UNLV Television Show Depicts Southern Nevada's Desert Animals and Plants

"Desert Survivors" is a science education television show designed to promote scientific literacy in the local elementary schools of Southern Nevada. Each episode, shown on UNLV-TV on Cox Cable, Channels 110 and 111, spotlights a "survivor" native to the Mojave Desert and features an expert on that organism. During the show, the expert answers questions poised by local elementary school children.


This project is funded by the National Science Foundation as part of a prestigious Faculty Early Career Development Award presented to Frank van Breukelen Ph.D. for $745,000 to support a project, entitled "Protein Metabolism During Mammalian Hibernation." The proposed research will further elucidate our understanding of how hibernators depress basic biochemical pathways used to maintain cellular integrity and how these animals are able to withstand this phenomenon. A better understanding of hibernation may have profound implications for designing therapies for cardiac dysfunction, muscle disuse atrophy, and kidney failure. In addition to the outreach efforts of Desert Survivors, education at both undergraduate and graduate levels will be an integral part of this project.


The shows are designed and hosted by graduate students Candice Rausch and Jenifer Utz. Other vital collaborators include UNLV-TV, the Clark County School District, and all guests of the show. Upon completion of the series, there will be 12 episodes.

A series of twelve programs is complete. The programs are televised on UNLV-TV.

Episode 1: Red-Spotted Toads

Just what is a desert anyway? We answer this question and explore the life of one of our native amphibians, the red-spotted toad with Dr. Frank van Breukelen as our guide.

Episode 2: Hot Springs Microbes

Who knew Nevada was covered in hot springs? Dr. Brian Hedlund did, and he discusses microbial communities in these extreme habitats.

Episode 3: Zooplankton of Temporary Ponds

What happens when it rains in Nevada? Dr. Peter Starkweather tells us about the temporary ponds that form and the invertebrate life that fills them, seemingly from nowhere.

Episode 4: Desert Pupfish

Desert Survivors in court? James Deacon, Ph.D. and Nancy Hadlock help us explore the fascinating world of the desert pupfish and their appearance in the Supreme Court.

Episode 5: Owls in the desert and other microhabitats

What does it mean to hear in 3-D? Markus Mika teaches us about flight and the awesome sensory systems that owls use to navigate.

Episode 6: Be glad you’re not a scorpion!

Did you know that scorpions glow under UV light? Rob Fulton leads us on a nighttime scorpion hunt at the Desert Studies Center. Dr. John Lighton designs scientific equipment used to study scorpions and other organisms; he teaches us how difficult it can be for a scorpion to survive.

Episode 7: Plants, our greatest survivors?

Would you be able to survive in the desert if you were rooted in place? Dr. Stan Smith teaches us about the physiological adaptations that allow desert plants to survive under extreme conditions.

Episode 8: Bees do more than make honey

Do you know that bees and other insects are important for the survival of some desert plants? Dr. Stephen Roberts and Dr. Michelle Elekonich lead us on an exploration of the many roles insects serve in the desert ecosystem.

Episode 9: Diversity of desert Reptiles

Get up close and personal with lizards, tortoises, and snakes! Alex Heindl explores the fascinating variety of Mojave reptiles then Xavier Glaudas teaches us how to track rattlesnakes in the wild.

Episode 10: Exploring the evolutionary history of desert bats

How does echolocation work? We explore this fascinating sensory system and other interesting evolutionary questions with Dr. Brett Riddle as our guide.

Episode 11: Large mammals, a comparison of survival strategies

How does social behavior impact survival? We learn about bighorn sheep, coyote, and pronghorns with ungulate expert, Dr. Kathleen Longshore.

Episode 12: Humans, the best and worst desert survivors

Do you think of yourself as a desert survivor? Humans are the only organisms that inhabit all desert environments. The Springs Preserve Educational Staff help us explore past and present human cultures from the Mojave region and how we can preserve the unique habitat we live in.

Participating Elementary Schools and Teachers

  • Beatty Elementary School – Mrs. Downing and Ms. Crawford
  • Bryan Elementary School – Mr. Benish, Mrs. Cusimano, Ms. Gill, and Mrs. Fowler
  • Carl Elementary School– Ms. McWilliams
  • Darnell Elementary School – Mr. Konci, Mrs. Mace, Mrs. Thayer, and Mrs. Carter
  • Elizondo Elementary School– Mrs. Seward
  • Galloway Elementary School – Mr. Smith
  • Gibson Elementary School – Ms. Kraus
  • Guy Elementary School – Ms. Wolf
  • Herron Elementary School – Ms. Hodler
  • Hummel Elementary School – Ms. School, Mrs. Hayden, Mrs. Medbery, and Mrs. Laichter
  • Jeffers Elementary School – Mrs. Hodler
  • King Elementary School – Mrs. Posthuma
  • Lummis Elementary School – Ms. Sarbacher
  • McMillan Elementary School – Mrs. Romeo
  • Mendoza Elementary School – Mrs. Miric and Mrs. Cherry
  • Paradise Elementary School – Mrs. Leytham
  • Rhodes E.S. – Dr. Perkins and Mrs. Taggart
  • Twitchell E.S. – Mrs.Christensen
  • Walker E.S. – Mrs. Majernik
  • Woolley E.S. – Mrs. Cothran
  • Wynn E.S. – Ms. Barrow