Desert Plants and Animals

Collared Peccary


Peccaries have large heads and long snouts with thick coats of dark-gray, bristly hair and band of white hair (collar) around the neck. A mane of long, stiff hairs runs down the back from head to rump, where scent gland is located.

The adult male Collared Peccary is 46 to 60 inches in length and is usually 20 to 24 inches in height. The adult male weighs between 40 and 60 pounds.

The Peccary is colored a grizzled black and gray overall with a dark dorsal stripe but is lighter around the shoulders. The fur is very coarse.

The young are reddish to yellow-brown in color. In adults there is a mane that extends down the crown of the head to the rump, which is most obvious when the Peccary is excited.


Peccaries usually travel in a band from 6 to 12 although as many as 50 have been seen together. They are most active during early morning and evening when it is cooler. Members eat, sleep, and forage together. The exceptions are the old and infirm, who prefer to die in solitude. Herds have a characteristic linear dominance hierarchy, wherein a male is always dominant and the remainder of the order is largely determined by size.

Peccaries tend to remain near permanent sources of water. Unlike Coyotes and Bobcats, Peccaries are unable to evaporate moisture through panting to prevent overheating. During the fierce heat of midday, Peccaries bed down in the shade and forage where it's cooler.

Territories are defended by the rubbing of the rump oil gland against rocks, tree trunks and stumps. Collared Peccaries fend off adversaries by squaring off, laying back their ears, and clattering their canines. In fight, they charge head on, bite, and occasionally lock jaws.
Food & Hunting

Collared Peccaries move about in small family groups, eating roots, fruits, insects, worms, and reptiles. Collared Peccaries are primarily herbivorous, and have complex stomachs for digesting coarsely-chewed food. In the northern range, Collared Peccaries eat more herbivorous foods, such as roots, bulbs, beans, nuts, berries, grass and cacti. Despite all this supplementary diet, the main dietary components of this species are agaves and prickly pears.

Geography – Range
The Chihuahuan and Sonoran Deserts of southwestern Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, southward through Central America to northern Argentina.

Vital Stats

  • Weight: 35-60 lbs.

  • Length with tail: 40-60"

  • Shoulder Height: 20-24"

  • Sexual Maturity: 2 years

  • Mating Season: year round

  • Gestation Period: 140-150days

  • No. of Young: 1-3, 2 avg.

  • Birth Interval: 1 year

  • Lifespan: 10 years in the wild

  • Typical diet: agaves and prickly pears
  • Facts

    Collared Peccary is the only wild, native, pig-like animal found in the United States.

    The Collared Peccary, also known as the Javelina, Tayaussa or the Musk Hog.

    They are called Javelina because of their razor-sharp tusks, Spanish for javelin or spear.

    You may smell a peccary before you see it.

    The prickly pear is ideal food for the Collared Peccary due to its high water content.

    Collared Peccary have poor eyesight and good hearing.

The Bobcat - Felis rufus

There is only one species of Bobcat in California and in the southwestern deserts -- Felis rufus. It has the widest and most continuous range of any California carnivore and is found throughout all the deserts of the American Southwest.


Bobcats are found in almost all types of habitat -- except metropolitan areas -- especially in mountains and even in desert areas where water is available. In fact it ranges through all four deserts of the American Southwest, but favors rocky, brushy hillsides on which to live and hunt.


The name Bobcat may have originated from its short tail, which is only 6 or 7 inches long. The end of its tail is always black, tipped with white, which distinguishes the Bobcat from its northern cousin, the Canadian Lynx, whose tail is tipped solid black.

The Bobcat has long legs and large paws. Large specimens can weigh up to 30 pounds, but the average Bobcat is only 15 to 20 pounds. The Bobcat's growls and snarls are so deep and fearsome, particularly when hidden from view, that one gets the mis-impression it must be a Mountain Lion.

Geographic variations have some effect on their color. Those found in timber and heavy brush fields are darker with rust-colored tones, while those found in the Great Basin area of northeastern California generally are a paler tawny-gray, often with a complete absence of spots on the back and less distinct markings. The coat in wintertime is a beautiful fur.


Despite its pussycat appearance when seen in repose, the Bobcat is quite fierce and is equipped to kill animals as large as deer. When living near a ranch, it may take lambs, poultry and even young pigs. However, food habit studies have shown Bobcats subsist on a diet of rabbits, ground squirrels, mice, pocket gophers and wood rats. Quail have been found in bobcat stomachs, but predation by bobcats does not harm healthy game populations.

The Bobcat roams freely at night and is frequently abroad during the day except at the peak of summer. It does not dig its own den. If a crevice or a cave is not available, it will den in a dense thicket of brush or sometimes choose a hollow in a log or a tree.

Bobcats occupy areas from 1/4 of a square mile to as much as 25 square miles, depending on the habitat and sex of the Bobcat. Female Bobcats occupy smaller areas than males and normally do not associate with other female bobcats. Males roam wider than females; while they are not particularly tolerant of other males, the home ranges of males will overlap those of both males and females.


All four deserts of the American Southwest and beyond.


Chaparral, wooded areas and among boulders on the slopes of rocky ridges in canyons and open desert.


The Gray Fox is the only member of the dog family that can climb trees, usually to seek refuge or in search of roosting birds. It can reach a speed of 28 mph for short distances and has lived for up to 10 years in captivity; longevity in the wild is probably much shorter.

The Gray Fox is smaller in size than the Coyote -- usually 32 to 45 inches long, and weighs 7 to 11 pounds. Its coloration is grizzled gray on top, with a white throat extending underneath; it is rusty-red along the sides. The tail usually has a black mane along the top, with a dark-gray or black tip. Gray Foxes have elongated muzzles and forward-pointing ears.

Although primarily nocturnal, The Gray Fox may sometimes be seen foraging during the day, seeking primarily small mammals, but being an omnivore, it will also eat eggs, insects, birds, fruits, acorns and berries.

If not using a hollow tree, the vixen (female) may dig her den into soil or enlarge the burrow of another animal. This den may be as much as 75 feet long and can have 10 or more exits. There are also numerous side chambers used for food storage and for the transfer of young, once a chamber becomes too soiled to inhabit.




Geography – Range

Throughout the Mojave, Sonoran, Chihuahuan and southern Great Basin deserts. They are in all the Southwestern states.


The legendary roadrunner is famous for its distinctive appearance, its ability to eat rattlesnakes and its preference for scooting across the American deserts, as popularized in
Warner Bros. cartoons.

The roadrunner is a large, black-and-white, mottled ground bird with a distinctive head crest. It has strong feet, a long, white-tipped tail and an oversized bill.

It ranges in length from 20 to 24 inches from the tip of its tail to the end of its beak. It is a member of the Cuckoo family (Cuculidae), characterized by feet with 2 forward toes and 2 behind.

When the roadrunner senses danger or is traveling downhill, it flies, revealing short, rounded wings with a white crescent. But it cannot keep its large body airborne for more than a few seconds, and so prefers walking or running (up to 17 miles per hour) usually with a clownish gait.


The roadrunner makes a series of 6 to 8, low, dovelike coos dropping in pitch, as well as a clattering sound by rolling mandibles together.


The roadrunner has a long, graduated tail carried at an upward angle.


The roadrunner has long stout legs.


The roadrunner is uniquely suited to a desert environment by a number of physiological and behavioral adaptations:

Its carnivorous habits offer it a large supply of very moist food.
It reabsorbs water from its feces before excretion.
A nasal gland eliminates excess salt, instead of using the urinary tract like most birds.
It reduces its activity 50% during the heat of midday.
Its extreme quickness allows it to snatch a humming bird or dragonfly from midair.


The roadrunner inhabits open, flat or rolling terrain with scattered cover of dry brush, chaparral or other desert scrub.

Food & Hunting

The roadrunner feeds almost exclusively on other animals, including insects, scorpions, lizards, snakes, rodents and other birds. Up to 10 % of its winter diet may consist of plant material due to the scarcity of desert animals at that time of the year.

Because of its lightening quickness, the roadrunner is one of the few animals that preys upon rattlesnakes. Using its wings like a matador's cape, it snaps up a coiled rattlesnake by the tail, cracks it like a whip and repeatedly slams its head against the ground till dead.

It then swallows its prey whole, but is often unable to swallow the entire length at one time. This does not stop the roadrunner from its normal routine. It will continue to meander about with the snake dangling from its mouth, consuming another inch or two as the snake slowly digests.

Curious Facts

Roadrunners are quick enough to catch and eat rattlesnakes.

Roadrunners prefer walking or running and attain speeds up to 17 mph. hour

The Roadrunner is also called the Chaparral Cock.

The Roadrunner reabsorbs water from its feces before excretion.

The Roadrunner’s nasal gland eliminates excess salt, instead of using the urinary tract like most birds.

The Roadrunner is the state bird of New Mexico.

Vital Stats

Weight: 8-24 oz.

Length: 20-24 inches

Height: 10-12"

Sexual Maturity: 2-3 yrs.
Mating Season: Spring
Incubation: 18-20 days
No. of Eggs: 2-12
Birth Interval: 1 year

Lifespan: 7 to 8 years

Typical diet: insects, lizards, snakes


Saguaro Cactus


Sonoran Desert of extreme southeastern California, southern Arizona and adjoining northwestern Mexico.


Desert slopes and flats, especially rocky bajadas.


Creamy-white, 3-inch-wide flowers with yellow centers bloom May and June. Clustered near the ends of branches, the blossoms open during cooler desert nights and close again by next midday.


The magnificent Saguaro Cactus, the state flower of Arizona, is composed of a tall, thick, fluted, columnar stem, 18 to 24 inches in diameter, often with several large branches (arms) curving upward in the most distinctive conformation of all Southwestern cacti.

The skin is smooth and waxy, the trunk and stems have stout, 2-inch spines clustered on their ribs. When water is absorbed , the outer pulp of the Saguaro can expand like an accordion, increasing the diameter of the stem and, in this way, can increase its weight by up to a ton.

The Saguaro often begins life in the shelter of a "nurse" tree or shrub which can provide a shaded, moister habitat for the germination of life. The Saguaro grows very slowly -- perhaps an inch a year -- but to a great height, 15 to 50 feet. The largest plants, with more than 5 arms, are estimated to be 200 years old. An average old Saguaro would have 5 arms and be about 30 feet tall.

The Saguaro has a surprisingly shallow root system , considering its great height and weight. It is supported by a tap root that is only a pad about 3 feet long, as well as numerous stout roots no deeper than a foot, emanating radially from its base. More smaller roots run radially to a distance equal to the height of the Saguaro. These roots wrap about rocks providing adequate anchorage from winds across the rocky bajadas.

The slow growth and great capacity of the Saguaro to store water allow it to flower every year, regardless of rainfall. The night-blooming flowers, about 3 inches wide, have many creamy-white petals around a tube about 4 inches long. Like most cactus, the buds appear on the southeastern exposure of stem tips, and flowers may completely encircle stems in a good year.

A dense group of yellow stamens forms a circle at the top of the tube; the Saguaro has more stamens per flower than any other desert cactus. A sweet nectar accumulates in the bottom of this tube. The Saguaro can only be fertilized by cross-pollination -- pollen from a different cactus. The sweet nectar, together with the color of the flower, attracts birds, bats and insects, which in acquiring the nectar, pollinate the Saguaro flower.

Unlike the Queen of the Night cactus, not all of the flowers on a single Saguaro bloom at the same time. Instead, over a period of a month or more, only a few of the up to 200 flowers open each night, secreting nectar into their tubes, and awaiting pollination. These flowers close about noon the following day, never to open again. If fertilization has occurred, fruit will begin to form immediately.

The 3-inch, oval, green fruit ripens just before the fall rainy season, splitting open to reveal the bright-red, pulpy flesh which all desert creatures seem to relish. This fruit was an especially important food source to Native Americans of the region who used the flesh, seeds and juice. Seeds from the Saguaro fruit are prolific -- as many as 4,000 to a single fruit -- probably the largest number per flower of any desert cactus.

While the Whitewing Dove (whose northern range coincides with range of the Saguaro) is one of its primary pollinators, it is the Gila Woodpecker and the Gilded Flicker who make their home in the Saguaro Cactus by chiseling out small holes in the trunk.


Creosote Bush


All four southwestern deserts. Southern Nevada, extreme southwest Utah, southeastern California, southern third of Arizona, southern New Mexico, into west Texas and south into Mexico.


Well-drained slopes and plains, especially those with a layer of caliche, up to 4,000 feet. Often the most abundant shrub, even forming pure stands.


Inch-wide twisted, yellow petals bloom from February-August. Some individuals maintain flowers year round. After the Creosote blooms the flower turns into a small white fuzzy fruit capsule that has 5 seeds. You can find these seed capsules on the ground under the creosote bushes.


Globose, hairy, reddish-white.


The Creosote Bush is the most characteristic feature of North America's hot deserts. It is one of the best examples of a plant that tolerates arid conditions simply by its toughness. It competes aggressively with other plants for water, and usually wins, accounting for its prevalence in many arid locations of the southwest.

This medium-to-large evergreen shrub has numerous flexible stems projecting at an angle from its base. It is usually less than 4 feet high, but can grow to 12-foot heights with abundant water. Its small (1/4 to 1/2 inches), pointed, yellow-green leaves have adapted to conserve water and dissipate heat. The bush may lose some of these waxy, resinous leaves during extreme drought, but never loses them all. These leaves are especially pungent after a rain, and have been used as antiseptics and emetics by native peoples. Its foliage provides refuge for crickets, grasshoppers and praying mantids.

How to grow from seeds.

Place several of these seed capsules in a shallow pan cover with boiling water. Let them soak over night, and then place a few seed capsules in a pot with soil and start to water. Thin out the extra seedlings and plant.