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Creeping devil: the cactus that walks and migrates long distances

The Chirinola or creeping devil is a unique cactus from Mexico that has the ability to ‘walk’ to find the best conditions for its survival.

Plants are marvelous beings whose secrets are gradually being revealed by science. It is known that many of them can make complex decisions that help them to safeguard their survival. But in most cases, plants have a factor against them, the fact of not being able to migrate from one place to another to protect themselves from the inclemency of the environment. And we say in most cases because there are exceptions, such as the Mexican cactus that walks and dies to live. We’re talking about the so-called chirinola or creeping devil.

The Stenocereus Eruca, which is the scientific name, is a cactus endemic to Baja California Sur in Mexico where the desert meets the sea and provides the most beautiful sunsets. It is the only one of all the diversity of cacti in the region that does not follow vertical growth but has developed an extraordinary mechanism to move on the ground. Simply put, the creeping devil can ‘walk’ across the desert terrain.

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It does this through its growth, which is not erect but develops horizontally at ground level. It often forms extensive masses with its body, as a single creeping devil can measure 10 to 15 meters in length, a fairly wide extension. In addition, it looks like a spiny snake, although very large because its diameter ranges from 4 to 8 centimeters. It has greenish tones that tend more towards gray thanks to the fact that it is immensely covered with spines.

But if this was not surprising enough, it should also be said that its offspring grow bifurcated from the main stem. Then, when they have the means to fend for themselves, the small creeping devils separate and form new plants that will also spread out in other directions in a broad manner.

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A cactus that moves slowly

The creeping devil is a cactus that has astonished researchers because few plants like this one manage to develop the necessary behavior to migrate from one place to another and, thus, move to where conditions are more optimal for its survival. But this is not the only surprising thing, because another of the characteristics for which it is said that the creeping devil walks, is because it not only moves horizontally, but it manages to advance thanks to the fact that the oldest part of the plant dies slowly, giving way to new growth.

In that sense, it could be said that the creeping devil has to die to continue living because the oldest part of the plant dries up and functions as a kind of compost for the newer regions. Thus, the cactus can continue on its way moving along the ground.

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The creeping devil, like other cacti, also flowers, but very ad hoc to its strange nature that defies what we know about cacti, the Stenocereus Eruca flowers only at night. In the complete absence of light, the creeping devil sprouts its bright white or pink flowers that grow 10 to 12 centimeters long. However, it is a completely ephemeral beauty, since its flowers only enjoy life for one night. After that, the colorful petals dry, and during the day, the creeping devil continues its journey through the desert soil of Bajar California del Sur.

Text courtesy of Ecoosfera

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