Desert Holes

Pack rat nest with a No Vacancy sign

I own a field guide on desert holes. I bought it several years back after a visit from my sister. We had been hiking and she pointed out several round holes in the sandy soil and wondered if they were snake holes. A Field Guide to Desert Holes is written by Pinau Merlin and published by Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum Press. Merlin describes 55 different types of desert holes, arranging them by size, from tiny 1/2 inch holes(tiger beetles, ants and bees) to burrows over 6 inches in diameter (kit foxes, badgers, coyotes). For each hole description she indicates a “possible builder” and then provides natural history on that critter, and usually a photo or sketch of the hole from the outside.
A good-sized chunk of the book deals with depressions. No, not those sad days some of us experience on occasion, but any sort of shallow bed or resting place made by an animal. Depressions can be made by tiny creatures such as antlion larvae, or by seldom seen animals such as spadefoot toads. They may be nests for cottontail rabbits, or a spot where a heavy bodied rattlesnake coiled to rest. Javelina beds can be large enough for the whole herd. They will usually be located under sheltering trees and consist of soft dirt pawed up by the sharp hooves of the animals.
Snake homes are covered in the section on “borrowed/modified shelters”. Since snakes don’t have the capacity to dig their own hole they usually live in rocky crevices or move into burrows dug by other animals. A really prime den may house a variety of species. Gopher snakes, racers, rattlesnakes and desert tortoises have been known to share, apparently sleeping through winter in harmony.
A really bad day is when you are a packrat and a snake comes to visit. The visitor may well eat you and then take over that sweet abode you’ve been remodeling. Packrats will pile debris including joints of the nasty cholla cactus at the entrance to their home to discourage snakes as well as other intruders such as spiders, centipedes, Gila monsters and desert tortoises.
At the very back of the book on page 124 I found these words, “One of the most commonly asked questions about desert holes is whether it is a snake hole.”


One response to “Desert Holes

  1. Interesting! Love the fox holes, especially when there are kits in them : )

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