The Sonoran Desert is a bustling ecosystem of wildlife and native fauna. While many of the animals that roam the Old Pueblo are not keen to humans, they are an integral part of Tucson’s identity. To see many of these critters up close and personal, but from a safe distance, the Sonoran Desert Museum offers an inside look into the natural habitat of many species that thrive in the dry climate.
When people think of the desert, the notorious image of a snake coiled and rattling usually comes to mind. Diamondback rattlesnakes live approximately 15-20 years, have a triangular-shaped head, and can sense heat to determine whether a nearby creature is predator or prey. Their rattles move at a staggering speed of 60 back and forth motions per second.
Another well-known desert inhabitant, the Arizona bark scorpion is a predatory consumer of insects, spiders, and sometimes other scorpions. They live in cool, moist places, and can climb up a variety of tall objects. At night, you can spot them with a blacklight, which causes them to glow a green, fluorescent color.
Although named a “monster,” the Gila monster is a heavy-bodied lizard that can grow to nearly two feet long. Living up to 35 years, it is well-known for its black and orange striped body. They use their venom to attack the nervous system of their prey, but lack many natural predators outside of the human race.
Resembling a wild boar, javelina have sharp canine teeth and travel in large, family packs. Though their canine teeth are long and dangerous, they are primarily herbivores. Because their eyesight is poor, it is best to stay a safe distance away from them until the group passes in order to prevent a charge.
One of the few desert species sometimes collected as pets, male tarantulas can live up to 12 years, and females can live double that amount. They are nocturnal eaters and can grow up to three to four inches. As a defense mechanism, they have hairs on their abdomen to sting the eyes and nose of their predators, which they shoot by kicking their back legs.
Although the above species are common to the area, many other creatures live in the Sonoran Desert. If you see wildlife out and about in Tucson, avoid touching, approaching, or angering them. While some are harmless, several desert-dwelling species are dangerous. Rule of thumb: watch and appreciate from afar.