Tag: Deserts

This Moss Uses Quartz as a Parasol

To humans, a desert oasis may conjure an image of a blue pool encircled by a coronet of palm trees. But to certain mosses, an oasis takes the form of a pebble of milky quartz. The cloudy crystal dilutes the sun’s piercing ultraviolet rays and, in the dry desert heat, traps moisture beneath it, creating […]

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Coming of Age on Mars

In the winter of 2004, Sarah Stewart Johnson, then a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was on a field trip in the desert east of California’s Sierra Nevada. While learning to map geological terrains, she fell prey to an adolescent thrill. Boulders were perched on ledges; when nobody was watching, she would […]

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How a Velvet Ant (Which Is a Wasp) Got Its White Fluff

At the foot of certain shrubs in the Mojave Desert, fluffy white motes skitter like tumbleweeds across the sand. Some are fruit: harmless, fuzzy orbs dropped by the creosote bush. Others are white wasps — not that kind — of the species Dasymutilla gloriosa, which have painful stingers and luxuriously silky hair, or setae. The […]

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