Arizona’s official state mammal is the ringtail, a relative of the raccoon often called a Ringtail Cat or a Miner’s Cat because of its rodent-eating proclivities. Its huge, bushy white-and-black-ringed tail is its identifying feature, but it’s not likely you’ll see one unless you’re nocturnal.
The mountain lion or cougar is found, and hunted, throughout the state; smaller bobcats are often seen lounging near water features in Sonoran Desert backyards, and scrawny coyotes can be spotted quickly crossing highways throughout the state. In the western deserts a few bighorn sheep still cling to the dry rocky cliffs.
A few different species of jackrabbit can be found all over, and white-tailed and mule deer live from the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the mountain heights and most places in between. Pronghorn live on the high grasslands in herds. The collared peccary, or javalina, is everywhere in the desert and the transition zone, so much so that they are considered pests to some.
The black bear lives in the mountains throughout the state, and various species of bats come out in the Arizona night, responsible for pollinating and continuing the state’s signature cactus forests.
The desert is known as the home of the rattler, a snake seen more and more these days as the suburban attack on the desert continues. There are a few species of rattlesnake found in Arizona. The western diamondback, which has lent its name to the state’s world-champion baseball team, lives in the desert and the mountains and has deadly venom. His snakeskin is gray with brown, diamond-shaped splotches along the back and a series of black and white bands just above his rattle.
As with nearly all animals, the diamondback will leave you alone if you afford it the same courtesy. The light-brown western rattlesnake lives throughout the state, and the Arizona ridge-nosed rattlesnake, a reddish-brown or gray hunter of rodents and lizards, lives in the woodlands of southeastern Arizona.
Several different species of lizard can be seen all over the lowlands, doing push-ups on hot rocks. The desert’s most recognizable residents, these tiny left-over dinosaurs come in many shapes and sizes. One of the biggest is the fat and venomous gila monster, with its beady skin and languid looks. The monster can sometimes be seen sunning itself in and around Tucson. The only venomous lizard in the United States, it should be given a wide berth if encountered.
The slow and wise desert tortoise hides out from the desert sun in its burrow, and if it makes it past its soft-shell youth, when it’s a favorite of predatory birds, it can live up to a hundred years or more. Frogs and toads in Arizona include the Arizona treefrog, a lime-green forest resident, and the western spadefoot toad, which lives in the desert in a burrow and is a blotchy greenish brown with gray tints.
The bark scorpion is the crabby, pinching demon of the desert underworld; its venom is dangerous if it finds its way to the blood. The grand western cicada makes a racket in the woodlands on summer evenings. The hirsute desert tarantula looks much meaner than it is, cruising about in the early morning and early evening. You’re bound to encounter gnats and mosquitoes and other tiny pests in desert riparian areas and around upland lakes.
© Tim Hull from Moon Tucson, 1st Edition