Animals of the Arizona Desert

Arizona's deserts are teeming with wildlife.
Arizona's deserts are teeming with wildlife. (Image: arizona desert image by John Keith from

Arizona's deserts are replete with wildlife that blend so easily into the landscape that most visitors never see the variety of animals living among the low brush, rocks and cacti. Snakes, lizards, rabbits, deer, tortoise, big cats and birds of prey are among the creatures that call Arizona home. The second fastest mammal on the planet and one of the only two venomous lizards in the world are both native to Arizona's desert.


Coyotes, one of Arizona's most common animals, are found throughout the state. These wild relatives of domesticated dogs are so numerous that Arizona has an open hunting season on them. They are agile and quick, running at speeds of up to about 40 mph. Coyotes are also homebodies that rarely travel more than 15 miles from their dens. They eat small rodents, rabbits, birds snakes, lizards and sometimes larger animals such as deer.

Coyotes are common in Arizona.
Coyotes are common in Arizona. (Image: Eastern Coyote (Canis latrans) image by Steve Byland from

Desert Bighorn Sheep

Desert bighorns love steep, rocky slopes and cliffs from where they can see predators approaching. These vegetarians eat grasses, jojoba and cactus. Both males and females have horns, which they use for self defense and as a tool for splitting open cacti. These sure-footed climbers move quickly over rocky ground. Males can grow to about 200 lbs. Much of Arizona's desert bighorn population lives in the Black Mountains of northern Arizona.

Desert bighorns like the high, rocky terrain of the mountains.
Desert bighorns like the high, rocky terrain of the mountains. (Image: bighorn sheep 4 image by Joe Desjardins from


Javelinas, or collared peccaries, live among the trees and bushes of desert washes and steep eroded banks. This small, bristle-coated animal can grow to about 50 lbs. It has a short tail, sharp teeth and older adults grow small tusks. It's native to North America and looks similar to a pig, but the two are not related.

Javelinas resemble wild pigs, but the two are not related.
Javelinas resemble wild pigs, but the two are not related. (Image: javelina image by Mitchell Knapton from

Mountain Lion

Mountain lions were once prolific in North America, but their habitat has been greatly diminished. This large cat, also called panther, cougar and puma, lives among high rimrock where it can easily hide and hunt. Its sandy coat blends in with the desert landscape. Mountain lions can grow to about 8 feet long and can weigh 200 lbs.

Mountain lions have been pushed out of their native habitats by humans.
Mountain lions have been pushed out of their native habitats by humans. (Image: mountain lion image by Photoeyes from

Mule Deer

Mule deer are named for their large, long ears. They live in the low bushes and trees along desert washes and in desert foothills. Their light gray-brown coats blend into desert rock and sand, providing camouflage to keep them safe from predators. These vegetarians eat cactus fruits, leaves, cactus spines and grass, and the average buck weighs in around 150 lbs.

Mule deer are named for their long ears.
Mule deer are named for their long ears. (Image: Mule Deer image by Robert Ulph from

Pronghorn Antelope

Pronghorn antelope are making a comeback after near extinction in the early 1990s. They are small and quick and surefooted, and they have the distinction of being North America's fastest animal. Both male and female pronghorn antelopes grow horns. Pronghorns are smaller than deer with a light cinnamon-colored coat.

Ringtail Cat

The ringtail cat is not really a cat but a relative of the raccoon. Miners and prospectors sometimes kept these small, outgoing animals as pets. Their tails are striped like a raccoon, their faces are narrow like a fox and their feet are small and sure like a cat. Ringtail cats dine on cactus fruit, wild palm, rodents, birds and insects.

Sonora White Tail Deer

Sonora white tail deer live in high desert mountains in wooded areas where they can graze on leaves, twigs, grass, berries and acorns. Fawns are born with white spots, which they lose at about six months of age. Adults are small, less than 100 lbs., with a tan coat, white underbelly and white on the undersides of their tails.

Gila Monster

Gila monsters live in the mountain foothills of southern Arizona, eating rabbits, rodents and eggs. This large lizard can grow to more than 1 foot long. They are bright pink and black with large heads, small eyes, and short, fat tails. Gila monsters are one of two poisonous lizards in the world. Their bites are painful but rarely fatal to humans. Gilas were the first venomous animals in North America to gain legal protection; it's illegal to kill, collect or sell them in Arizona.

Desert Tortoise

Desert tortoises can live about 50 years and spend about half that time sleeping. They move slowly--about 20 feet per minute--and spend much of their time in cool burrows, sometimes hibernating through the summer. In Arizona deserts they live along rock slopes.

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