(Photo above: Packrat with Opuntia, searchnetmedia.com)
Packrats mostly occur in the deserts of the USA and Mexico. They are famous for their nest making. They collect debris, twigs and plant pieces of all types, and even rocks. They even collect bits of lumber, electrical wiring, and coins. Their nests can be a foot across or much larger.
Ancient packrat nests (middens) are dotted throughout the deserts. In especially dry areas, the nests last hundreds or thousands of years when protected from the elements. Some middens protected by rock overhangs are estimated to be tens of thousands of years old. One scientific paper describes the contents of 10,000-year old packrat middens that were collected near Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. The preserved midden materials could be carbon dated, and the multiple component plant species could be identified. The middens contained pieces of desert shrubs, ocotillos, junipers, and even walnut trees. But, the interesting thing is that they also had:
- Opuntia (polyacantha-like and phaeacantha-like)
- Agave lechugilla
- Yucca elata
- Yucca torreyi
Long before modern cactus and succulent collecting, packrats were collecting of their own.