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Photo Guides with Natural History Notes

Coloring to relieve stress has been on the rise among adults in America. Our coloring book features Sonoran Desert plants and animals seen in our award-winning film DESERT DREAMS.

You’ll find 12 beautiful desert-themed illustrations stitched into a 9”x12” folder with front and back inside pockets. For printing, we chose soy-based inks and a printing company (Arizona Lithographers in Tucson) that runs on 100% renewable energy.

Each page is printed one-side-only on high quality paper; and we have tested the ink to make certain it won’t smear when the pages are colored with solvent-based pens. If you’d like to frame your artwork, each illustration is sized to fit neatly in the window of any standard 8”x10” mat or frame.

And for those who prefer to color realistically, we have compiled photographs that were used in the creation of the illustrations.

Photographs with the names and information about the animals featured in each drawing can be seen below. For the cover, I colored portions of the jackrabbit illustration with Prismacolor Premier Soft Core Colored Pencils. The colors are rich and can be muted or removed with an Artgum Eraser. Many art supply stores sell the pencils individually so that you can supplement a set with less common colors.

We hope that you enjoy this unusual coloring book. It’s designed for adults but will interest children too.


Click on thumbnail of each illustration below to see color photos and natural history notes for these plants and animals.

Click here to open these captions in a new window: NATURAL HISTORY NOTES


Two species of DESERT TORTOISE, Gopherus morafkai and Gopherus agassizii, inhabit the American Southwest. Although very similar, they are split geographically by the Colorado River and differ in habitat choice, behavior, and genetics. Desert tortoises avoid temperature extremes by retiring to underground burrows, where they spend most of their lives. During hot, dry weather they become inactive; and in winter, they hibernate. Tortoises are vegetarian and get most of their water from the flowers, leaves, grass, and fruit they eat. And if you find a desert tortoise in the wild, leave it alone unless its life is in danger. When frightened by being handled, they often release fluid stored in the bladder. This water-loss can make the difference between life or death during periods of drought. Desert tortoises are protected by law, and never bring a captive tortoise into contact with wild ones. Captive animals often harbor pathogens that can be lethal to wild populations. ~TW


GAMBEL’S QUAIL (Callipepla gambelii) abound in desert regions throughout much of the American Southwest, live in close harmony with people, and don’t migrate to warmer places in winter. These gregarious birds roost in trees at night but seldom fly. The female lays 10-12 eggs on the ground, hidden in vegetation, often at the base of a tree or rock. Incubation lasts about three weeks and, as hatching nears, the chicks respond to their mother’s voice by cheeping within their eggs, which synchronizes the hatch. Once free from the eggshell, these precocial balls of fluff are ready to run behind their parents within hours after hatching. During especially wet summers, Gambel’s quail may raise two or three broods in one year; and they are very important in the food chain. They nourish many desert predators—hawks, bobcats, roadrunners, and Gila monsters, for example. ~TW


MULE DEER (Odocoileus hemionus) are widely distributed throughout western North America. In addition to their big, mule-like ears, they can be easily recognized by their black-tipped tail and white rump patch. They browse selectively on nutritious forbs, grasses, shrubs, and even cactus fruit; but in the desert, they need more water than their foods can supply. Mule deer prefer to drink every day or two; and using their keen sense of smell, they can find hidden pockets of surface water and can even smell water below ground. They dig for it by scraping sand away with their large hooves. In southern Arizona, bucks shed their antlers in late winter, and regrow them in spring and summer when females give birth to one or two fawns. In the desert, these deer are often nocturnal and spend hot days resting in the shade. ~TW


ROTHSCHILD SILK MOTH (Rothschildia cincta) is one of the more spectacular giant insects native to dry desert and riparian areas of southeastern Arizona and northwestern Mexico. Their caterpillars often feed on limberbush (Jatropha) and at maturity spin a silk cocoon, attached to a twig, and overwinter in this stage of their life cycle. Adults emerge from their cocoons during the summer monsoon season, mate, lay eggs, and die. They never feed as adults. In western Mexico where this moth can be common, indigenous people harvest the dry, empty cocoons, put pebbles in them, and sew them together to make ceremonial ankle bracelets/rattles. ~TW


The GILA MONSTER (Heloderma suspectum) and its sister-species the Mexican beaded lizard (Heloderma horridum) represent a very ancient line of lizards that roamed North America during the age of dinosaurs. And they are the only venomous lizards in the Western Hemisphere. Gila monsters are native to the American Southwest (including northwestern Mexico); and their yellow-and-black beaded cousins live in dry forest habitats of western Mexico and south into a bit of Guatemala. If you are ever lucky enough to see one of these lizards in the wild, enjoy watching it, but leave it alone—they have a vice-tight bite. Their venom is extremely painful but not lethal to humans. These lumbering lizards won’t bite unless provoked and are protected by law in the USA.
Gila monsters are unusual reptiles with specialized feeding habits. They raid rodent, bird, rabbit, and reptile nests. Unlike most carnivorous lizards, Gila monsters are never in a hurry to capture and consume their prey. They dine at leisure and devote much of their mealtime to tongue-flicking. Spending more than 90% of their time underground just resting, they typically need no more than one meal per month to stay healthy. Scientists who have studied the incredible metabolic efficiency of these lizards discovered proteins in their venomous saliva that led to the synthesis of a medication used to stabilize glucose levels in patients with Type 2 Diabetes.
Note for coloring book artists: The tongue of Gila monsters is dark purplish gray. In contrast, Mexican beaded lizards have pink tongues. ~TW


ANTELOPE JACKRABBITS (Lepus alleni) are native to the Sonoran Desert of Southern Arizona and Northwestern Mexico.; and they are among the most elusive and least studied mammals in the American Southwest. Although in the rabbit family (Leporidae), jackrabbits are not rabbits; they are hares. Hares are larger, have longer ears, give birth to fully developed young, live completely above ground, and do not adapt well to captivity. (Have you ever seen jackrabbits in a zoo exhibit?) Although jackrabbits do not dig underground burrows to escape desert heat, like mule deer they spend a lot of time in the shade and restrict their activity to cooler hours of the day. Also like mule deer, their thin oversized ears with a rich blood supply allow them to radiate excess heat into the atmosphere to help cool the body. ~TW


The HARRIS HAWK (Parabuteo unicinctus) has the distinction of being North America’s most social raptor, living in groups with as many as seven related and unrelated individuals. They often hunt as a team to flush out and capture rabbits, hares, rodents, quail, and reptiles, and establish dominance hierarchies when feeding. These gregarious birds also raise their young cooperatively. This handsome hawk is native to arid U.S. borderlands with Mexico, with populations ranging as far south as Argentina and Chile. ~TW


The COYOTE (Canis latrans) is a favorite character in Native American folklore . . . representing the teacher, trickster, Creator, messenger, and more. This wild member of the dog family is indeed clever and highly adaptable to changing circumstances. Once found primarily in open deserts and prairies, coyotes have spread across North America into every habitat imaginable, including urban environments, and south from Mexico into Central America. They are supremely opportunistic and will eat almost anything, varying from insects, grass, and lizards to cactus fruit and carrion. Hunting in groups, they can take down a deer, but I’ve seen a mule deer chase a lone coyote away from a water hole. Desert coyotes may appear scrawny or full-bodied, depending on the season and availability of food and water. Their coat thickens in winter to help protect against cold nights that may drop below freezing. ~TW


The BOBCAT (Lynx rufus), named after its distinctively short “bob-tail” that’s 2-8 inches in length, is a medium sized wild cat with a ruff of fur around the sides of its face. The long ears, tipped with black tufts of fur, have prominent white spots on the backside, probably helpful to young following a parent in dim light. About a dozen named subspecies of this adaptable cat range broadly across the USA from Canadian borderlands south through Mexico. They are at home in desert lowlands, scrublands, grasslands, swamps, and mountains. Bobcats are meat-eaters, and in the arid Southwest, their activity usually matches that of their preferred foods—cottontails, jackrabbits, and quail—but they also eat lizards and snakes. I watched one bobcat eat a rabbit, and the only part left behind was its fluffy white cottontail. ~TW


Observe the behavior of a GREATER ROADRUNNER (Geococcyx californianus) and visions of a Velociraptor will surely come to mind. Indigenous to the Southwest and the northern half of Mexico, the roadrunner’s speed, fearlessness, endurance, and cunning are legendary in cartoons and folklore. These agile and stealthy hunters relish scorpions, tarantulas, grasshoppers, caterpillars, hawk moths, and giant centipedes along with lizards (a favorite), mice, baby birds, small snakes, fruit, and seeds. They instinctively know how to immobilize prey without being stung or bitten. I’ve seen a roadrunner dash several feet to snatch a housefly from the air with astonishing precision. They sip water when available but can survive only on moisture from the foods they eat.
Greater Roadrunners are born to run (reaching speeds up to 20mph (=32km/h) , but they can fly for short distances. They build stick nests up in trees, shrubs, and cacti, so well hidden that few bird enthusiasts have ever spotted one. They lay 3-6 eggs. Both parents feed the young, but only males sit on the nest at night. While being fed, the chicks are quiet and calm. Parents stuff whole dead animals into the chick’s mouth, usually headfirst. And a chick might spend ten minutes or more gulping and resting to move a large lizard from its throat to its stomach. ~TW


The LESSER LONG-NOSED BAT (Leptonycteris yerbabuenae) is one of the few bat species to make long distance migrations. In spring and summer, they leave fall/winter roosts in south-central Mexico. Timing their travel to coincide with flowering and fruiting food plants, they fly north to roost in caves and abandoned mines in northwestern Mexico and southern Arizona. Here, in the Sonoran Desert, they feed on nectar, pollen, and fruit of giant columnar cacti, including the saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea). Human disturbance of roosting sites that these bats depend on has jeopardized their survival, so populations of the lesser long-nosed bat are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
In spring and summer, ELF OWLS (Micrathene whitneyi) also migrate north from overwintering sites in south-central Mexico to the Sonoran Desert (and other lowlands in the Southwest). These tiny owls, about 5 inches tall, nest in natural tree cavities or vacated woodpecker holes, including those in giant cacti. Elf owls are nocturnal and prefer to eat insects, scorpions, and centipedes. ~TW


The Sonoran Desert is famous for its displays of stunning SPRING WILDFLOWERS, but they are often fickle and spotty—a really good one happens only once every 8-10 years. Desert annuals avoid extreme heat and drought as seeds and patiently wait for ideal growing conditions. Germination requires heavy autumn and early winter rainfall followed by mild winter temperatures and enough moisture to allow the seedlings to thrive. The good news is that even in “off years,” though sparse, a few spring wildflowers can be found. Ten of the more common species are featured in this coloring book illustration, some of which can be seen in southern Arizona gardens. ~TW

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attn: Thomas Wiewandt
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