What Animals Live in Deserts?

What Animals Live in Deserts?
The desert may seem lifeless, with few plants and no animals in sight. Don't let appearances fool you, though: deserts are rich ecosystems filled with insects, reptiles, birds and other animals. All these creatures have evolved special adaptations that enable them to survive where most would perish. Many are nocturnal or crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk), so aren't likely to be out and about when you are. Others are camouflaged or wary, so you may not see them either. Here are a few from the southwest United States that you may recognize.


Many species of hawks and other raptors can be found in the desert, along with owls, ravens, cactus wrens, cliff swallows, quail, wild turkey, roadrunners, turkey vultures and woodpeckers. Migratory birds such as sandhill cranes, hummingbirds, herons and egrets live in the desert part of each year.


Small mammals in the desert include rabbits (cottontail and jackrabbit), many types of rodents (gophers, packrats, mice, kangaroo rats, squirrels, chipmunks), bats, skunks, raccoons, armadillos, javelinas and peccaries, and porcupines. Larger herbivores like deer, bighorn sheep, elk, pronghorn antelope and wild horses and burros can also be found. Predators include kit fox, coyote, bobcat, mountain lion, grey fox, black bear and wolves.

Reptiles and Amphibians

Common lizards in the southwest include chuckwalla, collared lizard, horned lizard, gecko and gila monster. Several species of snakes make their home in the desert, such as king snakes, coral snakes, gopher snakes and rattlesnakes. Desert tortoises and box turtles round out the reptile category, while a number of toads represent the amphibians.

Insects and Spiders

The desert has a multitude of insect species. Many kinds of ants, bees and beetles live here, as well as stinkbugs, walking sticks, ticks, termites, moths and butterflies, dragonflies, mosquitos, cicadas and praying mantises. Arachnids such as the brown recluse spider, wolf spider, black widow, tarantula and scorpion can also be found.


One type of animal you probably wouldn't expect to see in the desert is fish. But deserts in the southwest United States and northern Mexico are home to various species of desert pupfish, a tiny fish that is dormant much of the year and can tolerate extremes of temperature and salinity. Death Valley National Park, where this endangered animal is protected, boasts one of the largest desert pupfish populations.

Article Written By Peggy Hansen

Peggy Hansen holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from UC San Diego, Doctor of Medicine from UCLA, and completed postgraduate training at Stanford, Duke and Harvard. An award-winning writer and photographer, her work has been featured in Catnip, Herbalgram, Porter Gulch Review, and many online pieces. She's also a commentator for KQED-FM

Don't Miss a Thing!

All our latest outdoor content delivered to your inbox once a week.



We promise to keep your email address safe and secure.