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Desert Diary


The saying is that if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a pathway to your door. Is a trap that is self-baiting a better one? If the trap is for predators, it just might be. Some fossil deposits have a great overabundance of predators—far more than their rightful numbers in any community. The Rancho la Brea tar pits in California probably are the best known, but others occur elsewhere, including the Southwest.

In our region, the "bait" isn't animals trapped in tar, but imprisoned in caves of just the right depth. It seems that humans aren't the only animals with an occasional tendency toward clumsiness. Almost any hole in the ground sooner or later has a critter not paying attention drop in unexpectedly. When the floor of a cave is close enough to the surface for entrapped prey animals to be obvious, predators tempted beyond caution jump in to enjoy a free meal—only to be captured in the same trap as their dinner and find themselves, in turn, destined to become bait!
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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.