EFMB – Greater Roadrunner

Sunday, January 25, 2009
By Ms Baker

Photo by Nick Chill

I’ve decided to bring back the Endless Forms Most Beautiful weekly column. It was quite popular with last year’s students and I accidentally let it fall by the wayside this year. You can see all the previous EFMB posts here.

In an earlier EFMB post I mentioned that deserts are misunderstood as being “lifeless” when in fact they are “hotbeds of ‘endless forms most beautiful” and I used the long-eared jerboa as my example. This time I would like to highlight the Greater Roadrunner.

Made famous by a Looney Tunes character, the roadrunner lives primarily in the American southwest. It can run up to 18.6 miles per hour, hence its name.



What surprised me about the roadrunner is that it has well-developed salt glands for excreting salt. This caught my attention because I used to work with seabirds who also have well-developed salt glands. The reason seabirds have salt glands should be pretty obvious. But, why would a desert animal need advanced salt glands? We all know that a big problem in the desert is lack of water. By removing salt from specialized nasal salt glands rather than in urine, the roadrunner is able to reduce water loss.

Occasionally, it will take part in brood parasitism, a tricky, deceptive reproductive method where an animal forces another animal to care for its young.

In what ways does the roadrunner cartoon character fit the characteristics of the actual real-life animal? In what ways does it differ?

Can you think of some examples of when an animal has been helped/harmed from popularization by the media?

3 Responses to “Endless Forms Most Beautiful – Greater Roadrunner”

  1. Jordan Says:

    Miss Baker,

    I love the roadrunner cartoon. In comparison, the cartoon was seen to be extremely fast, smart, and could never be caught. The real roadrunner seems to be quite similar. In the cartoon, it shows the roadrunner speeding through the mountains and roads. The real roadrunner can not run like that but in a realistic sense its fast enough. 18 mph is alot faster that we as humans can run, as well as even bike. In contrast, the cartoon did not go into detail about the roadrunner, however here it says it has special sweat glands that keep it from water loss which completely makes sense and is a genius mutation.

  2. Justin Says:I think that the cartoon roadrunner is portrayed a lot like the real roadrunner itself. However, this statement does not hold true for most cartoon characters. I am really amazed by the salt glands of the road runners. It is amazing how they are able to excrete the salt without losing too much water. Another thing that I thought was really amazing was the brood paristisms. After the roadrunner leaves the eggs in anothers nest do they completely forget about their young? And is the roadrunner considered a non-obligate or obligate bird? Interesting post. Thanks Ms. Baker.
  3. Ian Says:

    I enjoyed reading this post about roadrunners because I learned that they have well-developed salt glands. The only thing I knew about roadrunners was that their speed is greater than humans as well as being known as one of the fastest land species on the planet which also includes cheetahs. I researched more information on this bird to get a better understanding here:http://www.nature.org/animals/birds/animals/roadrunner.html

    The roadrunner averages about twenty inches in length and nineteen inches in wingspan. As long as the roadrunner consumes preys with high water content, it does not need to drink water. Its diet includes insects, mice, snakes, lizards, and gophers. Again great post Miss Baker.

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