Meet the lobo, also known as the Mexican wolf or Canis lupus baileyi. This is the Southwest’s subspecies of gray wolf, and unlike its relatively stable cousins up in Canada, it’s struggling to survive. Although a Mexican wolf serves as the mascot at the University of New Mexico, there are more fans at a given football game than there are lobos alive on the planet.
Lobo packs once thrived from Arizona through to Texas and down into Mexico, but Manifest Destiny had a different vision for that territory. In the 1800s Anglo pioneers cleared plains and forests of wolves’ natural prey (particularly ungulates like elk) and converted expanses of the Southwest into predator-free farms. In just a century, ranchers’ active hunting, trapping, and poisoning nearly drove the Mexican wolf to extinction; the species was completely wiped out of New Mexico in the 1920s.
What now? Does does the lobo stand a chance of surviving in the years ahead?
Walk the trails around Albuquerque long enough and, while you may never hear a meep-meep or get bowled over in a blur of legs, you’re bound to spot a roadrunner or two kicking up dust. These little guys are all over the scrublands around here, earning their title as the state bird of New Mexico.
Roadrunners are in the cuckoo family, a diverse grouping of over a hundred species living across several continents. Since the family includes tree-dwellers as well as terrestrial birds, the species that dominates in the American Southwest is called variously the New World ground cuckoo, the chaparral cock, or simply the greater roadrunner. So how do they really fare against wily coyotes, let alone creepy-crawlers like tarantulas and rattlesnakes?
Pit bulls are so common around here that some call them the “Labradors of New Mexico,” so it’s worth taking a closer look at the nature of this infamous pet. But who holds the answers? Depending who you ask, pit bulls are a dangerously vicious type of dog, they’re perfect darlings—or they don’t even exist.
That is to say, they don’t exist as a distinct breed. “Pit bull” is a term without an official definition, more slang than scientific identifier. Almost any mutt with “bully” qualities can be considered a pit bull, including the offspring of Staffordshire terriers mixed with a wide range of other breeds, lumping together a pretty diverse pool of puppies. Many mutts of unknown origins are misidentified as pit bulls based on their appearance despite lacking even a drop of terrier blood.
But does it matter which blood flows through a dog’s veins? Are certain breeds really more violent than others?
Think of a desert and you probably picture dry, dead dirt. If so, surprise! Much of the world’s most arid ground is alive with a tiny ecosystem, no more than a few inches thick. It’s so tiny, in fact—so thin and delicate, so apparently parched and lifeless—that this “secretly living” layer of soil is called a cryptobiotic crust. So what other secrets is it keeping?
Eat out in New Mexico and you’re bound to hear it sooner or later: “Red or green?” That’s the state’s official shorthand for “what color chile would you like slathered on your burger or burrito?” You can go the iconic route and ask for green, or get maximum kick by requesting both: “Christmas, please.”
Red, green, or in between, chile is New Mexico’s pride and joy. What kind of pepper are we talking about here, and what causes a single plant to come in two distinct colors?
Yesterday we saw that the air up in Albuquerque is about 15% less dense than a mile lower at sea level. It follows that every inhalation here contains 15% less substance: no matter how deeply you breathe, your blood just can’t pull quite as much precious oxygen from your lungs.
So how does your body adapt when you move from sea level to high altitude?
Still debating which branch of science is best? Maybe Randall Munroe’s “purity” ordering will help you consider their merits. Or you can wait another week and start judging based on our discussions of science in New Mexico!