Desert Adaptations

Joshua Tree's wild animals have adaptations that help them thrive in the desert environment. These adaptations help wildlife cope with scarce water resources and temperature extremes.

On your park visit, you're most likely to see birds, lizards, and ground squirrels because they are diurnal—active in daytime. But it is at night that the desert is most alive with wildlife, especially in summer when daytime temperatures soar over 100°F (38°C).

Some animals that are active at night include snakes, bighorn sheep, kangaroo rats, coyotes, and black-tailed jackrabbits. Dawn and dusk are good times for viewing many kinds of animals, because you can see both those just going to bed and those just getting up.

Being active at night is a great way to beat the heat. So is seeking shelter. You won't have to walk far in the desert before you notice many holes in the ground. These underground burrows are places where reptiles and small mammals take refuge from the blazing summer sun or huddle for warmth in the winter.

Water sources are few and far between in the desert, so most Joshua Tree animals don't need to drink as much or as often as people do. Desert mammals use water more efficiently than humans. Reptiles have physiological adaptations that allow them to drink very little water, and birds can fly to water sources when they need a drink.

Most of Joshua Tree's reptiles, as well as many small rodents and insects, go into an inactive state of torpor or hibernation during the winter. Winter is a great time to watch birds in the park, because many species migrate here to take advantage of the desert's mild temperatures and available food.

Species Lists



Last updated: November 14, 2018

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