Shelledy Elementary

Awesome Adaptations

Colorado Life Zones: Seasons, Plants, & Animals

Step 1: Choose One of the Life Zones or Choices Below

Life Zones Menu Bar
Colorado Life Zones General Information Interactive Elevation & Life Zone Diagram Colorado Maps: Life Zones and More Semidesert Shrublands (West CO) Shortgrass Plains Life Zone (East CO) Foothills Woodlands & Shrublands Montane Forests Life Zone Subalpine Life Zone Alpine Life Zone Riparian Life Zones

Shortgrass Prairie or Plains Life Zone: Seasons, Plants, & Animals

Step 2: Choose a Topic from the Shortgrass Prairie or Plains Life Zone & Scroll Down

Shortgrass Prairie or Plains Life Zone General Information
General Information

Shortgrass Prairie or Plains Life Zone Through the Seasons
Through the Seasons

Shortgrass Prairie or Plains Playa Lakes and Underground Aquifer
Playa Lakes & Underground Aquifer

Shortgrass Prairie or Plains Life Zone Awesome Adaptations
Awesome Adaptations

Shortgrass Prairie or Plains Plants and Trees
Plants and Trees

Shortgrass Prairie or Plains Life Zone Mammals

Shortgrass Prairie or Plains Life Zone Birds

Shortgrass Prairie or Plains Life Zone Reptiles and Amphibians
Reptiles & Amphibians

Shortgrass Prairie or Plains Life Zone:Awesome Adaptations

Colorado and the Rocky Mountains have many different plants and animals that have made awesome adaptations to live in the different life zones. Here are just a few.

BisonAmerican Bison

Ornate or Western Box TurtleWestern or Ornate Box Turtle

Turkey vulture looking for dead animalsTurkey Vulture

Native prairie grassesNative Prairie Grasses

Awesome Adaptations: American Bison

Millions of bison used to roam the Great Plains. In fact, the herds of enormous bison were so large that you could feel the earth shake and see the giant clouds of dust they kicked up before you could ever get close enough to see them. It could take hours for an entire herd to pass you, and large clouds of dust would cover the sky.

People used to believe that there were so many that they could never go extinct. However, since the invention of barbed wired fences and trains, most of the bison were killed for their hides, senseless target practice, and to prevent danger from stampeding herds. So many were killed that they came very close to becoming extinct. They have made a small comeback thanks to a few wise people who saved a small herd in the Yellowstone National Park. Today only small scattered herds remain in fenced-in ranches. Sadly, the largest free ranging animals on the plains of North America today are the pronghorn and white-tailed deer.

American bison are also known as the American buffalo. They have short horns on the sides of their heads and a large furry strong head and neck. Bison have strong hooves, muscular bodies, and a thick furry hides. They can get five to six feet tall at the shoulders and can weigh 2000 to 3000 pounds (as heavy as a car). They can run for long distances at a time and survive on little water. They have independent personalities and can be very aggressive. Whenever you see them, give them plenty of respect and space.

Sources of information and to find more information: Nature Works , CO p of Wildlife , Hogle Zoo

Herd of Bison Herd of Bison
Enormous herds of Bison used to roam the plains. They would kick up lots of dust when they stampeded.
Bison Bison herd on the plains
Bison are huge strong animals. They can get up to 6 feet high at the shoulder and up to 3000 pounds. Bison used to roam in huge herds on the plains until they were killed for their hides in the late 1800's. Now, small scattered herds live in fenced-in ranches.

Awesome Adaptations: Western or Ornate Box Turtle

The western or ornate box turtle is built for survival. The turtle carries its own protective armor where ever it goes. The turtles hard shell protects it from all sorts of hungry coyotes, foxes, and other predators. When it feels in danger it tucks its feet and its head into its hard protective shell. It also has a hinge on the bottom part of the shell that closes more and lets the turtle be more hidden and protected. Once the danger has left, the box turtle comes out of the shells and continues on its journey.

The ornate box turtle does an amazing job living in the dry, hot, treeless, shortgrass prairie. Unlike many other turtles, the ornate box turtle mainly lives on the land and not in the water. The turtle can get most of its water from the insects and plants it eats. The box turtle's legs may seem slow and clumsy to some people, but this turtle is an amazing digger. The turtle will dig a tunnel in the ground and hide in it to escape the heat of the day, the freezing winter, and possible predators. So when you see a box turtle in the wild, please leave it in the wild because the box turtle has all the skills to survive and thrive in the wild.

Sources of information and to find more information: CO Herp Society, CSU NDIS, GPNC

Ornate or Western Box Turtle Western or Ornate Box Turtle

Awesome Adaptations: Turkey Vulture

The turkey vulture plays an important role in the overall health of a habitat or life zone. Turkey vultures are the official clean up squad. The vultures have long wings that help them soar up in the sky while using little energy. They have a strong sense of smell and can fly long distances looking for dead or dying animals. When they find food they will circle in the air until they can safely eat the dead animal. Turkey vultures can eat old bacteria infested meat that most all other animals could not eat without getting sick. They do not have any feathers on their head to help them stay clean from the nasty bacteria and diseases. The scavenging birds play the important role in keeping their habitats clean from dead stinky disease-infested animals. They also help keep the ponds, lakes, and rivers clean because the dead animals are totally eaten and not washed into the water spreading more disease and poisening the water. Though some people may not appreciate turkey vultures, the vultures play an important role in cleaning the habitat.

Sources of information and to find more information: Peregrine Fund, Vultures and Condors, Hogle Zoo

Turkey vulture looking for dead animals Turkey Vulture eating a dead animal

Awesome Adaptations: Native Grasses

The native grasses like blue grama grass and buffalo grass play an important role in the shortgrass prairies. They survive in a land of extremes. In the summer, the shortgrass prairie can get very hot and dry. The grass can survive droughts where little to no rain falls over several years. In the winter, the prairies can get extremely cold. All year, the prairies can be very windy. The grass survives these extremes by growing deep roots and spreading lots of seeds. The deep roots keep the important top soil from blowing away.

The farmers in the 1920's and 1930's discovered the hard way how important the native grasses were at stopping the erosion of the fertile prairie top soil. First, it is important to understand that the amount of rain and snow that falls on the plains goes in natural cycles. There are can be years of lots of rain and snow (el nino) and then many years of drought with little to no rain (la nina). The cycles of el nino and la nina are caused by something literally oceans away. The ocean temperatures go through a natural cycle of getting warmer then cooler. The ocean temperatures change how much water evaporates into air forming important clouds and which direction the storms go across North and South America. However, in the 1920's and 1930's the farmers did not know about these cycles.

In the 1920's, it was a decade of el nino with large storms bringing more rain and snow than normal. Farmers could grow large fields of wheat, corn, and other crops and make lots of money. They used the money to buy new large tractors and plowed up gigantic areas of the native grass sod. Before the tractors, farmers would have to use large horses or oxen and large metal plows to break up the thick prairie grass in order to plant their crops. It was extremely difficult, slow, and tiring work plowing a field this way. However, the newly invented tractors made plowing much easier and farmers could plow large areas with much less time and effort. It was a time of good fortune for many farmers and towns on the shortgrass prairie.

The good fortune of the farmers changed in the 1930's with cooling of the ocean temperatures. The storms stopped coming and the large open plowed fields became dry. At first, most farmers thought it was going to be a short term dry spell. Then days of little to no storms, turned to months, and then to years of little to no rain. All the fertile top soil that was not protected by the native grasses start blowing in the ever present wind. Large wind storms would pick up the dry dirt from the large areas of newly plowed land and blow it across the plains.The air became so dry that the blowing dust would create friction and electric storms. Some dust storms were so big that they would turn a bright sunny day as dark as night. The 1930's would be called the dust bowl. It was tough time for every living creature on the plains including humans. Many farmers went bankrupt, were starving, and moved to other places like California.

The rains eventually returned and farmers would be able to grow crops again. But an important lessons were learned about conserving soil and about the importance of the native short prairie grass. The grass protects the fertile top soil and life on the prairies. The cycle of years of more rain and and years of little to no rain continues today and makes it challenging to farm on the shortgrass prairie. Which only goes to show how amazing the native grasses are at surviving in this extreme life zone for such a long time.

Shortgrass Prairie or Plains Life Zone General Information

Shortgrass Prairie or Plains Life Zone Through the Seasons