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Tonto National Monument
Tonto National Monument by National Park Service

The various natural environments at Tonto National Monument provide habitat for a diversity of wildlife. This mixture of wildlife was of benefit to the Salado. Though they ate mainly mammals, bones of turtle, quail, dove and flicker have also been found in the dwellings. Game furnished not only meat, but also materials for tools, utensils, clothing, and other necessities.

To survive living in the arid environment of the Sonoran Desert, each animal has developed its own strategy of adaptations to heat, water and vegetation conditions. Many animals change daily activity times with the seasons and the heat. During the winter they may be active during the day, but during the heat of the summer, only active during the coolness of early morning and evening hours. Others may be most active during the days in spring and fall and evenings and mornings in the summer, but hibernate in the cold of winter. Body temperature may be regulated through special body parts. The long ears of a jack rabbit aid its body in cooling by giving off heat. Reptiles, whose bodies do not regulate temperature, depend on a strategy of moving from shade to sun and back again to self regulate their body's temperature.

Though the Sonoran Desert enjoys two rainy seasons, it is still a dry environment. Some animals live, reproduce and die all from the time of rainfall to the time the puddles dry up. Certain animals remain constantly near water, part of their distinct habitat. This is particularly true of the monument's shady riparian area created by a year-round spring. Others travel through the various habitats watering and hunting, but shelter within a specific habitat. Water is not a necessity for some wildlife. They have the ability to use moisture from any food they eat.

The adaptation to eat desert vegetation, especially the many spiny cacti, is present in some animals. Not only do these plants provide food, but a safe haven from other animals. The cactus wren builds its nest within the dangerous cholla cactus - a daunting challenge for any animal wanting the eggs.

Movement through brush on the hillside, a head peeking out of a saguaro, tracks left in the soil - watch carefully, for an observant visitor will see these signs of life within the Sonoran Desert.

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