Fauna of Burque
A roundup of animals and insects in your new environs
As with anyplace on Earth, Albuquerque plays host to myriad biological wonders too numerous to entertainingly catalog, and if the devil is in the details, I still haven't seen one in Albuquerque. That doesn't mean they aren’t here. Nor am I a biologist of any family or phylum, but I hold an imaginary degree in Wildlife Fascination based on my own personal and largely exaggerated experience which, if nothing else, makes for lively bar chatter.
In the Sandias, there are bears that both shit in the woods and occasionally shit in town, especially during periods of prolonged drought like we've been experiencing, and especially in the far Northeast Heights foothills, though they did corner a bear in Rio Rancho a couple years ago. They're commonplace in the East Mountains (Tijeras and Cedar Crest), but when they make it into the city proper, police, animal control and TV news officers swarm in and make things go poorly for the bear.
Sometimes deer and coyotes come down, too, but it doesn't make the news. Mountain lions don't come into the city, as they prefer to make their homes in the imaginations of bow hunters. I've personally seen a mommy raccoon lead three of her babies across Central near I-25, and I suspect they use Burque's arroyo system like a highway—despite the absence of bubbling brooks for food washing. In folklore opossums live within the city limits. I've never seen one and I remain skeptical, but my wife made a convincing case for opossums while defending our dog on charges of chicken murder. Yes, you can have chickens in your yard.
There are lots of bats, too, and one of their primary nesting places is under the Coal overpass by El Madrid bar; perhaps they are drawn to both dark, cave-like environments and ranchera music. If you want to see a buffalo, there's a pen full of them on your left as you take Tramway northwest near Sandia Casino. They're not native. I just think they're cool.
Mice are only worth mentioning because they seem to be flourishing lately. That's just my observation, but there seem to be more mice in the city than there were 10 years ago. Only the little gray mice, not the brown, hantavirus mice from up north.
The striped lizards that you see everywhere are New Mexico whiptail lizards, awarded the title of State Lizard in 2003. I kept one in a terrarium once, until she hid under the sand for several days. Impatiently I ran my fingers through the sand to see if she had escaped and pulled up not only the mommy lizard, but two of her white, leathery one-inch eggs. I dumped the whole thing by the side of my apartment building. I assume they flourished.
Horny toads used to be more common near the city, but they are endangered and only still survive in areas far from their chief predators, human children. Rattlesnakes abound (possibly anywhere), but mostly in the Foothills and the far Westside. It's no joke: Better to be a noisy hiker than to sneak up and step on one. If you hear a rattle, get away from the rattle. I saw a squished coral snake on a road in the East Mountains once. They look like corn snakes, and I don't remember the sequence of colored bands, but some lazy research led me to believe it was more likely a coral snake.
We don't have brown recluse spiders here. It's always possible one could hitch a ride in some luggage, but it's also possible a gorilla could escape from the zoo. There are lots of less-feared spiders here that can still get a point across, though, and Albuquerque's ubiquitous black widow wins most creepiest. They spin messy, sticky webs around the cracks and crevices they retreat to, and they're not looking to mess with you. ... unless that's where you put your one old thing or other. Male black widows are small, brown and have 1/3 the venom of the females, but I still stay away from them. I've seen people mistake them for daddy longlegs.
Factoid: Daddy longlegs have only one body part and are not spiders.
Factoid: Most documented instances of female black widows eating their mates occurred in laboratory settings. Some experts doubt it happens in the wild.
Factoid: A black widow bite probably won't kill a healthy adult, but you'll feel crappy.
Tarantulas are common in the East Mountains and on the Westside but are rarely seen in town. Likewise for scorpions. You should be studying in your room, anyway.
There are more brands of cockroaches here than there are flavors of corn chips on every carpet in Hokona Hall. Richard Fagerlund aka The Bugman (local bug expert and regular Alibi columnist), says Albuquerque most commonly plays host to Oriental and American cockroaches. German brown cockroaches, which carry disease, are less common because they prefer filthy environments. Expect a column from him on the topic soon.
The conical depressions you see along walls and under bushes are antlion homes, where antlions trap hapless insects for food. Antlions are only a half-inch long and harmless but ugly; they have absurdly large pincers and abdomens, proportionate to their length—like the thing Khan put in Chekov's ear. They make their funnel-like sand-homes by walking backward in a spiral while flinging up dirt with their oversized bottoms. They are the larvae of a flying insect similar to a dragonfly but are nocturnal and rarely seen. Plus they have no anus. Think about that.
Big hawks nest all over town, which is a constant and possibly unfounded worry to those of us with small pets. Other than that, my wife watches birds. I watch her watch birds until she turns her head and I pretend to be looking at a magazine. In the summer a nest of grackles can sound like a Tarzan movie. In fall, cranes hoot hauntingly on their way to the Bosque. In winter, ravens caw at dawn as they make their way west for whatever reason. Pigeons are Albuquerque's rats year-round, and roadrunners stake out their territory, sometimes jumping from rooftop to rooftop with whiptail lizards in their beaks. I've seen it.