The desert is an interesting and fascinating but also very hostile and unforgiving environment. Living here sounds like hardship and constant fighting for survival. And yet, there are animals who call this place their home, and they not only survive, they thrive here.
What comes to mind first are all kinds of lizards and iguanas. They are made for this environment. I'm not quite sure what kinds of iguanas or lizards these are - I suspect the first and third ones are Spinytail iguanas (but I can't say for sure) and the one in the middle is a Chuckwalla.
Of course our super survivalist, the coyote, calls the desert home just like he feels at home in so many other areas. No matter what other people say and think about coyotes, I love these animals. They preferred to escape the heat of the day by sleeping in the shade.
Do I see a smile on this face?
Another favorite of mine, misunderstood and hated by so many, is the wolf, and I was quite surprised to learn that wolves are found in the desert as well. Mexican Gray Wolf, that is - also known as lobo. It was once native to southeastern Arizona, southern New Mexico, western Texas and northern Mexico. It is now the most endangered gray wolf in North America. In a collaboration between the USA and Mexico, all remaining lobos in the wild were captured to prevent them from becoming extinct. Five wild Mexican wolves were used to start a captive breeding program from which captive-bred animals were released into recovery areas in Arizona and New Mexico to recolonize them in their former historical range. By now there are about 150 Mexican wolves living wild and about 240 in captive breeding programs.
They are stunningly beautiful animals.
Any idea who this paw belongs to?
It's a mountain lion (cougar, puma - take your pick) - yes, another one of my favorites. I was actually looking forward to seeing the cougar but she wasn't in the mood to present herself. Therefore, a picture from several years back, my all-time favorite:
Cougars, of course, are not limited to the desert. They also can be found in other environments and areas. Sometimes they venture into urban areas. Just a couple weeks ago a juvenile cougar strolled around our downtown mall in the early hours of a Monday morning. Every now and then mountain lions are also spotted in or near my neighborhood. I usually don't walk alone between dusk and dawn.
Another "desert cat" is the bobcat that - like the cougar - is also found in other areas. This one was resting in its cave and therefore the photo is mediocre at best.
There's an animal that looks like a pig - its home is the Sonora-Arizona desert, but it is also found throughout Central and South America. However, it's by no means a pig (don't ever call it a pig!) but a Collared Peccary or Javelina, as they are called here. Yes, they do look like wild pigs... but they aren't. They are very social animals and often form herds. They have scent glands under each eye and on their back; they use scent to mark herd territory and each other so that they quickly recognize Javelinas from outside their herd. They have communal spaces that they share - for example, they always poop in the same space. It's like their bathroom.
Bighorn Sheep live in the desert as well, and I can easily picture them in the rocky parts, climbing easily and watching their surroundings from their high point of advantage.
Of course opportunists make their home in the desert as well. Any place where we don't find these guys?
I can't forget the birds that live in the desert, many of which, like the Gila woodpecker, I only heard but didn't see. But I saw orioles and cactus wrens who were singing their little hearts out. Their song actually reminded me of sounds I had heard in Hawai'i. They loved to hang out in the Ocotillos.
And of course the most famous of them all, the Roadrunner:
All these photos were taken in the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum near Tucson. We have been visiting this place since 2002 and have always loved it. If you have never been and happen to be in that area, do yourself a favor and spend a few hours here. You won't regret it.