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Get to Know a Stakeholder: Campus Animals

By Emma Livingston, Co-editor

Here at Thunderbird, we are so concerned with getting to know students from all over the world and learning about cultural differences, sometimes we forget that we are not the only residents on this beautiful campus of ours. So that we can greater understand and consider our cross-species differences, here is a quick COI of the animals of Thunderbird:

Mountain Cottontail (Sylvilagus nuttallii)

The cute and wily mountain cottontail (photo courtesy of http://marathi.wunderground.com)
The cute and wily mountain cottontail (photo courtesy of http://marathi.wunderground.com)

These rabbits hop around in front of the IBIC and in other grassy areas of our T-Bird campus. Mountain cottontails, unlike most T-Birds, do not love to travel. They spend their entire lives within just 10 acres of land (to put that in perspective, Thunderbird is on 160 acres). What cottontails do love, is copulating. Rabbits can have up to six litters a year, and each pregnancy yields an average of 2-6 baby rabbits. That means female rabbits can have up to 36 babies a year! To make matters worse, rabbits can become pregnant again within hours of giving birth.

Rabbits use their excellent sense of smell, sight, and hearing to avoid predators. If they sense a predator nearby, they will freeze so that they blend in with the landscape. If the predator pursues them, rabbits can run up to 18mph (29kmh). They will run in a zigzag pattern, so they are even harder to catch.

All these wily skills, however, did not save the rabbit seen by Roger Sequeira (MBA, India ‘15) in November of 2014. Roger stepped out of his room early one morning and saw a coyote in front of the CMC building, staring intently at something. Suddenly, the coyote pounced and came up with a rabbit in his mouth. “Immediately I thought: I’ve got to save that thing!” Roger said. “So I took my shoe off and threw it at the coyote. He didn’t even move, he just looked back at me. I said, sorry man! and stepped back into my room. I had to make a trade-off, it would be the rabbit or me. We have plenty of them, just one of me.” So, Roger survived his brush with the coyote, but the poor rabbit did not. This brings us to our next Thunderbird animal:

Coyote (Canis latrans)

Coyote in the desert (photo courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org)
Coyote in the desert (photo courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org)

The word Coyote comes from the Nahuatl (Aztec) coyotl which means “barking dog.” The coyotes are a highly adaptable species who feel just at home in the Colorado mountains or the Arizona desert as they do in the streets of L.A. Their range is still expanding and they have been found as far south as the Panama Canal. Coyotes will work together to bring down big game like deer or elk, but on the Thunderbird campus, their diet would be limited to smaller treats such as rabbits (like the one Roger saw), mice, birds, and even insects, berries and prickly pear cactus.

Sometimes, coyotes will form mutualistic relationships with badgers that will last several hours so that both the badger and the coyote can hunt more efficiently. Coyotes are 1/3 more effective at catching pray when they hunt with a badger than when they hunt alone.

Every night on the Thunderbird campus, we can hear coyotes howling together. They sound like women screaming or children crying. But did you know that coyotes have 11 separate vocalizations? They can be divided into three catagories: 1) Alarm / agony 2) Greeting 3) Contact

Coyote and badger hunting together (photo courtesy of http://www.flickriver.com)
Coyote and badger hunting together (photo courtesy of http://www.flickriver.com)

The coyote is a prominent figure in Southwest Native American folklore. Usually they are a trickster character. Some of the stories include the Navajo legend of how coyote brought death into the world, explaining that without death there would be too many people and not enough land to plant corn. The Achomawi say that coyote formed from a cloud in the sky and was the first being that existed in the world.

 

Gambel’s Quail (Callipepla gambelii)

A gambel quail (photo courtesy of http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/gambels-quail)
A gambel’s quail (photo courtesy of http://www.audubon.org)

You can see these birds running in their kooky way in groups throughout the Thunderbird campus. A group of quail is called a “convoy” and the little bob on top of the bird’s head is called a “topknot.” Quails are monogamous and lay 10-12 eggs at a time. The chicks are ready to leave the nest as soon as they’re born. You will rarely see a quail fly and when they do, it’s for a very short duration.

 

 

Great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)

Great-tailed grackle (photo courtesy of http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/great-tailed-grackle)
Great-tailed grackle (photo courtesy of http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/great-tailed-grackle)

I meet these birds often, usually in front of the Commons, hopping around, looking to scrounge for leftovers. The male of this species is a shiny, black/blue color with a piercing eye and a long tail. The grackles that prowl the Commons are a little worse for wear, with patches of skin peeking through their feathers and threadbare tails. Perhaps these bruises are from brushes with our coyote friends?

Grackles love to gather together in the evening and caw in trees or on telephone poles. A group of grackles is called an “annoyance,” probably because this cacophony of cawing is not pleasing to the ears.

Great tailed grackles range from Southwest US to South America. In Colombia, they are called “maria mulata” and they are the official bird of Cartagena de Indias. Several Colombian cities feature statues of “maria mulata” by artist Enrique Grau:

Maria Mulata in Cartagena, Colombia. Statue by Enrique Grau (photo courtesy of www.panoramio.com)
Maria Mulata in Cartagena, Colombia. Statue by Enrique Grau (photo courtesy of www.panoramio.com)

 

Stray Cats Felis catus

Stray cat in front of the IBIC (photo courtesy of Emma Livingston)
Stray cat in front of the IBIC (photo courtesy of Emma Livingston)

There are an estimated 250,000 free roaming, outdoor cats in Maricopa County, the 2nd largest population in the US, and about 5 of them (that I’ve seen) live on the Thunderbird campus. They usually come out at night and are shy, skittish creatures that avoid humans at all cost. Despite multiple attempts to communicate, I’ve only managed to speak with one who meowed half-heartedly back at me. Our Thunderbird cats seem fairly mellow, but feral cats in Maricopa County can cause huge problems: they yowl all night long, fight aggressively with one another, and leave their droppings everywhere. To humanely combat the problem of feral cats, Maricopa County has begun implementing “Trap, Neuter, Release” a program where members of the public trap the cat, take them to a shelter to be neutered or spayed, and then return them to their “cat colony” locations. A way to tell if our Thunderbird cats have benefited from this program is to look at their ears. If their ear has been “tipped” or “notched,” it means they have undergone the TNR program.

Ants

Ants communicating with each other (photo courtesy of https://en.wikipedia.org)
Ants communicating with each other (photo courtesy of https://en.wikipedia.org)

These are by far the most populous residents of the Thunderbird campus. I have not been able to identify which species are prevalent on our campus since Arizona has more species of ants than in any other state, with 318 native species and 12 introduced species. Ants are incredible social creatures. Their colonies are described as “superorganisms” because ants appear to operate as the cells of a body do: working as a collective entity to support the colony as a whole. They thrive in every environment on earth, save Antarctica, and their success is due to their societal organization, their ability to modify their environment and tap resources, relationships they form with other species, complex communication system, and the ability to solve complex problems. It is estimated that there are 10,000,000,000,000,000 ants on the earth at any given time. This gives us an ants:human ratio of 1,428,571:1. Using these numbers, we can estimate (with absolutely no scientific precision) that there are around 428 million ants on the Thunderbird campus at this moment. If you really want to get to know all your Thunderbird stakeholders, you better start networking early.

Ant trail caused by millions of ants marching the same way each day (photo courtesy of https://en.wikipedia.org)
Ant trail caused by millions of ants marching the same way each day (photo courtesy of https://en.wikipedia.org)

4 thoughts on “Get to Know a Stakeholder: Campus Animals

    1. Dear Jeeku:
      Of course! The hummingbirds! How could I forget? I will modify the article to include them in the near future. Thanks for letting me know of my oversight.

  1. Hello Emma, Cheri Hazen who used to work with Dean Davison trapped the T-cats (the ones I know of) had them altered and returned them to campus. Many people leave food out for them and they are at home here. Thank you for the article, very informative!

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