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Desert Diary


Bring on the caviar! Not something you expect to hear in the northern Chihuahuan Desert? That's true, though perhaps not for the reason you might think. Caviar consists of the roe, the eggs, of a group of fishes, the sturgeons. Today, we tend to think of Russia when caviar is mentioned, but at one time North America was the prime supplier.

Now, we have no indication that the Chihuahuan Desert ever was known for caviar, but sturgeons did exist in the Rio Grande of New Mexico, and historical archaeological evidence suggests that at least its flesh was consumed. The key words here are "did exist", for it's not been known from the state since about 1875. Little changed from the days of the dinosaurs, sturgeons are bottom feeders that vacuum up eatables from mud. Why are there no surviving sturgeons here? No one knows and, barring reintroduction, the chances of it occurring here once again are virtually nil. Nevertheless, if ever it's reintroduced, somebody is sure to shout, "Bring out the champagne and caviar!"—and somehow, that seems entirely inappropriate!
pen and ink

Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest.


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.


A sturgeon. Artwork by Duane Raver, courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.



Sublette, J. E., M. D. Hatch, and M. Sublette. 1990. The fishes of New Mexico. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Web Resources

BISON-M (Biota Information System Of New Mexico)