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Desert Diary
Mammals/Night Safety


To lovers, a full moon means romance. To a mouse, it spells danger. Our small desert mammals depend on darkness, if not to shield them entirely from predators, to at least give them a fighting chance to go about their business without becoming dinner. A moonlit night is the signal to venture forth only on the most urgent errand—better to spend time cowering in the burrow than nestled in the stomach of a coyote.

Moonshine is not the only natural phenomenon signaling that it's time to stay at home. The exquisitely developed hearing of most rodents has a purpose—to detect predators in the dark so that safety may be sought. A windy night, though, is full of sounds—the rustle of leaves, the scraping of branches on each other, even the sibilant sound of sand swirled by the breeze. Separating such sounds from those of stalking foxes, coyotes, or bobcats is asking too much, and so, discretion being the better part of valor, a safer occupancy of the home burrow is chosen over a full stomach.
pen and ink


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.


As the sun sets, the desert becomes alive.



Web Resources

Night Creatures of the Kalahari. NOVA.