Walking Rocks?

Query: When I was in Death Valley earlier this year, I saw some enormous 750-pound rocks that appear to travel across the desert on their own. I remembered your article about rock tortoises, and wondered if that’s what these rocks could be?

Corn of Plenty (Part 4 of 4): A Field Guide by Dr. Midas Welby

Corns of the Air: Air-corns utilize their horns for jousting, playing tic-tac-toe, and spearing food in mid-flight. Air-corns often lurk undetected in trees, wood piles, and rain gutters. When bored, they use their horns to ring the doorbells of unsuspecting humans. When the door begins to open, the air-corn flies away.


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Going On Hiatus

December 6, 2014: I am loving college, but I have to admit, I’m overwhelmed.

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Pine Cone Feeders

A Present For Imaginaries: When winter comes, I get concerned about providing extra shelter from the elements for Imaginaries. Recently, I read about people who build wildlife brush shelters out of branches and plants in their yards, and thought this was a great idea.

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Arrival of the Hatchlings: We, the members of the Tripodero Defense League of California, are pleased to announce that a nest of tripodero eggs hatched out recently, and the hatchlings are thriving.

The tripodero (Collapsofemuris geocatapeltes) reproduces much like the sea turtle, except that their habitat is dry mountain country, not ocean and beach. In the fall, the female tripodero digs a hole with her tail and lays about 15-20 eggs, which she covers with dirt and then abandons. Come spring, the baby tripoderos hatch, and must dig their way out to the surface. More often than not, they are immediately snatched up and eaten by condors and other raptors, which explains why tripoderos are so rare.

This time, we knew where the nest was, and set up a blind nearby, both to observe the hatching-out, which took place at dawn, and to keep the predators away.

Although an adult tripodero, fully extended, can reach a height of ten feet, the hatchlings were no bigger than teacups when they first emerged. The tripodero has two thin extendable legs and a flexible tail, which allows it to stand stably on uneven surfaces. The rest of the tripodero’s body mass is made up of a large snout protruding directly out of a tiny body, which, perched on top of spindly-looking legs, gives it a top-heavy appearance.

It took the 17 hatchlings several hours of experimentation – and numerous falls – before they learned to use their legs, but by sunset, they were scampering all over the place. Once night fell, they huddled down together under a scrub oak, a tangle of legs, tails, and snouts.

Having survived their first day, the hatchlings now needed to learn how to hunt. Tripoderos hunt by hiding in the bushes and remaining absolutely still until their prey approaches. Once their target is within range, they shoot up quickly out of the foliage on their extendable legs and spit out a greyish, pellet-sized “quid,” which travels with roughly the velocity and accuracy of a bullet. Hatchlings stun primarily insects and small lizards, whereas the adults have been known to predate on animals as large as rabbits and snakes.

Although these tripodero hatchlings were born with the instinct to hunt, they lacked the necessary skills. Their second day of life was consumed with refining the ability to feed themselves, which they did by taking quid-shots at one another, stalking and spitting like kittens at play. Those of us in the blind ended up covered with sticky, greyish, clay-like splatters from quit-shots that went astray. It was hilarious.

By the end of the day, they had improved enough that several hatchlings were knocked out with well-placed quid-shots. We stayed in the blind all night, because we knew that the hatchlings would soon fledge, and this could be our last chance to see them together.

Sure enough, at dawn the third day, the hatchlings emerged from under the scrub oak, extended their legs, and began to wander away, in twos and threes. We separated and followed them. After traveling for half a day, the hatchlings finally broke away from each other to begin their solitary life in the mountains.

I followed one hatchling for several more days, and saw him make his first kill – a tiny lizard – on the fourth day. He caught two spiders and a small snake on the fifth day, and a gecko and a mouse on day six. By this time, he’d also grown from the size of a teacup to the size of a tea kettle, and appeared to be healthy and thriving. I particularly admired his ability to collapse down behind bushes or a rock and remain utterly motionless for hours at a time, the speed of his attack, and how accurate his quid-shots had become in just a few short days.

I eventually lost him when he disappeared into a maze of rock formations and I could no longer follow his tracks. I feel grateful to have had the chance to observe him for as long as I did. It is a memory I will cherish for the rest of my life. - FLEX, Field Agent, Tripodero Defense League of California and Iranigami collaborator


Copyright © 2012, 2013, 2014 by Penelope Stowell. All rights reserved. This website is a work of fiction and does not depict any actual persons, creatures, places or events.