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Earth Notes: Monsoons

Storm clouds gather over a hazy landscape of mountains and forests
Danika Thiele
Storm clouds gathering, view from San Francisco Peaks

Vast storm clouds wander the sky like roaming monoliths. Intense thunderstorms scour the desert and cool the land. Light shifts from piercing brilliance to dark and cataclysmic. Monsoon season is here.

And with it, the plants and animals of the Colorado Plateau wake from slumber and come to life.

Spadefoots emerge from their underground resting places. These stocky, native amphibians can sense the vibrations of thunder and rain from their burrows, prompting their emergence. Like many species in Arizona, spadefoots pair their breeding season with the monsoonal rains. For them, it’s a time of abundance and mild weather.

Opportunistic tarantulas take advantage of increased insect populations. Even the sluggish Gila monster can be seen, as it wakes from a period of inactivity called brumation.

The arrival of monsoonal rains means less wildfire activity and more perennial grasses. The unmistakable, earthy smell of greasewood or creosote bush imbues the air after rainfalls that also mark the beginning of prickly pear fruit season. Lobster mushrooms and boletes appear at higher elevations, with eager foragers arriving soon after. It’s a time of renewal and rest; a time to admire the sheer force of water.

At the end of monsoon, the spadefoots turn on their hind legs and burrow underground, where they await next year’s rains.

This Earth Note was written by Danika Thiele and produced by KNAU and the Sustainable Communities Program at Northern Arizona University with funding from the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies.

Danika Thiele is a Florida transplant, art enthusiast and environmental science writer. She worked previously as a food security and sanitation volunteer with Peace Corps Nepal. With her background in both agriculture and journalism, Danika combines her curiosity with the natural world to produce stories stemming from nature's peculiarities. You can catch Danika exploring the forest with her adventure partner, Dolly the supermutt.
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