Zebra Tailed Lizard ( Callisaurus draconoides )

The Zebra-Tailed Lizard is a medium sized lizard which features a long black and white striped tail and commonly found in California, Arizona and Nevada. Additional coloring includes two rows of brown / bray spots down the middle of the back, and is often marked with cream colored spots. The males boast belly bars which range in color from blue to yellow and orange. The females belly bars are often much more muted or lacking completely.

A male Zebra-Tailed Lizard ( Callisaurus draconoides )
A male Zebra-Tailed Lizard ( Callisaurus draconoides )

This animal is commonly between 4 and 6 inches in length from snout to vent and its regenerative tail may double to overall length of this animal. The female lays a clutch of up to 15 eggs, however the more common number is between 2 and 8 eggs. A healthy population will host between 4 and 6 lizards per acre, however the number seems much higher when they are darting around you in the Mojave, Great Basin or Sonaran deserts

The Zebra tails are frequently found at elevations up to 5,000 feet. The are usually found in areas which have sandy soils and open spaces in which they can run. An ambush predator, the lizard will often lie in way for its dinner to walk by and is known to feed on bees, wasps, beetles, caterpillars, ants and grasshoppers. Additionally it is known to consume other small lizards and spiders.

Very tolerant of the high heat of the desert in which it lives, the feisty lizard is known to be active during the high temperatures of the summer sun when most animals seek shade and go underground. These lizards are know to alternately stand on opposing feet and alternate between then two stances as a means of protection from the harsh landscapes in which it lives. During the cooler nights, the lizard may burrow down into fine sane, however is also known to sleep on the surface on warm nights.

When spotted by a predator, the reptile will curl its boldly stripped tail over its head which may serve notice to the predator that it was spotted. When needed a quick burst of speed will serve as the best prevention to being a meal to larger animals.

A Zebra Tailed lizard photographed ny my lovely wife in the Ivanpah Mountains of California.
A Zebra Tailed lizard photographed ny my lovely wife in the Ivanpah Mountains of California.

Black Tailed Jackrabbit ( Lepus californicus )

Black Tailed Jackrabbit enjoying the shade of a Joshua Tree
Black Tailed Jackrabbit enjoying the shade of a Joshua Tree.

The Black Tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus) commonly known as the American Desert Hare makes its home in the western half of the United States including California, Nevada, Arizona and parts of Mexico. One of the largest species of hare, the animal boasts large distinctive ears, powerful rear legs, black tips on its ears and a black tail for which the animal gets its name.

This species of hare commonly reaches sizes of 18 to 24 inches long and may weigh between 4 and 8 pounds. Typically, the females are slightly larger compared to the males. The animal will mate ear round depending upon environment and the young are born with a full compliment of fir and open eyes, which classifies it as a true hare and not a rabbit, despite its common name. The female does not build elaborate nests for birth. A new born hare is and well camouflaged and quite mobile within minutes of birth. The juveniles will stay near the mother for nursing, but are not protected by the mother.

Commonly found in desert scrub, prairies and meadows at elevations up to 10,000 feet, the Black Tailed Jackrabbit is quite adaptive to various environments. Camouflage is their only defense, and they will freeze when a threat is near. Their diet consists of a variety of green vegetation and grasses, however they are known to consume dried or woody plants in the harsh winter months. The hare does not hibernate during the winter months.

The Black Tailed Jackrabbit is a valuable member of the ecosystem. It serves as a prey item of other carnivorous animals including coyotes, foxes, eagles, hawks, owls and various Native American tribes.

Desert Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos)

Desert Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos)
Desert Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos)

Desert Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos), also known as the “horny toad”, is a common North American reptile and found throughout the southwest and the Mojave. A personal childhood favorite of mine, the horned lizard does have the appearance of a small dinosaur and it a master of camouflage.

This is a small to medium sized lizard, its 3 – 5 inch broad and flat body features a prominent series of fringed scales. Its head also boasts several horn which offers the lizard its name. Undoubtedly, the overall body shape is that of a toad is also a contributing factor. The coloration of the body will vary to help the lizard blend into its background.

The reptile’s diet is small insects and is commonly found at or near ant mounds where they will lie in wait for its meal to simply walk by. Generally speaking this animal is found at elevations below 6500 feet in creosote-bursage flats and Mojave Desert Scrub.

Desert Horned Lizard, a master of camouflage
Desert Horned Lizard, a master of camouflage

Defensively, the little lizard is all about appearances. Primarily, camoflauge allows it to remain hidden in plain sight. The reptile is known to hiss and puff up its chest when confronted in an effort to appear larger and more dangerous that it really is known to be. Some species of the genus are known to squirt blood from its eyes and may reach a distance of 5 feet.

Mustang

A lone mustang is the symbol of wild, power and freedom
A lone mustang is the symbol of wild, power and freedom

Left behind by Spanish explorers and settlers, the Mustang of the desert south west is alive and well in Nevada and a symbol of the southwest. Due to the fact that this animal population is descendant from a domesticated population the Mustang is actually a feral horse. The imagery of a wild mustang galloping across the desert as burnt into the memories of kids who watched “Western” movies or appreciate classic cars. The wild mustang brings one to think of power and freedom.

A mustang taking in some shade next to a pool of water.
A mustang taking in some shade next to a pool of water.

There is much debate when it comes to the wild Mustangs of Nevada. Some will debate weather you consider them an invasive species and a natural species. However, you consider them, they are thriving and a part of the landscape at this point. Should you happen upon them, you can not help but feel lucky.

The wild horse populations are separated by long distances, so each isolated herd has developed specific genetic traits. Some consider the horse populations a nuisance which destroy the terrain with their appetite. Their hooves can be quite destructive to the landscape and ranch land. Although considered “culturally significant”, the horse populations are closely monitored by the Bureau of Land Management to ensure healthy herd populations.

Two will fed mustangs near Cold Creek, Nevada
Two will fed mustangs near Cold Creek, Nevada

Population increases of about 20% per year have prompted the BLM to capture some of the horses. The captured horses are not euthanized, and instead are available for adoption for the cost of $125. Horses which are not adopted are held in “long term holding”, which costs the US Tax Payer about $50,000 over the lifetime of each individual horse.

On a trip to see the mustangs near Cold Creek, Nevada, we ran across the local herd lazily walking along the side of the road. We slowed the jeep down, and which point the horses started to walk up to the car looking for some food (which we did not provide). Not exactly the in line with the western movies of my youth.

BLM Mustang Range Map
BLM Mustang Range Map

For more information on Mustang Adoption visit the BLM Website.

Speckled Rattlesnake ( Crotalus mitchellii )

The Speckled Rattlesnake is fairly common pit viper found in southern California, southern Nevada, western Arizona and south-western Utah and down the Pacific coast into Baja California.  A moderate size snake, this animal typically does not exceed 39 inches in length.  As with most animals, the Speckled Rattlesnake is a master of disguise and commonly are colored to compliment the surrounding rock.  This viper can range from pink, cream, tan or pale blues and grays.  This feature I can personally attest to as I witnessed and entire Cub Scout Pack literally step over the specimen photographed below while hiking on a camping trip in the Valley of Fire State Park just outside of Las Vegas, Nevada.

Juvenile Speckled Rattle Snake found in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
A Juvenile Speckled Rattlesnake found in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
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