Guest Author - Connie Krochmal
In the wild, cacti and succulents interact with plants and animals within their community. In some instances, they have direct relationships of some sorts with various creatures. Here is some insight into some of those interactions.
Nectar lovers of all sorts visit cacti and succulent blossoms of various kinds. These offer pollen as well as energy-rich nectar. In some cases, the blossoms contain so much nectar that it literally drips from the flowers. Butterflies also visit these flowers for nectar and pollen. Though nectar has long been considered to be just sugar water, this is in fact a source of protein as well. Agave nectar has a heavy, fruity fragrance much like that of a melon.
Animals that are known to feed on pollen and nectar from the saguaro include different species of bats, hummingbirds, orioles, doves, and moths along with bees of different sorts.
Plants benefit from these relationships with the visiting animals for they carry out pollination in return for pollen and nectar.
The creatures that consume cactus fruits are beneficial to the plants. They spread the seeds of the plants far and wide through their droppings. Numerous species of animals end up spreading the seeds of the cacti around. These include ants. Ants also help to protect cacti as they search the plants for prey.
Various species of birds choose to build their nests in cacti, which offer them protection from predators of various kinds. In addition, the cacti help to keep the nests cool since the plants contain a lot of water. One bird that is known to favor cacti is reflected in its name—the cactus wren. It prefers the chollas and the prickly pears. Within the confines of the plant, this bird builds a very large nest where it is safe from predators.
Opuntias, including prickly pears of various kinds, are home to nesting birds. These include the chollas as well as the prickly pears. Birds that are known to seek out these species for homesites include the roadrunners and the house finches.
There are two species of birds that favor the saguaro. The gilded flicker and the gila woodpecker make holes in the plants in which they build their nests. Once these bird families leave the nests, other species of birds seek out such holes and use them for nests.
Cacti and succulents provide a rich bounty of food and sustenance for animals of different kinds. This includes not only nectar but ripening fruits. These fruits are much needed by desert animals in particular as these can serve as a source of moisture during the dry season. Various species of birds eagerly seek out saguaro fruits. These are favored by doves and flycatchers as well as different mammals, such as woodrats and coyotes.
While there are several species of snakes—both poisonous and non-poisonous—that live in cactus country, their contact with the plants is casual—mostly for shelter and shade from the s