School of Life Sciences | Ask A Biologist

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AWalk in the Park

Desert Plants and Animals

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  • Habitat: the place where an animal or plant lives.
  • Palette (artist): a thin surface used to mix colors. A palette is often used by artists when they are painting... more

South Mountain Park Plants and Animals

How would you describe the desert? If you were an artist you might pick brown, beige, and grey as your main colors for your palette. Your list of plant and animals that could be added would likely include cacti, snakes, and lizards. You might also put in a vulture flying in the distance for effect. It is the desert after all and how many plants and animals could really live in such a place? The answer is hundreds and in some cases a few of them are only found in South Mountain Park.

Bird WatcherTo help you with your next trip to this desert habitat we have listed a few of the plants and animals you might see while hiking. Keep in mind that some do not live here year-round.

Birds

Bird watching is best in the early morning or in the late afternoon to evening. Be sure to bring your binoculars. If you are new to bird watching, we have both beginner and advanced birding guides that you can download. They have many helpful tips for all levels of birders. Also we have our Bird Finder that you can use to identify the birds you see or to prepare you before you head out for a hike.

Anna's Hummingbird Ganbel's Quail     Anna's Hummingbird       
Bendire’s Thrasher 
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher 
Canyon Towhee 
Canyon Wren 
Common Raven 
Curve-billed Thrasher  
Gambel's Quail 
Gila Woodpecker  Male Gambel's Quail      Anna's Humingbird
Gilded Flicker         Gila Woodpecker        Greater Roadrunner
Great Horned Owl 
Harris Hawk 
Red-tailed Hawk 
Greater Roadrunner 
Rock Wren 
Rufous-crowned Sparrow 
Scott’s Oriole
(In Early Spring)
 
  Gila Woodpecker      Greater Roadrunner


Reptiles

When the birds take a break from the heat, you can be sure to find some reptiles to observe. Besides a collection of lizards, one of which is only found in South Mountain Park, there are the usual snakes and Gila monsters. If you keep your eyes on the boulders along the trail you should see a few of the lizards. Also be sure not to place your hand or feet anywhere you cannot see. It will help keep you from getting too close to a snake.

Black-tailed rattlesnake                       Zebra-tailed lizard
Chuckwalla – orange-tailed (unique to South Mountain) 
Coachwhip 
Common side-blotched lizards 
Desert tortoise 
Gila monster 
Gophersnake 
Speckled 
Tiger whiptail Zebra-tailed Lizard
Western diamond-backed rattlesnake Gila monster
Western patch-nose lizard 
Zebra-tailed lizard 
  
  
  
  
  
  Gila monster


Mammals

While you might not see any of the four legged animals in the park, you might want to keep a close lookout for animal tracks and scat (poop). If you do see an animal it is likely one of these. Click the play button to listen in as Ranger Liz Smith give you the scoop on poop. You can also play the mp3 file here.


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Bobcat                                                             Javelina    
Coyote  
Gray fox  
Ground squirrel  
Jackrabbit  
Javelina  
Kangaroo rat  
Mule deer  
Pocket mouse          Javelina
Ringtail cat   Coyote scatCoyote  
White-throated woodrat          
  
  
  
  
  
  
           Coyote scat (left click to enlarge) and coyote (right)
        image by Sue in Az via Wikimedia Commons


Insects, Spiders and Arthropods

Yes, there are insects in the desert. Some of them fly, others walk along the ground. All have six legs. The spiders in the desert, like everywhere else have eight legs. The arthropods have many legs. In the park especially after a rainstorm you might see millipedes that have many legs and can be quite long (up to 10 inches). Many people mistake the millipede for the centipede which are poisonious. If you come across a millipede, you can leave it alone. It will not harm anyone.

Millipede
After a rainstorm the millipedes come out. These arthropods are not poisonious. So you can leave them alone.
Centipede
Unlike the millipede the centipede has a flat head, with a pair a front facing antennae, and two wicked looking pinchers called maxillae.

 

Plant Life

Not to be out done by the animals, many plants also live in the park. Some can be seen from all parts of the trail, others are more common in the desert washes where they can count on a regular supply of water. And all it takes is a few days of rains and South Mountain will show off its wildflowers. If you want to increase your chances of finding these plants, it is best to stick to the north facing hillsides.

 

Cacti              

Saguaro Cactus

Saguaro Cactus
image via Wikimedia Commons

    Barrels 
    Cholla 
    Hedgehog 
    Ocotillo 
    Pincushion 
    Prickly pear 
    Saguaro 
Creosote bush 
Elephant tree 
Green-barked 
Mexican gold poppie 
Orange-flowered globe mallow 
Palo verde trees 
Purple lupine 
Yellow-flowered brittlebush 


Bird Finder

With Bird Finder you can locate and learn about birds in the southwest. The collection has almost 300 birds. There are images, range maps, and their songs and calls. You can also select and compare different birds.

Share to Google Classroom

Be part of Ask A Biologist

by volunteering, or simply sending us feedback on the site. Scientists, teachers, writers, illustrators, and translators are all important to the program. If you are interested in helping with the website we have a Volunteer page to get the process started.

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Bird Finder

With Bird Finder you can locate and learn about birds in the southwest. The collection has almost 300 birds. There are images, range maps, and their songs and calls. You can also select and compare different birds.

Share to Google Classroom

Be part of Ask A Biologist

by volunteering, or simply sending us feedback on the site. Scientists, teachers, writers, illustrators, and translators are all important to the program. If you are interested in helping with the website we have a Volunteer page to get the process started.