These are some of the common desert critters found in Phoenix Mountain Park/Preserve. The preserve is their home. When visiting South Mountain, please enjoy their beauty from a safe, courteous distance. It is unlawful to move, touch, harm, or remove any wildlife from South Mountain Park/Preserve at any time.
Rock Squirrels are one of the largest members of the Scuridae family. They'll grow up to a foot in length (which doesn't include their bushy tail while can be nearly as long as their bodies). On the top of their coat, it's speckled with a grayish-brown while their backs become darker brown to black tone. Often times, they'll have a colored ring around their eyes and pointy ears. If these creatures become frightened or startled, they'll whistle a sharp oscillating call. Rock Squirrels are omnivorous, and will eat seeds, insects, mesquite beans, fruits, carrion, small birds and eggs. Their natural predators include hawks, roadrunners, coyotes, snakes and gray foxes.
Scorpions are nocturnal insects. They often ambush their prey, lying in wait as they sense its approach. Scorpion venom is used to subdue prey, and to defend against threats, as well as in the mating process. They consume all types of insects, spiders, centipedes, and other scorpions. As well as being predators, scorpions are also prey. Many types of creatures such as centipedes, tarantulas, lizards, birds, owls, and mammals, hunt scorpions for food.
The Desert Cottontail Rabbit is light colored, tan to gray, with a yellowish tinge. The underside of the body is whitish. The tail is rounded and looks like a cotton ball. The length of a desert cottontail is 13 to 17 inches; ears average 3 to 4 inches long; and the average weight is 2 to 3 pounds. They are most active early morning, late afternoon, and at night. Cottontails are herbivores, and eat a wide variety of plants, including grasses, shrubs and cacti. Cottontails are preyed upon by a number of predators, including eagles, great horned owls, hawks, coyotes, foxes, bobcats and humans.
The Desert Tortoise is an herbivore that may attain a length of 9 to 15 inches in upper shell length. At least 95% of its life is spent in burrows. There it is also protected from freezing while dormant, November through February or March. Herbs, grasses, shrubs, cacti, and flowers comprise a major portion of their diet. Ravens, Gila Monsters, Foxes, Roadrunners and Coyotes are all natural predators of the Desert Tortoise.
The Gila Monster is one of only two species of venomous lizards. The Gila Monster is a stout bodied lizard that grows 18 to 24 inches in length. It has black, orange, pink or yellow broken blotches, bars and spots, with bands extending onto its blunt tail. Its face is black, and it has small, bead-like scales across its back. During warm weather, the Gila Monster feeds at night on small mammals, birds, and eggs. Fat stored in the tail and abdomen during this period is utilized during the winter months.
Strictly herbivorous, the Chuckwalla reptile eats fruit, leaves, buds and flowers. When the Chuckwalla senses danger, it scurries between rocks and lodges itself tightly in crevices by inflating itself. They have a thick blunt tail, and grow 11 to 18 inches long. These lizards emerge in the morning and bask in the sun until its optimum body temperature of 100 - 105 degrees is reached. Male coloration may include black head, forelegs and upper trunk, and reddish yellow toward the rear or a showy bright red body. Females are usually a much less showy gray or brown with little pattern.
The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, which can exceed 7 feet in length, is the king of Southwestern desert rattlers. Its basic color ranges from brown to gray to pinkish. Its back is lined with dark diamond-shaped blotches outlined by lighter-colored scales. Several alternating black and white bands circle its tail. This snake takes up residence among communities of small mammals such as rabbits, ground squirrels, mice and rats; usually hunting at night. The Western Diamondback, especially the juvenile, often comes under attack itself. It may become a meal for an eagle, a hawk, roadrunner, kingsnake or whipsnake, coyote, or fox.
While the Javelina (Collared Peccary) looks similar to pigs, Javelina are classified in a family of their own because of anatomical differences. Javelina have large heads and long snouts with thick coats of dark gray bristly hair, and a band of white hair (or collar) around the neck. A mane of long, stiff hairs runs down the back from head to rump, where the scent gland is located. The adult male weighs between 40 and 60 pounds. They move about in small family groups, eating roots, fruits, insects, worms, and reptiles. Collared Peccaries are primarily herbivorous.
The Coyote is a member of the dog family. In size and shape, the coyote is like a medium-sized dog, but its tail is round and bushy and is carried straight out below the level of its back. At night coyotes both howl and emit a series of short, high pitched yips. Howls are used to keep in touch with other coyotes in the area. The coyote is an omnivore, and is usually able to exist on whatever the area offers in the way of food. Coyotes eat meat, either fresh or spoiled, and at times eat fruit and vegetable matter.
Gambel's Quail are pear shaped birds with short legs and roundish wings. They eat seeds of grasses, shrubs, trees, and cacti as well as fruits and berries. They are ground feeders, generally seeking food in the morning and afternoon. These birds often join together in groups known as coveys, which may total 20 or more individuals in fall and winter. Natural predators include bobcats, hawks, rats, king snakes, and coachwhips.
The Cactus Wren has a dull rusty colored crown, streaked back, heavily spotted breast, with tawny colored sides and belly; wing and tail feathers are barred black and white. The Cactus Wren primarily eats insects, including ants, beetles, grasshoppers, and wasps. Occasionally, it will eat seeds and fruits. The Cactus Wren has been the state bird of Arizona since 1931.
The Gray Fox is smaller in size than the Coyote. They are usually 32 to 45 inches long, and weigh 7 to 11 pounds. Its coloration is grizzled gray on top, with a white throat extending underneath. Although primarily nocturnal, the Gray Fox may sometimes be seen foraging during the day. They eat small mammals, but being an omnivore, they will also eat eggs, insects, birds, fruits, and berries.
The Ringtail: The name "ringtail" comes from the seven or eight black rings on the animal's tail. Although they are not related to cats, people have referred to them as miner's cat (historically appreciated as a mouser), civet cat (because of pungent secretion from anal glands), and cacomistle (an Aztec Nahuatl term meaning half mountain lion). Along with raccoons and coatimundis, ringtails are members of the Procyonidae (raccoon) family. The scientific name, Bassariscus astusus, comes from bassar (fox), isc (little), and astut (cunning).
Copyright 2009 The E.W. Scripps Co. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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