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A Guide to Our Desert Creatures

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park, with its unique blend of desert and mountain ecosystems, is home to a diverse array of wildlife species adapted to the harsh conditions of the Mojave and Colorado deserts.

Here are some of the creatures you may encounter during your visit. Please note, these are just a few examples of the wildlife that inhabit the area, in addition there are birds of prey, coyote, desert iguanas, chuckwallas and more. For more info you can stop at the JTNP Visitors Center.

Bighorn Sheep: The desert bighorn sheep, is a symbol of resilience and adaptability in the arid landscape. These majestic mammals roam the rugged terrain of the park, navigating steep cliffs and rocky slopes. With their distinctive curved horns, desert bighorn sheep are a prized sight for visitors lucky enough to spot them, as it's rare to see them. We've been here about 6 years and have only seen them in the park once!

Kangaroo Rat: I know, when you hear the word "rat", you probably think "gross" but the kangaroo rat is an important part of the ecosystem. These nocturnal rodents play a vital role in seed dispersal and soil aeration, helping to maintain the health of desert plant communities. With their long hind legs and distinctive hopping gait, kangaroo rats are well adapted to life in the desert, where they forage for seeds and vegetation under the cover of darkness. And they are kind of cute!

Desert Tortoise: A symbol of longevity and endurance, the desert tortoise is a protected species found throughout the Mojave Desert. These reptiles are adapted to life in arid environments, relying on specialized behaviors such as burrowing and estivation (which is a fancy way to say a "state of animal dormancy") to survive in extreme conditions. While encounters with desert tortoises are rare, visitors should keep an eye out for these slow-moving creatures, particularly during the cooler hours of the day. Please be mindful on the roads and drive slow! Never touch or move a desert tortoise, unless absolutely necessary.

Rattlesnakes: As one of the most iconic reptiles, the rattlesnake is a formidable predator found in Joshua Tree. We have several types of rattlesnakes (and also non-venomous snakes) in the area. You can tell a rattlesnake by its diamond shaped head and rattle (but sometimes baby rattlesnakes don't have their rattle yet). Rattlesnakes (and all snakes) play a crucial role in controlling rodent populations and maintaining an ecological balance in the desert ecosystem. They are pretty shy around people and are not aggressive unless bothered or startled. They are most active from April - June, during the evening hours before and right around sunset.  The best thing you can do to stay safe is to not put your hands or feet anywhere you can't see and to be aware of your surroundings.  If you are staying at one of our properties and you see a rattlesnake, we will be happy to call the local snake wrangler to move the snake to a safe location (for both you and the snake!).

Jackrabbit: The jackrabbit is a symbol of the desert's wild spirit. With its long ears and powerful hind legs, this swift-footed hare is well adapted to life in the open desert, where it forages for vegetation and avoids predators with lightning-fast bursts of speed. Visitors may spot jackrabbits darting across sandy washes and rocky terrain, particularly during the cooler hours of dawn and dusk. Some years they're more common than others.

Tarantula: Tarantulas are not as commonly encountered as some other wildlife in Joshua Tree but they do inhabit the area and can occasionally be spotted. During the mating season in the late summer and early fall, male tarantulas will venture out in search of females, increasing the chances of a sighting during that time.

Tarantulas are shy and non-aggressive towards humans.

If you're lucky enough to spot a tarantula during your visit to Joshua Tree, it's important to observe them from a respectful distance and avoid disturbing or harassing them. Tarantulas play a valuable role in the ecosystem as predators, helping to control insect populations and maintain ecological balance.

Kit Fox: Kit foxes, the smallest members of the fox family in North America, are a captivating sight. With their distinctive large ears and sandy-colored fur, these elusive creatures are well adapted to the desert environment. Kit foxes are primarily nocturnal, emerging at dusk to hunt for prey such as rodents, insects, and reptiles. While encounters with kit foxes are rare, you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of these agile hunters darting across the desert landscape in search of their next meal. As a protected species, kit foxes play an important role in maintaining ecological balance in the area. We're lucky enough to have a regular kit fox family visit us at Little Jo Cabin each year, when it's time for them to have their babies.

Yucca Moth:

The yucca moth, a small yet crucial pollinator that plays a vital role in the survival of Joshua Trees. This specialized moth is uniquely adapted to its environment, with a symbiotic relationship with the yucca plant. The female moth collects pollen from Joshua Tree flowers and transfers it to other flowers while laying her eggs. As the larvae hatch, they feed on some of the seeds within the fruit, ensuring that only the strongest seeds survive to germinate. This intricate relationship highlights the interconnectedness of species within the desert ecosystem and underscores the importance of protecting these fragile habitats for future generations.

Black Widow Spiders: Black widow spiders, with their glossy black bodies and distinctive red hourglass markings, are among the notable arachnids found in Joshua Tree National Park. While encounters with these venomous spiders are rare, visitors should exercise caution and be aware of their presence, especially in rocky crevices and secluded areas. Despite their fearsome reputation, black widows are typically reclusive and non-aggressive, preferring to retreat rather than confront humans. Their venom, though potent, is primarily used to subdue prey such as insects and small vertebrates. As with the rattlesnake, it's best not to put your hands or feet where you can't see them, as not to disturb any black widows.

Day Trip to the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens:

If you're looking to learn more about desert creatures and the desert environment, a day trip to the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens is great. They have creatures from many different deserts, in addition to our local wildlife. And you can also tour the different type of desert-friendly gardens they have. They do a lot of conservation work. If you're lucky, you can see some baby desert tortoise who are waiting for release, in their wildlife hospital.

Where to stay:

Head on over to our Guests page and you can search for properties. If you're looking for desert creature sightings of your own, you may want to search by "Out in the Desert", these are our properties in more rural settings, with the best chance of seeing more desert wildlife. If that's NOT what you're looking for, you can search by "In Town", where you have less of a chance of wildlife encounters :)


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