Color photo of a close up of a coyote's face. NPS / Michael Vamstad
Coyotes make their homes in the park.

NPS / Michael Vamstad

The chief obstacles to survival in the desert are lack of water, shortage of food, and extreme temperatures. Mammals, including humans have the ability to maintain a constant body temperature regardless of external conditions. This has advantages and disadvantages in the desert. Mammals can endure a large range of air temperatures, but are unable to tolerate even a small change in body temperature without encountering problems.

When most mammals get hot they perspire, and the evaporation of this water cools them down and helps maintain a constant body temperature. Some mammals use panting to produce the same effect. Both methods work well, but they have an important drawback for life in the desert. They involve substantial loss of water. Where water is in short supply, animals must minimize water loss. Thus, few desert mammals use perspiration or panting as their main method of keeping cool.

Because scarcity of food in the desert limits the number of large mammals that can be supported, most desert mammals are small. Being small has its advantages and disadvantages. Rodents can burrow into the ground or hide in rocky crevices to avoid the mid-day heat. But their small body size means that they can gain or lose body heat rapidly. Many of them plug the entrance to their burrows to keep out the hot, desiccating air.

Most small mammals make the most of the positive side of being small, spending the day in burrows and emerging at night when the temperature drops to a more comfortable level. The larger mammals, such as mule deer and mountain sheep stay close enough to springs to be able to drink daily.

A few desert mammals, such as the round-tailed ground squirrel, a diurnal rodent, enter a state of aestivation when the days become too hot and the vegetation too dry. They sleep away the hottest part of the summer. They also hibernate in winter to avoid the cold.

Many of our Joshua Tree mammals are paler in color than their relatives in more moderate environments. Pale colors not only ensure that the animal will absorb less heat from the environment, but help make it less conspicuous to predators in the bright, pallid landscape.

Most desert mammals are herbivores and derive water directly from the plants they eat. Some, like kangaroo rats, have extreme adaptations enabling them to live without ever drinking water. They have super efficient kidneys that extract most of the water from their urine and return it to the blood. And much of the water that would be lost in breathing is recaptured in the nasal cavities by specialized organs. If that weren’t enough, kangaroo rats actually manufacture water metabolically from the digestion of dry seeds!

Check out our Mammals album on Flickr.


Mammal List

This list of mammals includes both park natives and species, such as house mice, that have arrived with increased human occupation. It was originally compiled by Harold DeLisle, Ph.D. for the National Park Service Inventory and Monitoring Project with updates provided by USGS and the San Diego Natural History Museum.






White-tailed Antelope Squirrel
Ammospermophilus leucurus leucurus
parkwide common
California Ground Squirrel
Otospermophilus beecheyi parvulus
rocky areas common
Mojave Round-tailed Ground Squirrel
Xerospermophilus tereticaudus tereticaudus
low desert common
Dusky Chipmunk
Tamias obscurus davisi
pinyon-juniper common

Pocket Mice & Kangaroo Rats

Desert Kangaroo Rat
Dipodomys deserti deserti
low desert common
Merriam's Kangaroo Rat
Dipodomys merriami merriami
parkwide common
Chisel-toothed Kangaroo Rat
Dipodomys microps occidentalis
Stubbe Spring rare
Pallid (San Diego) Pocket Mouse
Chaetodipus fallax pallidus
open desert common
Long-tailed Pocket Mouse
Chaetodipus formosus mesembrinus
mountains common
Desert Pocket Mouse
Chaetodipus penicillatus angustirostris
low desert common
Baja California Pocket Mouse
Chaetodipus rudinoris hueyi
Cottonwood common
Spiny Pocket Mouse
Chaetodipus spinatus rufescens
low desert common
Little Pocket Mouse
Perognathus longimembris longimembris
open desert common

Pocket Gophers

Mojave Pocket Gopher
Thomomys bottae mohavensis
loose deep soil common
Coachella Pocket Gopher
Thomomys bottae rupestris
loose deep soil common

New World Mice & Rats

White-throated Woodrat
Neotoma albigula venusta
rocky areas uncommon
Desert Woodrat
Neotoma lepida lepida
parkwide common
Big-eared Woodrat
Neotoma macrotis
high elevations uncommon
Desert Grasshopper Mouse
Onychomys torridus pulcher
parkwide common
Brush Deermouse
Peromyscus boylii rowleyi
Lost Horse and Queen Valley uncommon
Canyon Deermouse
Peromyscus crinitus stephensi
rocky canyons common
Cactus Deermouse
Peromyscus eremicus eremicus
mesas, foothills, washes common
Sonoran Deermouse
Peromyscus maniculatus sonoriensis
parkwide uncommon
Pinyon Deermouse
Peromyscus truei chlorus
pinyon-juniper uncommon
Desert Harvest Mouse
Reithrodontomys megalotis megalotis
Keys View rare
House Mouse
Mus musculus domesticus
human-occupied buildings common

Rabbits & Hares

Desert Black-tailed Jackrabbit
Lepus californicus deserticola
open deserts and flats common
Desert Cottontail
Sylvilagus audubonii arizonae
parkwide common


Desert Gray Shrew
Notiosorex crawfordi crawfordi
west park rare


California Leaf-nosed Bat
Macrotus californicus
mines uncommon, federal and state species of concern
Western Mastiff Bat
Eumops perotis
cliffs uncommon, federal and state species of concern
Pocketed Free-tailed Bat
Nyctinomops femorosaccus
mines, cliffs unknown, state species of concern
Mexican Free-tailed Bat
Tadirida brasiliensis
mines unknown
Big Brown Bat
Eptesicus fuscus
parkwide common
Hoary Bat
Lasiurus cinereus
trees uncommon
Western Yellow Bat
Lasiurus xanthinus
palm oases uncommon
Canyon Bat
Parastrellus hesperus
parkwide common
Townsend's Big-eared Bat
Corynorhinus townsendii
mines common, federal and state species of concern
Spotted Bat
Euderma maculatum
cliffs rare, federal and state species of concern
Pallid Bat
Antrozous pallidus
parkwide common, state species of concern
California Myotis
Myotis californicus
parkwide common
Western Small-footed Myotis
Myotis ciliolabrum
mines, rocky crevices unknown
Fringed Myotis
Myotis thysanodes
pinyon-juniper uncommon, federal species of concern
Long-legged Myotis
Myotis volans
pinyon-juniper uncommon, federal species of concern
Yuma Myotis
Myotis yumahensis
parkwide unknown, federal species of concern


Lynx rufus baileyi
rocky canyons & outcrops common
California Mountain Lion
Puma concolor californica
mountains uncommon


Mearns Coyote
Canis latrans mearnsi
parkwide common
Gray Fox
Urocyon cinereoargenteus scottii
rocky canyons & outcrops common
Desert Kit Fox
Vulpes macrotis arsipus
desert flats common


California Black Bear
Ursus americanus californiesnsis
occasional migrant uncommon

Weasels & Badgers

Long-tailed Weasel
Mustela frenata latirostra
western park rare
American Badger
Taxidea taxus berlandieri
low desert uncommon


Western Spotted Skunk
Spilogale gracilis phenax
rocky canyons uncommon


Bassariscus astutus octavus
rocky areas uncommon

Deer & Sheep

Southern Mule Deer
Odocoileus hemionus fuliginatus
mountains common
Desert Bighorn Sheep
Ovis canadensis nelsoni
mountains uncommon

Last updated: January 8, 2024

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