Animals in the Desert of Utah

Mojave Desert vegetation, with Yucca growing in the foreground.
Mojave Desert vegetation, with Yucca growing in the foreground. (Image: Mojave Desert 6420 image by St Clair Photography from

Western Utah is included in the Great Basin Desert. This desert is dominated by Great Basin sagebrush, or Artemisia tridentata, giving it a monotonous rolling aspect. This is a cold winter desert at elevations of 4,000-5,000 feet. Southern Utah contains the eastern-most extension of the lower-elevation cold-winter Mojave Desert with cacti, creosote bush, and yuccas. Utah desert animals endure daily and seasonal temperature extremes and extended periods of drought.

Insects and Other Invertebrates

Tarantulas are found in both types of desert, as are their parasite, the orange-winged large pepsis wasp called the tarantula hawk. Native bees abound, many of them solitary ground-dwellers. Grasshoppers, butterflies and ants are plentiful. A large brown flightless katydid called the Mormon cricket is present, sometimes in large enough numbers to damage plant life. The Coral Pink Sand Dunes tiger beetle is an endangered species that is found only in Kane County in southern Utah.

Tarantulas are found in Utah's deserts.
Tarantulas are found in Utah's deserts. (Image: tarantula image by Tonda from


Flattened desert horned lizards and greater short-horned lizards bury themselves in sandy soils to survive winter and to escape heat. Other common small lizards are the lesser earless lizard, the sagebrush lizard, sideblotched lizard, zebra-tailed lizard, and eastern fence lizard. Large lizards include the desert spiny lizard, desert iguana, chuckwalla, eastern collared lizard and the long-nosed leopard lizard.

Chuckwallas inhabit rocky crevices in desert areas.
Chuckwallas inhabit rocky crevices in desert areas. (Image: black chuckwalla image by from


Several rattlesnakes inhabit Utah's deserts. The Mojave rattlesnake is perhaps the most dangerous rattlesnake in America due to its potent neurotoxic venom. Sidewinders, speckled rattlesnakes, green prairie rattlesnakes and Great Basin rattlesnakes prey primarily on different kinds of rodents. The speckled rattlesnake native to southwestern Utah is on the Utah Sensitive Species List. Nonvenomous snakes include the king snake, red racer, gopher snake, ground snake, Western patch-nosed snake, and the ground snake. Snakes den up during cold winter months.


The Beaver Dam Slope desert tortoise occurs in extreme southwestern Utah. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists it as threatened.


The Great Basin spadefoot toad is found in sagebrush desert, as is the Great Plains toad and western toad. Southwestern Utah's Mojave Desert is home to red-spotted toads.


Mojave Desert areas are home to the Kestrel, cactus wren, ferruginous hawk, Gambel's quail, roadrunner, verdin and the ladder-backed woodpecker. Sage-hens, the largest North American grouse, are limited to sagebrush-covered plains. Other Great Basin birds include the kestrel, ferruginous hawk, horned lark, mourning dove, red-tailed hawk, sage thrasher, sage sparrow, and turkey vulture.

Roadrunners inhabit deserts of Utah.
Roadrunners inhabit deserts of Utah. (Image: roadrunner image by Earl Robbins from

Small Mammals

Smaller rodents include woodrats; deer and canyon mice; desert, Ord's, chisel-toothed, and dark kangaroo rats; Great Basin, plains, and long-tailed pocket mice; the white-tailed antelope squirrel; Piute ground squirrel; and the sagebrush vole. Bigger rodents are rock squirrels and porcupines. The pygmy rabbit occurs in sagebrush desert. Black-tailed jackrabbits are found in both desert areas, as is the cottontail rabbit. The commonest bat is the little brown myotis.

Large Mammals

Canids found in desert areas are coyotes, gray foxes and kit foxes. Other predators include bobcats and badgers. Striped and spotted skunks, ring-tailed cats and raccoons are also present. Mule deer overwinter in lower-elevation deserts where snow is lighter. Desert bighorn sheep occur in the southern part of Utah. Pronghorn antelope are common in the Great Basin desert.

Pronghorn antelope are common in Utah's Great Basin Desert areas.
Pronghorn antelope are common in Utah's Great Basin Desert areas. (Image: baby antelope image by PHOTOFLY from

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