The vast expanses of sage brush and high desert that stretch acroos the Great Basin are home to 70% of all mammal species that occur in North America. From the kangaroo rat, which can survive without ever drinking water, to the mountain lion that slips through the forest on silent paws, the variety of wildlife is astounding. Don't expect to observe all of these animals at once, as many are secretive and have a low population density. With a little luck, good timing, and patience, a wide varirty of mammals may be seen as you hike or drive across the area.
Mountain Lions (pumas, cougars, wildcats, catamounts, panthers, etc.) average 6- 8 feet in length and ca weigh up to 250 lbs. These powerful animals can drag three times their own weight, jump up to 40 horizontal feet, 20 vertical feet or drop from 60 feet and land running. Incredibly solitary, cougars are found together only when a mother has young. Although they can be active at any time of day, they most commly seen at dusk or dawn when they are hunting deer and elk.
Coyotes are a highly adaptable species, found in many areas. This grey-red colored animal is dog-like in appearance. Unlike dogs, coyotes run with their tails down. Travelling in search of food sometimes up to distances of 400 miles, the coyote cruises at a speed of 25-30 mph. Coyotes eat nearly anything, from the meat of small mammals to insects and fruit. At dawn or dusk the coyote can be heard calling in a series of yelps followed by a long howl.
Bobcats derive their name from their short, 3-6 inch 'bobbed' tail. Their coats are tawny brown with stripes and mottled spots. Their average weight varies from 14 to 68 lbs. Bobcats are the most common North American wildcat and generally hunt snowshoe hares and cottontail rabbits.
Badgers are a formidable, if relatively small, presence across the Great Basin. Their bodies are flat and and their coats are light brown in color, with white and black stripes across the head. They prey on rattlesnakes and seem to be unaffected by the venom except when bitten on the nose. Badgers only weigh up to 25 lbs but most creatures avoid them because of their a skunk-like odor and large, powerful claws. If attacked, a badger will attempt to get to its burrow and block itself inside. An excellent digger, badgers can instantly build new burrow at a rate faster than a human can shovel. Badgers are valued in agricultural areas for their efficient pest control as they feed on rodents.
Rabbits and Rodents
Black-tailed Jack Rabbit
The black tailed jack rabbit is a desert animal commonly seen in the sagebrush and pinon communities. To withstand the heat of the desert sun, the rabbit spreads out its large, thin ears, releasing heat as blood travels through the veins. A popular prey for a variety of mammals and birds, the jack rabbit confuses the predator by zigzagging as it runs, and powerful back legs propel it to speeds of up to 30 mph.
Kangaroo rats are an amazing rodent able to live their entire lives without ever directly drinking water. The rats store food in cool, damp areas, which allows the grains to collect moisture They live in a series of underground tunnels, and usually never stray more than 30 feet from their homes. Foraging for food with jumps of up to 9 feet, these rodents have tan coloration above and white below. Their long tails are also distinctive with white stripes along the sides.
Packrats also known as woodrats, are fascinating animals found in caves and cliffs. Their habit of collecting an odd assortment of objects in their nests helped to earn them their name. They have a strong affinity for shiny objects such as coins, keys, or spoons. Their nests are valuable tools for climate research, as the contents can be preserved for thousands of years. By looking at plant materials found in nests, climatologists can determine what plant communities existed around the nest in a specific era. A mixture of brown and gray, these rats are 11 ½ - 18 ½” in length, and have a bushy tail used for balance. When threatened, the packrat may stomp his feet, producing a low tapping noise.
Yellow Bellied marmots are commonly found among rock piles up to 11,000 feet. Yellowish-brown in color with a yellow belly, marmots have white spots between the eyes and a bushy tail. Sometimes over 2 feet long, they weigh up to 10 lbs. Living in a rock shelter, marmots feed on a wide variety of greens, creating a layer of fat. This energy is used during hibernation which lasts from August to March. When frightened the marmot will issue a whistle sometimes described as its "song."
Last updated: June 3, 2023