Animals of the Grand Canyon

Mammals

Mountain lion- also known as cougar

Mountain lion- also known as cougar

Desert bighorn sheep, thriving now that the competing feral burros have been removed, are a common sight, often in small bands moving along ledges. Coyotes, with their distinctive twilight song, are common, especially near water, as are ringtail cats and spotted skunks. Mule deer are common on both rims and throughout the canyon. Neatly clipped willows along streams are signs of beaver. Bats can be seen in the evening twilight as they dart after insects. Raccoons, mountain lions, bobcats, weasels, and gray foxes are rarer.

Woodrat middens are common in the desert scrub. These rodents live in well-protected burrows under boulders and overhangs, and bring twigs, cactus spines, and almost anything else that is loose, creating middens that may be used for many generations. Study of the midden contents often reveals details of past climate and vegetation patterns in the Grand Canyon.

In the rim forests, shrews, mule deer, black bear, elk, porcupines, red squirrels, and tassel-eared squirrels are all common. Black bear are generally shy of people and rarely seen.

Evolution of the Tassel-eared Squirrels

Two distinct species of tassel-eared squirrels have evolved on each rim, separated by the desert gulf they cannot cross. The two species were once a single species but drier, warmer weather after the last glacial period caused the forests to retreat to the highest part of the plateaus, and created the present desert environment in the Grand Canyon. As a result, the Abert squirrel, gray with white underparts, is found today on the South Rim and other ponderosa pine forests in Arizona, while the Kaibab squirrel, with its black belly and white tail, is found only on the Kaibab Plateau. Both squirrels have upright tassels on their ears and large fluffy tails. Tassel-eared squirrels are completely dependent on the ponderosa pine for their survival. They can often be seen running along the ground to the nearest tree or sitting high on a branch scolding at intruders.

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Reptiles

Gray fox

Gray fox

Reptiles inhabit most of the canyon below the rims but are more common near water, where their prey, small rodents, insects, and vegetation, is concentrated. There are many small lizards and two larges ones, the chuckwalla, and the Gila monster, which is over a foot long. Non-poisonous king snakes, gopher snakes, and racers are fairly common. Four species of poisonous rattlesnakes are found in the Grand Canyon- the Hopi, Great Basin, Mojave, and Grand Canyon pink rattlesnakes. All rattlesnakes are pit vipers and sense their prey through ground vibration and infrared (heat). Due to lack of water, reptiles are not as common in the rim forests, but you may see the mountain short-horned lizard.

Birds

Birds mostly favor the Colorado River riparian zone, and many are winter visitors, such as the bald eagle. Peregrine falcons nest on the cliffs of the inner gorges, and feed on the smaller birds and bats that are found near the river. Birds are not as common away from water, in the desert scrub and pinyon-juniper woodland. Two exceptions are the pinyon jay, which has a distinctive quiet, high-pitched, quavering caw, and the canyon wren, which has a melodic descending trill that echoes through the side canyon it calls home.

California condors, the largest North American land bird, were once native to northern Arizona and were reintroduced to the Grand Canyon region in 1996 as part of a plan to save them from extinction. They are now a common sight as they soar over the rim viewpoints, and their nearly 10 foot wingspan and triangular white patches on the underside of their wings makes them unmistakable.

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Amphibians

Bobcats

Bobcats

Great Basin spadefoot toad and Utah tiger salamander are common in the rim forests. The desert canyons don't seem to be the kind of place you'd expect amphibians, but the permanent tributaries and the Colorado River support red-spotted toads, Woodhouse's Rocky Mountain toad, and canyon treefrogs.

Fish

Non-native fish such as carp and trout dominate the Colorado River because of the artificial cold temperature of the water released from Glen Canyon Dam upstream of the Grand Canyon. These introduced exotics have driven the native squawfish, bonytail chub, and roundtail chub to extinction. Other native fish survive in the warm tributaries such as the Little Colorado River. These include flannelmouth sucker, speckled dace, and bluehead sucker. Surviving but endangered species include razorback sucker and humpback chub.

Insects and Spiders

Common insects of the coniferous forests and desert scrub include wasps, tarantula hawks, honey bees, stink bugs, black flies, beetles, black ants, and butterflies. Scorpions thrive in the lower deserts, while garden spiders, solpugids, wood spiders, black widow spiders, and tarantulas prefer the forests. Insects are common along the permanent streams and the Colorado River, including butterflies, black flies, mayflies, stone flies, beetles, moths, and fire ants. Giant hairy desert scorpions and bark scorpions are also common.

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