Pronghorn ( Antilocapra americana )

A solitary Pronghorn ( Antilocapra americana ) found near Golbin Valley, Utah
A solitary Pronghorn ( Antilocapra americana ) found near Golbin Valley, Utah

Commonly known as an antelope, the Pronghorn ( Antilocapra americana ) is an even toed or hoofed mammal found in the plains of the western United States of America. The Pronghorn in america is mislabeled as an antelope, which is an old world or African species of Antelope. The Latin name, Antilocapra americana means “American goat-antelope”

The Pronghorn lives in brush and grass lands and deserts and survive by grazing on the vegetation. They typically live in herds which may number in the hundreds depending on time of year and food sources.

They have excellent eye sight use this valuable resource to keep a distance from predators in the wide open habitats they are found. They are also the fastest animal in the western hemisphere and can run at speeds up to 60 miles per hour. The result is a reclusive animals that tends to run when it sees any threat, which means these animals can be difficult to get near. Typically, when I see them in the field, it is their white hind quarters travelling at a high rate of speed away from me.

Males typically stand between 51 and 59 inches in height and weigh between 88 and 143 pounds. The female are about the same height, however, more slight at 75 to 106 pounds. Their coloring is quite distinctive and features large white patches on the rumps, belly and heads with black bands on the face and necks. They boast large eyes located towards the tops of their skulls which have a field of view of 320 degrees. This feature allows the animals to maintain distance and allows them to spot predators while resting in the tall grass.

Cougers, Coyotes, Wolfs and Bob Cats are known to prey on the pronghorn. Additionally, they were a valuable food source for many Native American tribes including the Assiniboine, Rapid and Blackfoot Tribes.

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Coyote (Canis latrans)

Coyote (Canis latrans) enduring a snow storm in Joshua Tree National Park
Coyote (Canis latrans)

A symbol of the American Southwest, the howl of the humble Coyote (Canis latrans) is synonymous with wild places. A member of the canine family and cousin to your pet, the coyote is a carnivore, predator, scavenger and survivor and even have a gord named for them, the coyote melon. The mammal is also known as the “little wolf”, “brush wolf”, “prairie wolf” and “American jackal”.

Although not necessarily nocturnal, they may hunt at night in the presence of humans. Regardless, they are more active in the evenings. They prowl and hunt in small groups. Their cries and howls at night are the reason they are known as the most vocal wild animal North American Animals. Personally, I welcome their vocalizations echoing access the desert night.

Coyote hunt reptiles, birds, small mammals, fish and even the larger bison, deer, elk and sheep. They roam up to ten miles per day on a constant hunt for food. In urban areas, this opportunist animal will eat dog and cat food, and known to attack domestic dogs and cats. In Death Valley National Park this resourceful jackal will eat large quantities of beetles and hawkmoth caterpillars for food. They are extremely resourceful and opportunistic survivors.

The coyote is classified in 19 different subspecies throughout the North America. A typical male will weigh between 18 and 44 pounds, while the female tips the scale a at a more modest 15 to 40 pounds. The fair color ranges from a light grey, tan to dark browns or even black depending upon habitat.

Coyote (Canis latrans) enduring a snow storm in Joshua Tree National Park
A extremely optimistic Coyote enduring a snow storm in Joshua Tree National Park waiting for a handout which did not come.

In Native American cultures, folklore depicts the coyote as a trickster. For this Irish American over a certain age, the coyote is call as wiley, known as a super genius and has, upon occasion, ordered an abundance of explosive from the Amce Corporation .

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Coyote Melon (Cucurbita palmata)

Coyote Melon (Cucurbita palmata)
Coyote Melon (Cucurbita palmata)

Coyote Melon (Cucurbita palmata), also known as Coyote Gourd, is a flowering plant common in the desert southwest and known to produce spherical yellow – green melons. The vine like plant is commonly found is loose, sandy or gravely, dry, well drained soil which is common in Southern California, Arizona, Nevada and exclusively in Washington County, Utah. The primary characteristic is the growth of a green melon or gourd which is quite startling when you first see them in the hot desert climates.

Sereno Watson (December 1, 1826 in East Windsor Hill, Connecticut - March 9, 1892 in Cambridge, Massachusetts) was an American botanist
Sereno Watson (December 1, 1826 in East Windsor Hill, Connecticut – March 9, 1892 in Cambridge, Massachusetts) was an American botanist

The gourd was first described in 1876 by Sereno Waston who was a Yale graduate with a degree in Biology, The Coyote Melon features a sprawling stiff vine with rough, stiff-haired stems and leaves. Cucurbita palmata produces a large yellow bell shaped flower, while the melon itself is smooth in appearance. The striped yellow – green colored gourd is known to be quite hard, however, also thin when mature. The melons are very bitter and not edible. This hearty planet can survive the harsh desert landscape through its use of a large and hearty tap root. This root system can extend several feet into the dry soil to supply the plant with nutrients and water required for survival.

The Coyote Melon (Cucurbita palmata) is extremely fibrous and although not edible to humans is known to be on the coyotes diet during the fall, hence its name. It is quite common to find the seeds of this plant in coytoe scat during the fall months.

Despite the fibrous melon being inedible by man, the native american tribes were known to consume the ground seeds of this plant. Additionally, they used the dried gourds as rattles in various dances and other ceremonies. They also utilized the plant was as soap for cleaning.

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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.