It's A Veritable Zoo Out There!
Editor's Note: Last issue we presented the "official" state critters, but wait: there's more!
November 1, 2023
Though it’s thought of as a desert state, Arizona has a surprisingly wide variety of climates that support a wide variety of wildlife from rodents to reptiles, birds and large predators be they common and familiar or the rarest and the strange. Here is information about some of the animals in Arizona.
Much of Arizona’s wildlife can be found in its state parks and trails. The state parks include Catalina, Cattail Cove, Lyman Lake, Lost Dutchman, Patagonia Lake, Lake Havasu, the San Rafael State Natural Area, Tonto Natural Bridge, and the Verde River. These parks are found mostly in the central, southern, and western areas of the state.
Arizona’s small mammals include kinds of skunks and species of shrew. Some rodents found in Arizona are the American beaver, the North American porcupine, gophers, pocket mice, and kangaroo rats, voles, wood rats, cotton rats, and deer mice. The state is also home to the nutria, a largish, introduced rodent that’s a bit of a pest because of its voracious appetite for vegetation. Other rodents are types of chipmunks, squirrels, and prairie dogs.
Besides the ring-tailed cat, there is also the raccoon and the white-nosed coati. Mustelids are the river otter, weasels, ferrets, and the American badger. The collared peccary or javelina can also be found in Arizona’s state parks.
Deer And Other Ungulates
Mule deer, named for their large ears, and a subspecies of white-tail deer called the Coues whitetail occupy different habitats in Arizona. The mule deer, which is a bit more acclimated to the desert, can be glimpsed at Lost Dutchman and Picacho Peak State Parks, while the whitetail deer can be found in Patagonia State Park and Kartchner Caverns as well as Oracle State Park.
Arizona is also home to the Sonoran pronghorn, bighorn sheep, the American bison, and elks.
Arizona’s top predators include the coyote, the black bear, mountain lions, lynxes, and ocelots. A visitor might even glimpse a rare Mexican wolf, a subspecies of the gray wolf, or a jaguar. Black bears are seen in Tonto Natural Bridge as well as Slide Rock.
There are also three species of foxes: gray, kit, and red. Of the three of them the gray is the most common and can be found hanging out in mountainous regions or woods. Kit foxes known for their sandy brown fuzzy fur are far more elusive and tend to prefer arid regions.
Arizona birds include the state bird, the cactus wren. Birds are of course not confined to the state parks and can be found in city parks and backyards. They include hummingbirds, woodpeckers, warblers, goldfinch, grackles, phoebes, and sparrows. Birds that are found in places such as Dead Horse Ranch and Lyman Lake include waterfowl such as blue herons, black ibis, grebes, egrets, ducks, and geese. Roadrunners, quail, and owls can be glimpsed at Kartchner Caverns. Birds of prey include ospreys and several species of hawk.
The California condor is also seen in Arizona. Though much effort has been put into its conservation, this huge and magnificent bird is still endangered
The chuckwalla is a type of iguana and can be commonly seen in most of Arizona’s state parks. It’s an herbivore that can grow to 16 inches in length and change color to camouflage itself.
The famous Gila monster is known for the lovely patterns on its beaded skin and for being a rare venomous American lizard. It is difficult for a human to be envenomated by one of these robust-bodied lizards since the animal has to hang on and chew, but the venom is used to paralyze its prey. Dinner for the Gila monster includes birds, smaller reptiles, and small mammals such as mice. Gila monsters also eat carrion and eggs.
Arizona has several species of rattlesnake, with the Arizona ridge-nosed rattlesnake being the state reptile. The western diamondback rattler can also be found in most state parks. These snakes get their name because of the keratinous rattles at the ends of their tail that they shake when they feel threatened.
Arizona insects are of course found throughout the state. Besides the beautiful two-tailed swallowtail butterfly is the assassin bug, which has a fang to “assassinate” other insect prey and even prick human skin. Still, people welcome it in their garden as it hunts insect pests. Another insect is the ambush bug, which lies in wait on sunflowers and ambushes bugs that come too near. Other insects are the backswimmer, an aquatic bug that swims on its back, the broken-backed seed bug, a pest whose strange wing formation gives it its name, aphids, stinkbugs, squash bugs, ants, antlions, and water striders. There are many species of flies, wasps, bees, and dragonflies
Lovelier insects include the anise swallowtail butterfly, the Aphrodite fritillary butterfly, the candy-striped leafhopper, the Calleta silkmoth, mourning cloak, and monarch butterflies, the Carolina mantis, the dogbane leaf beetle with its iridescent green carapace, katydids, the goldsmith beetle, and the mottled tortoise beetle. Velvet ants, which are really wasps, are pretty but deliver a powerful sting.
Other Arizona arachnids include many types of spiders, including sac spiders, crab spiders, orb weavers, tarantulas, black widows, brown recluse spiders, house spiders, wolf spiders, the parson spider, and jumping spiders. There are also ticks, centipedes, sowbugs, camel spiders, and scorpions.
The Apache trout is not the only trout found in Arizona’s rivers, streams, and lakes. Others include the brook trout, the brown trout, the rainbow trout, and the cutthroat trout, named for the slash of bright red beneath its lower jaw.
Other fish found in Arizona are the Redear sunfish, the roundtail chub, tilapia and bass, walleye and white crappie, Arctic grayling, and bigmouth buffalo. Other fishes are species of dace, suckers, pupfish, spinedace and spikedace, mullet, topminnows, pikeminnows, and woundfin.