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Desert Animals

This page features some of the animals, reptiles and invertebrates found in the arid regions of the South-West USA where cacti and other succulent plants grow.
You can download higher quality images by clicking on the pictures below.


Left: A round tailed squirrel emerges from its burrow under a clump of cactus in the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, Arizona. Don't mess with these animals ! They are fiercer than they look. Soon after posing for its photograph, this squirrel was observed harrassing a much larger snake which eventually gave up and slithered away. Photographed May 1997.


Left: The pig-like Collared Peccary or Javelina sleeps in the shade during the day and emerges in the early evening to forage for succulent foliage to browse, including Opuntia pads. Although these indviduals were solitary, they are commonly seen in family groups. Their sight is poor and they investigate their environment using their well-developed sense of smell. Mature males have small white tusks.

Javelina meat was used by American Indians when better food was unavailable. However, it is said to be rather greasy and unappetising.
Photographed in the Big Bend National Park, Texas, April 1993.


Left: Deer are relatively common in the Big Bend country.
Photographed on the lower slopes of Mount Emory in the Chisos Mountains of the Big Bend National Park, Texas, April 1990.


Left: Where there are warm rocks to sit on in the sun, there are usually lizards to be seen. This male greater earless lizard (Holbrookia texana) sporting Spring courtship colours was photographed in the Burro Mesa runoff area, Big Bend National Park, Texas. April 1990.


Left: The female greater earless lizard does not adopt bright colours in the Spring and is well camouflaged against the rocks. She relies on staying absolutely still to avoid detection, which is a reasonable strategy faced with predators such as snakes and larger reptiles whose vision is relatively insensitive to stationary objects.


Left: A large lizard under an Opuntia in the Boyce Thomson Arboretum, Arizona. Photographed May 1997.


Left: Never examine the flowers on a bush without looking underneath it first. Especially in Texas. An angry black-tailed rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus) photographed under a flowering Acacia in a canyon in the Big Bend National Park, Texas, April 1993.


Left: A green humming bird feeding on nectar from the flowers of desert milkweed Asclepias erosa by the road side adjacent to Turquoise Mountain near Chloride, Arizona.
Asclepias flowers generally produce generous quantities of nectar, which may sometimes be seen forming droplets in the flower centres. They are attractive to bees, butterflies and humming birds.


Left: This yellow millipede on limestone gravel by the Pecos river bridge near Langtry, Texas was about 4 in (100 mm) long and as thick as a pencil. These millipedes are harmless, unlike some of their relatives in the tropical rain forests which have a deadly poisonous bite. They walk around freely in the open, scavenging for decaying vegetation. When disturbed, they roll up into a tight loop and can exude a brown liquid which is toxic to insects and presumably distasteful to birds.

Millipedes in the Langtry area and elsewhere also come as BROWN and BLACK. As they grow, they periodically cast off their epidermis. These discarded relics and those from dead individuals can be found, bleached and white, throughout the deserts of the South-West.


Left: A variety of large grasshopper-type insects can be seen in the deserts of the world. This one, (ca. 2 in) at Langtry, Texas stayed motionless and relied on its excellent camouflage to hide it from predators.
A large grasshopper in a bush near Marfa, Texas.