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Desert Wildlife - Mammals;
Joshua Tree National Park - Wildlife:


The chief obstacles to survival in the desert are lack of water, shortage of food, and extreme temperatures. Mammals, including humans have the ability to maintain a constant body temperature regardless of external conditions. This has advantages and disadvantages in the desert. Mammals can endure a large range of air temperatures, but are unable to tolerate even a small change in body temperature without encountering problems.

When most mammals get hot they perspire, and the evaporation of this water cools them down and helps maintain a constant body temperature. Some mammals use panting to produce the same effect. Both methods work well, but they have an important drawback for life in the desert. They involve substantial loss of water. Where water is in short supply, animals must minimize water loss. Thus, few desert mammals use perspiration or panting as their main method of keeping cool.

Because scarcity of food in the desert limits the number of large mammals that can be supported, most desert mammals are small. Joshua Tree National Park is home to 52 species of mammals. Of these, 24 are small rodents. Being small has its advantages and disadvantages. Rodents can burrow into the ground or hide in rocky crevices to avoid the mid-day heat. But their small body size means that they can gain or lose body heat rapidly. Many of them plug the entrance to their burrows to keep out the hot, desiccating air.

Most small mammals make the most of the positive side of being small, spending the day in burrows and emerging at night when the temperature drops to a more comfortable level. The larger mammals, such as mule deer and mountain sheep stay close enough to springs to be able to drink daily.

A few desert mammals, such as the round-tailed ground squirrel, a diurnal rodent, enter a state of aestivation when the days become too hot and the vegetation too dry. They sleep away the hottest part of the summer. They also hibernate in winter to avoid the cold.

Many of our Joshua Tree mammals are paler in color than their relatives in more moderate environments. Pale colors not only ensure that the animal will absorb less heat from the environment, but help make it less conspicuous to predators in the bright, pallid landscape.

Most desert mammals are herbivores and derive water directly from the plants they eat. Some, like kangaroo rats, have extreme adaptations enabling them to live without ever drinking water. They have super efficient kidneys that extract most of the water from their urine and return it to the blood. And much of the water that would be lost in breathing is recaptured in the nasal cavities by specialized organs. If that weren’t enough, kangaroo rats actually manufacture water metabolically from the digestion of dry seeds!

Badgers, Skunks, Weasels

    American Badger
    Taxidea taxus berlandieri
    low desert (uncommon)

    Western Spotted Skunk
    Spilogale gracilis gracilis
    rocky canyons, western part of the park (uncommon)

    Long-tailed Weasel
    Mustela frenata latirosta
    western part of the park (rare)



    California Black Bear
    Ursus Americanus californianus
    occasional migrant, western part of the park (uncommon)




Deer & Sheep

Rabbits & Hares


    Dusky Chipmunk
    Tamias obscurus davisi
    pinyon-juniper woodlands (common)

    White-tailed Antelope Squirrel
    Ammospermophilus leucurus leucurus
    parkwide (common)

    Western Mojave Ground Squirrel
    Spermophilus beecheyi parvulus
    western part of the park, especially rocky areas (common)

    Mojave Round-tailed Ground Squirrel
    Spermophilus tereticaudus tereticaudus
    low desert (common)

    Mojave Pocket Gopher
    Thomomys bottae mojavensis
    loose deep soil, northern part of the park (common)

    Coachella Pocket Gopher
    Thomomys bottae rupestris
    loose deep soil, southeastern part of the park (common)

    Eastern Spiny Pocket Mouse
    Chaetodipus spinatus spinatus
    isolated populations in canyons and near springs (common)

    Pallid (San Diego) Pocket Mouse
    Chaetodipus fallax pallidus
    open desert (common)

    Narrow-nosed (Desert) Pocket Mouse
    Chaetodipus penicillatus angustirostris
    low desert: eastern part (common)

    Mojave Little Pocket Mouse
    Perognathus longimembris longimembris
    parkwide (common)

    Mojave Long-tailed Pocket Mouse
    Chaetodipus formosus mohavensis
    gravel or rocky ground, chiefly rocky washes, canyon mouths, and bajadas (common)

    Western Chisel-toothed Kangaroo Rat
    Dipodomys microps occidentalis
    known only from the Stubbe Spring-Juniper Flat area (rare)

    Merriam’s Kangaroo Rat
    Dipodomys merriami merriami
    parkwide (common)

    Desert Kangaroo Rat
    Dipodomys deserti
    low desert: sandy areas; eastern part (common)

    Desert Harvest Mouse
    Reithrodontomys megalotis megalotis
    known only from Keys View area (rare)

    Desert Wood Rat
    Neotoma lepida lepida
    parkwide: usually in rock outcrops or around larger plants (common)

    Eastern Dusky-footed Wood Rat
    Neotoma fuscipes simplex
    high elevations, western part of the park (uncommon)

    White-throated Wood Rat
    Neotoma albigula venusta
    rocky areas (uncommon)

    Southern Brush Mouse
    Peromyscus boylii rowleyi
    Lost Horse Valley-Queen Valley (uncommon)

    Desert Canyon Mouse
    Peromyscus crinitus stephensi
    parkwide: rocky canyons (common)

    Cactus Mouse
    Peromyscus eremicus eremicus
    parkwide: mesas, foothills, washes (common)

    Sonoran Deer Mouse
    Peromyscus maniculatus sonoriensis
    parkwide (uncommon)

    Southern California Pinyon Mouse
    Peromyscus truei chlorus
    pinyon-juniper woodlands (uncommon)

    Desert Grasshopper Mouse
    Onychomys torridus pulcher
    parkwide, except rocky or steep terrain (common)

    House Mouse
    Mus musculus domesticus
    human areas (common)


    Desert Shrew (Gray)
    Notiosorex crawfordi crawfordi
    western part, known only from two locations (rare)

Bighorn Sheep stay close to waterholes

White-tailed Antelope Squirrels stay active throughout the day

A furry, cute little cottontail watches for coyotes, hawks, eagles, bobcats and what-not. It seems everybody loves a cottontail.

A rock squirrel takes a moment to stop and smell the roses, er,... clarets as it may be.

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