS

Early settlers to the landscape we know as Capitol Reef National Park in south-central Utah planted cherry, apricot, peach, pear, apple, and walnut trees as a cash crop for survival along the Fremont River bottoms. Visitors today are often surprised by the fruit trees in light of the surrounding desert climate, and campers can pick apples and peaches from their campsites in the orchards. But the green fields and fruit trees also attract deer, marmots, and other small critters, which are easy to spot and are comfortable with humans in their environment.

Though the deer roam free in the tall grass between apple trees, there are other species that are a bit more dangerous lurking nearby. Mountain lions and black bears skillfully stalk around this historic district of Fruita without being seen. Mountain lions have been spotted within a half-mile of the popular campground, yet little is known about the species within the confines of Capitol Reef. With so many questions unanswered about the predator and prey relationship in the unique landscape, the park has received a Disney Nature Impact Grant to enlighten us.

Lori Rome, the park’s chief of interpretation, says, “We are setting up 10-20 infrared motion detected camera traps in surrounding areas. This is a non-invasive way to learn basic information about the species.”

The cameras will provide useful evidence and reveal the patterns of the quiet predators in the park. The public will be engaged through a citizen science project using social media and public interpretive programming, for example helping to survey deer populations.

If you’ve seen Disney Nature’s movie Bears, you, too, helped contribute to the Disney Nature Impact Grants program. Fourteen national parks are receiving funding via proceeds from the movie. Disney Nature has pledged a contribution to the National park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, through the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, for each person who saw the film during its first week in theaters.

This type of support helps preserve and protect Capitol Reef and the rest of the National Park System. The Disney Nature Impact Grant enables parks to conduct much-needed conservation projects, such as studying mountain lions at Capitol Reef.

Each park selected to receive a grant through this program had to demonstrate a clear need for the money, and how it would make a profound difference in habitat restoration, wildlife protection or conservation research. With this assistance, we should be able understand predator’s actions in Capitol Reef National Park.

For Wild About Utah and National Parks Traveler, I’m Kurt Repanshek.

Credits:
Image: Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek, www.nationalparkstraveler.com
Text:     Kurt Repanshek, NationalParksTraveler.com.


Additional Reading:

Capitol Reef And 13 Other National Parks Receive Impact Grants From Disney Nature’s Movie “Bears”, Submitted by Carli Jones, June 26, 2014, NationalParksTraveler.comhttp://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2014/06/capitol-reef-and-13-other-national-parks-receive-impact-grants-disney-natures-movie-bears25263

Capital Reef National Park, http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/park/capitol-reef-national-park

Capital Reef National Park, http://www.nps.gov/care/index.htm

Mammals in Capital Reef National Park, http://www.nps.gov/care/naturescience/mammalchecklist.htm
Amphibians in Capital Reef National Park, http://www.nps.gov/care/naturescience/amphibians.htm
Fish in Capital Reef National Park, http://www.nps.gov/care/naturescience/fish.htm
Birds in Capital Reef National Park, http://www.nps.gov/care/naturescience/birds.htm
Reptiles in Capital Reef National Park, http://www.nps.gov/care/naturescience/reptiles.htm