Arizona Species Diversity

Feature Storyby Mia LaBarbara, Interpretive Education Planner, Western Region

Arizona is filled with many varieties of animals. We've put together a guide with some basic information about interesting species you can find in Arizona. Keep your eyes open while hiking or exploring an Arizona State Park, and you just might caught a glimpse of these amazing animals.

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

Western Diamondback RattlesnakeSize: 34–83" long

The western diamondback is the largest rattlesnake in the Western end of North America and can be identified by broad white and black bands on its tail. It ranks as one of the most dangerous snakes in the world due to its reluctance to give ground when faced with a threat. The rattle of its tail is a warning to those that would do it harm to retreat or else. Eats small mammals (mice, ground squirrels, rabbits) nestling birds, lizards, snakes, and amphibians. Park you might see one at: Catalina State Park.

Tarantula

TarantulaSize: body up to 2" long, leg span approximately 5", weight up to ½ ounce

Tarantulas are the largest and hairiest spiders in the United States. They have eight eyes, though to what avail is unclear given that they are unable to see more than a few inches and must, when hunting or moving about, rely instead on their hairs, which serve as sensory receptors. Unlike other spiders, they do not spin webs to capture their prey but rather hunt by night in the area adjacent to their burrows. Just about any insect, including a fellow spider, so unwise as to venture into their territory, is subject to being pounced upon, injected with venom, predigested with enzymes, and slurped up. Park you might see one at: Picacho Peak State Park.

Coyote

CoyoteSize: body 32–40" long, height 15–20", weight 18–40 lbs

Coyotes occur in every habitat and are abundant in Arizona. Wild prey consists mostly of small mammals, such as, rabbits and rodents, but they are omnivorous and will eat just about anything given the opportunity. Coyotes have distinct howls and yelps that can be recognized by other coyotes over long distances. Often referred to in Native American lore as a trickster, the coyote is a classic symbol of the American Southwest. Park you might see one at: Slide Rock State Park.

Javelina

JavelinaSize: body 29–39" long, height 17–23", weight 35–60 lbs

Often mistaken for pigs, javelinas are actually in a separate classification called peccaries. Not to be slowed down by a little thing as sharp spines, the javelina’s favorite food is the Prickly Pear Cactus. Other common foods are flowers, fruits, bulbs, roots, grubs, and reptiles. Javelina live in herds typically of 8–12 individuals and prefer desert and arid woodland habitats. Park you might see one at: Tonto Natural Bridge State Park.

Desert Bighorn Sheep

Size: 4–4½' long, height at shoulders 2½–3½', weight 75–225 lbs

The desert bighorn sheep is one of Arizona’s most well adapted desert dwellers. Bighorns routinely seek out the hottest, driest, steepest, and seemingly most inhospitable habitats in which to make their homes. Common foods are mesquite, ironwood, jojoba, and grasses. When water is scarce, bighorns can get what they need by eating various cacti and agaves. Often depicted in rock art by early man, bighorns have been used for food, and even revered by some peoples. Mountain men and other early explorers often mentioned bighorn in their writings. Parks you might see one at: Cattail Cove State Park.

Hog-Nosed Skunk

<empty>Hog-Nosed SkunkSize: length including tail 9½–22½", weight 2½–6 lbs

The hog-nosed skunk is easily identified by its lack of stripe or entirely white back and tail plus, of course, its slightly upturned snout. All skunks are more or less omnivores, feeding on grasshoppers and other insects, grubs, worms, mice, lizards, bulbs, carrion, and garbage. Their odiferous smell is a defensive armament of small scent glands located near the rear end of the skunk. When threatened the skunk can eject the foul smelling scent at its’ would be predators. Park you might see one at: Oracle State Park. See also: Skunk Feature Story

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed hawkSize: body 19–26" long, wingspan 4–4½', weight 1½–4 lbs with females being largest

The red-tailed hawk is a common and widespread large raptor. While it’s plumage can very greatly from dark to light “phases”, the red-tailed hawk can usually be identified by its’ rust colored broad tail. Its main diet is small rodents, but will also eat insects and their larvae, fish, larger mammals, and other birds. The red-tails’ raspy cry is often used in TV and movies to represent the bald eagle, whose own cry is too meek to make the sound check. Park you might see one at: Dead Horse Ranch State Park.

Gila Monster

Gila MonsterSize: 18–24"

The gila monster is one of only two venomous lizards in the world. Unlike a snake that injects its venom with its fangs, gila monsters have venom in their saliva and will use their strong molars to break its prey’s skin allowing the saliva to enter. While rarely fatal to humans, the gila monster’s bite can be extremely painful. Common foods are small birds, eggs, small rodents, and other lizards. Park you might see one at: Catalina State Park.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue HeronSize: body 39–52" long, wingspan 6–7', weight 6–12 lbs

The great blue heron is the largest and most common of the heron species. Herons are commonly seen stalking their prey along lake shores, rivers and ponds. Often dining on aquatic species, such as, frogs, crayfish, snails and fish, great blues have been seen at Deadhorse Ranch State Park helping out the rangers by catching and eating nuisance gophers. Park you might see one at: Dead Horse Ranch State Park.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned OwlSize: body 18–25" long, wingspan 4–5', weight approximately 3 lbs

Great horns are easily distinguished from other owls by their large size and prominent “ear” tufts. The tufts are made up of feathers and aren’t really ears at all. Owls have ears off set on the sides of their head. This ear configuration, plus the ability to swivel their heads in incredible angles, give owls 3-D hearing that can locate and lock in prey. Common foods are rodents, smaller owls and birds, reptiles and insects. Park you might see one at: Oracle State Park. See also: Owl Feature Story

Horned Lizard

Horned LizardSize: 2–6½"

There are 16 species of horned lizards, sometimes referred to as horny toads, in the Western United States. They share common traits, such as, their colorations and spikes or horns. These are designed to camouflage the lizard, allowing it to blend in and look like a rock, sand, or leaf. If hiding doesn’t work to avoid predators, some species of horned lizards can squirt a foul blood from its eye to give its predator pause about eating it. Common foods are ants, other insects, spiders, and some plants. Park you might see one at: Catalina State Park.

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Photography by Arizona State Parks. Copyright © Arizona State Parks. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use prohibited. Photo of Great Horned Owl courtesy National Park Service.