The name “Death Valley” leads many people to think this vast national park in California contains no life, but the real truth is that there are dozens of animals in Death Valley that call this diverse landscape home. Death Valley animals include furry mammals, scaly reptiles, and even colorful fish!
Here are 24 animals you may encounter while in Death Valley National Park. Some of these animals are more elusive than others, but all of them call this desert park home. This is not an exhaustive list of animals that are seen in the park. There are several more rodents, birds, reptiles, and insects that call it home as well.
24 Animals in Death Valley
Coyotes are a common sight in Death Valley National Park which is no surprise since they are one of the most adaptable and widespread mammals in North America. Coyotes can be found all throughout the park and are highly intelligent and resourceful.
are opportunistic feeders which means they will eat just about anything incluing small mammals, insects, prickly pear fruit, carrion and whatever humans leave behind at picnic spots and campsites.
The coyote in the photo above actually ran alongside our car while we were driving on Badwater Road. It was clear that it had previous success with roadside begging because it was completely unafraid of our vehicle.
Feeding coyotes is dangerous for many reasons. 1. The park’s coyotes can become dependent on humans for food. 2. It can lead to human/animal encounters that lead to human injury from an overly aggressive or hungry wild animal 3. The practice of running up to cars will surely lead to more coyotes being hit and killed by vehicles inside the park.
Coyotes are most active during the early morning and late evening hours, and are often heard howling at night, but as you can see from the photo above, they have no qualms about showing their faces in braod daylight if the possibility of food is involved.
Like birds of prey? Here are all the different hawks in Southern California.
The desert tortoise is a species of turtle that is native to the Mojave and Sonoran deserts of North America, including Death Valley National Park. These tortoises are known for their long lifespan, and many live to be up to 100 years old!
Desert tortoises are listed as a “threatened species” under the Endangered Species Act, and populations in Death Valley National Park have been impacted by habitat loss, disease, and human disturbance. To help protect the desert tortoise and its habitat, the National Park Service has implemented a number of measures, including monitoring populations, enforcing strict regulations on human activity in tortoise habitat areas, and working to control the spread of diseases that can impact the tortoises.
The desert tortoise spends most of their lives in burrows and are completely inactive from November through February. For the rest of the year they do come out for a short period each day to eat, avoiding excessive highs and lows in temperature since they are unable to regular their body temperature on their own.
They are especially active on warm, overcast days. If it rains, the tortoises will also come out to drink water that has gathered in small pools. The desert can go through extended periods of drought, and theses reptiles have developed an adaptation that allows them to store water in their bladders.
Since desert tortoises are soil-colored and rather small (2-15 inches in length), they can be quite hard to spot. They can be found in rocky areas, canyons, and washes where they seek out shelter from the hot sun and access to water sources. They are primarily herbivores, feeding on a variety of plants, including grasses, cacti, and wildflowers.
Visitors to Death Valley National Park may be able to see desert tortoises in the wild, but it’s important to remember that they are a protected species and it is illegal to touch or disturb them. Some of the most common places to see desert tortoises in Death Valley National Park include:
- Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes where tortoises often seek shelter under the brush and cacti that grow in and around the dunes.
- Scotty’s Castle: the historic site located in the northern part of the park is a popular spot for visitors to see tortoises crossing the road or basking in the sun on nearby rocks.
- Titus Canyon: Visitors may spot tortoises near the creek bed or along the canyon walls.
- Wildrose Canyon: This remote canyon is home to a small population of desert tortoises which live in the rocky terrain and among the desert vegetation.
Desert Bighorn Sheep
Desert bighorn sheep are one of the most iconic animals that call Death Valley National Park home. These magnificent animals are well adapted to the harsh desert environment and are known for their impressive climbing abilities and keen senses.
Bighorn sheep are most often found in the mountains and canyons throughout the park, where they seek out areas with rocky terrain and water sources. It is especially important for them to drink water during the brutal summers, and these sheep are known to drink gallons at a time before leaving a water source.
They are primarily herbivores, feeding on a variety of plants, including cactus, shrubs, and grasses. Their complex digestive system allows them to eat plants like mesquite which many other herbivores mightnot be able to digest.
Bighorn sheep are known for their impressive horns, which can weigh up to 30 pounds in males and are used for defense and dominance displays during mating season. Males can weigh up to 250 pounds, while females are generally smaller, weighing around 125 pounds.
Bighorn sheep stick to rocky terrain where their agility can help them escape predators, such as coyotes, who are looking to snag a lamb. Lambs have a 50% chance of surviving their first year of life but if they do, they often live 10-15 years.
Visitors to Death Valley National Park can often catch a glimpse of bighorn sheep from a distance, but it is important to remember to give them plenty of space and not disturb them in their natural habitat.
They are most commonly seen in the higher elevations of the park such the Panamint Range, the Cottonwood Mountains, and the Grapevine Mountains. You may also spot them in canyons like Wildrose Canyon, Emigrant Canyon, Titus Canyon, and Grapevine Canyon.
Mule deer are a common sight in Death Valley National Park’s higher elevations where there is more vegetation and water sources such as the Panamint, Cottonwood, and Grapevine Mountains These large, graceful animals are named for their long ears, which resemble those of a mule.
Mule deer are herbivores, feeding on a variety of vegetation including grasses, shrubs, and wildflowers. They are active throughout the day, but tend to be most active during the early morning and late afternoon hours.
Mule deer are occasionally seen in the area around Furnace Creek, particularly in the early morning or late afternoon hours when they are most active. They are also sometimes spotted around Scotty’s Castle where deer may be seen crossing the road or grazing in nearby meadows.
Death Valley is one of 12 national parks within a days drive of San Diego.
Desert Kangaroo Rats
The desert kangaroo rat is a small rodent that is native to the deserts of Death Valley National Park. These rats have adapted to the harsh desert environment and are able to survive on very little water, obtaining most of their moisture from the seeds and plants that they eat.
Desert kangaroo rats are primarily active at night, when the temperatures are cooler. They have large hind legs that are adapted for jumping, and are able to cover long distances in search of food and water. They are also known for their ability to avoid predators, using their sharp senses to detect and evade danger.
Visitors to Death Valley National Park may be able to spot desert kangaroo rats at night, particularly in areas where there is vegetation and a source of water. They may also be seen darting across the desert floor, as they move between burrows and feeding grounds.
The chuckwalla is a species of lizard found in the southwestern part of the United States, including Death Valley National Park. They are known for their unique appearance, with a stocky body and prominent folds of skin around their neck and shoulders.
In Death Valley, the chuckwallas can often be found basking on rocks or hiding in crevices to avoid the extreme heat of the desert. They are primarily herbivorous, feeding on a variety of plants and occasionally insects.
The chuckwalla has a unique defense mechanism called “tail autotomy,” which allows it to break off its tail if it is caught by a predator. The detached tail will continue to wiggle, distracting the predator while the chuckwalla makes its escape.
These lizards are often brown or gray in color, blending in with their desert surroundings. They can grow up to 16 inches in length and have a lifespan of up to 25 years.
Visitors to Death Valley National Park may be able to spot chuckwallas while hiking or driving through the park, especially in rocky areas or along canyon walls. They are often found basking in the sun on large rocks, especially in the morning hours.
They can be spotted on the rocks around Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Mosaic Canyon, Titus Canyon, and around the park’s other canyons and rock formations. They can also be seen along hiking trails, such as the Golden Canyon Trail, Gower Gulch Loop Trail, and Zabriskie Point.
Chuckwallas are generally shy and prefer to avoid humans, so visitors may need to be patient and observant to spot them in their natural habitat. They will hibernate during the winter but are active in high desert temperatures, up to about 102 degrees.
The black-tailed jackrabbit is a common species found in the deserts of California, including Death Valley National Park. They are known for their long ears, powerful hind legs, and distinctive black tail.
In Death Valley National Park, black-tailed jackrabbits are found in a variety of habitats, including desert scrub, grasslands, and rocky areas. They are herbivores, feeding on a variety of plants including grasses, shrubs, and cacti.
Black-tailed jackrabbits are active during the day and are most commonly seen in the early morning or late afternoon hours. They are able to run at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour, which allows them to quickly evade predators such as coyotes and bobcats.
Visitors to Death Valley National Park may be able to see black-tailed jackrabbits in the wild, particularly in the park’s more open and arid areas. One of the most common places to spot them is the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes where they may be seen hopping through the sand or among the desert vegetation. They can also been along the edges of the salt flat in Badwater Basin and in the canyons and washes of the Stovepipe Wells area.
The Desert Cottontail is a common species found in Death Valley National Park. They are a small species of rabbit known for their soft, cotton-like tail and brown or gray fur.
Desert Cottontails are found in a variety of habitats, including desert scrub, grasslands, and rocky areas. They feed on a variety of plants including grasses, shrubs, and cacti They are active during the day and are most commonly seen in the early morning or late afternoon hours. They are able to run at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour.
Visitors to Death Valley National Park may be able to see Desert Cottontails in the wild, particularly in the park’s more open and arid areas. As with all wildlife, it is important to observe them from a safe distance and not to approach or disturb them.
Like the jackrabbit, the cottontail is seen near Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Badwater Basin, and Stovepipe Wells. Also keep an eye out for them while visiting Harmony Borax Works. Visitors may see them around the ruins or along the nearby dirt road.
Mojave desert sidewinder rattlesnake
There are nearly 20 different species of snakes that live in Death Valley and you can read about all of them in my extensive guide to the snakes of Southern California. I am going to point out three of the most commonly seen snakes inside Death Valley National Park.
The Mojave desert sidewinder rattlesnake is a venomous snake native to the Mojave and Sonoran deserts, including Death Valley National Park. It gets its name from the distinctive way it moves sideways, with only two points of contact on the ground at any given time, allowing it to move quickly and efficiently across loose sand.
Mojave desert sidewinder rattlesnakes are typically tan or pale brown in color, with darker brown or black diamond-shaped markings along their backs. They are relatively small, typically growing to a length of around two to three feet.
While Mojave desert sidewinder rattlesnakes are venomous, they are generally not aggressive towards humans and will typically try to avoid confrontation if possible. The best places to spot these snakes are in the lower elevations of the park, particularly in areas with loose sand and sparse vegetation. They are most active in the early morning and late afternoon.
The Rosy Boa is a non-venomous snake species found in Death Valley. These snakes are easily recognized by their characteristic pinkish to reddish-brown dorsal coloration with dark brown or black markings on their back and sides, and a lighter pinkish coloration on their belly.
Rosy Boas are relatively small, with adults typically reaching lengths oftwo to three feet. They are active during the evening and at night, spending most of the day hiding under rocks or in burrows to avoid the heat of the sun. These snakes are carnivorous, feeding primarily on small rodents, lizards, and other snakes.
Rosy Boas are docile and gentle snakes, making them popular as pets, but snakes should never be taken from the wild. These snakes spend most of their time underground, preferring rocky habitats, including boulder piles and crevices, as well as desert scrubland and sandy washes.
Great Basin Gopher Snake
The Great Basin Gopher Snake is a non-venomous snake that grows up to six feet in length. They are primarily found in areas with dry, rocky terrain, such as desert grasslands, sagebrush plains, and rocky hillsides. In Death Valley National Park, they are commonly seen in the higher elevation areas, such as the Panamint Mountains and the Grapevine Mountains.
Great Basin Gopher Snakes are known for their distinctive patterns and colors, which can vary depending on the individual snake and its location. They are usually tan or brown in color with dark brown or black markings that run along their back and sides. They can be mistaken for rattlesnakes but these snakes have no rattle and are not venomous.
The Great Basin Gopher Snake is a carnivore and feeds on a variety of prey including rodents, birds, lizards, and other snakes. They are constrictors, meaning they wrap their bodies around their prey and squeeze until they cannot breathe.
In Death Valley National Park, the best place to spot the Great Basin Gopher Snake is in rocky areas and canyon floors, such as Mosaic Canyon, Titus Canyon, and Golden Canyon. You may also spot them along the trails that lead to the park’s high-elevation peaks, such as Telescope Peak or Wildrose Peak.
Another popular location to see Great Basin Gopher Snakes is along the park’s main roads, particularly in the areas where the road cuts through rocky terrain. These snakes can often be seen basking on the warm pavement during the cooler morning hours so keep an eye out as you drive!
Pocket gophers are small burrowing rodents that are found in Death Valley National Park. These animals are known for their extensive tunneling systems, which they use to obtain food, create shelter, and navigate through their environment.
In Death Valley, pocket gophers are found in a variety of habitats, including desert scrub and open grasslands. They are important ecosystem engineers, as their burrowing helps to aerate the soil, increase water infiltration, and mix organic matter into the soil.
Visitors to Death Valley National Park are unlikely to see pocket gophers, since they spend most of their time underground. However, they may be able to observe their tunneling activity, which is often visible on the surface as mounds of soil or disturbed vegetation.
Several species of ground squirrels can be found in Death Valley National Park, including the golden-mantled ground squirrel, the rock squirrel, and the round-tailed ground squirrel. These small rodents are adapted to the desert environment and play an important role in the park’s ecosystem.
Ground squirrels are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day, and can often be seen foraging for food or sunning themselves on rocks or logs. They eat a variety of foods, including seeds, nuts, fruits, and insects.
Visitors to Death Valley may encounter ground squirrels in campgrounds, picnic areas, or along hiking trails. While they may seem cute and harmless, it is important to remember that feeding wildlife is always a bad idea. Feeding ground squirrels can cause them to become habituated to humans, and can also lead to aggressive behavior or the spread of disease like the bubonic plague.
The kit fox is a small, nocturnal canid that can be found in the Mojave Desert, including in Death Valley National Park. They are typically found in arid environments with sparse vegetation, where they feed on small mammals, insects, and fruit.
The kit fox is an important part of the desert ecosystem and helps to control rodent populations. They are also a key prey species for larger predators, such as coyotes and golden eagles.
Kit foxes are well adapted to the harsh desert environment and have several physical and behavioral adaptations that help them survive. For example, they have large ears that help them regulate their body temperature and locate prey, as well as thick fur that insulates them from the extreme temperatures of the desert.
While kit foxes are relatively common in Death Valley National Park, they can be difficult to spot due to their nocturnal habits and the fact that they are generally shy and elusive. Visitors to the park may have the best chance of seeing kit foxes at dawn or dusk, when they are most active. They have been most commonly spotted in the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, the Ubehebe Crater area, or along the park’s perimeter.
The gray fox is a small to medium-sized canid that can be found throughout much of North America, including the mountainous areas of Death Valley National Park. They are typically found in woodlands, chaparral, and other areas with dense vegetation, where they feed on small mammals, birds, and reptiles.
Gray foxes are notable for their climbing abilities, which are unusual for a member of the canid family. They are able to climb trees and other vertical surfaces using their strong claws and flexible ankles, allowing them to escape predators or access food sources that other animals cannot reach.
In Death Valley National Park gray foxes are most often seen in the Panamint Range and the Grapevine Mountains. They are primarily nocturnal, and are most active at night when they hunt for food.
The American badger is a carnivorous mammal known for their stocky, powerful build, and their ability to dig and burrow in search of prey.
In Death Valley National Park, badgers can be found in a variety of habitats, from sandy desert flats to rocky mountain slopes. They are primarily nocturnal and are most active at night when they hunt for prey such as rodents, reptiles, and small mammals.
Visitors to the park may have the opportunity to see badgers while driving or hiking in the early morning or late evening. However, badgers are typically shy and elusive, and are more likely to be heard than seen.
Bobcats are small to medium-sized wild cats that live in Death Valley National Park. They are generally shy and elusive animals, and are most active during dawn and dusk, although they may be active at any time of day.
In Death Valley, bobcats can be found in a variety of habitats, including desert scrub, rocky canyons, and pinyon-juniper woodlands. They are opportunistic hunters and prey on a variety of small mammals, birds, and reptiles, as well as insects and other invertebrates. They may also scavenge on carrion.
They can be difficult to spot due to their secretive nature and their excellent camouflage. However, visitors may be able to spot them at dawn or dusk, especially in areas where prey is abundant. They may also be seen crossing roads or hiking trails, or resting in the shade of rocks or vegetation during the heat of the day.
The burro, in Death Valley National Park are descendants of the pack animals brought to the area during the mining era. They are an iconic part of the park’s history and landscape but they are also considerd an invasive species. Today, they experience a population growth of 20% per year!
Burros roam freely throughout the park and can often be seen along the park’s scenic drives and in the surrounding desert areas. They cause damage to the native vegetation and fragile ecosystems as they eat 6,000 pounds of plants per burro per year and compete with native species about desert tortoises and bighorn sheep for resources.
Attempts to remove the burros come at a great cost. In the 1980s $400,000 was spent on a 32 mile fence along the park’s northeastern border. It was ineffective. Useing helicopters to move burros costs about $1,000 per hour- not exactly budget friendly. So, for now, the burros stay.
While these burros may appear friendly, it is important to remember that they are wild animals and should be treated with caution. Feeding or approaching them can be dangerous, and visitors are advised to observe them from a safe distance. It is also illegal to capture, feed, or harass the burros.
Visitors to the park may encounter the burros on the popular Wildrose Charcoal Kilns road or in areas such as Titus Canyon, where the animals sometimes gather around the spring. The burros can also be seen at Furnace Creek Ranch and Stovepipe Wells Village, where they occasionally wander into the parking lots.
Yes, there are fish in the desert! There are actually several species of pupfish found in Death Valley, all of which are adapted to the extreme conditions of the park’s waterways. These include the Salt Creek pupfish, the Devils Hole pupfish, the Cottonball Marsh pupfish, and the Amargosa pupfish.
The Salt Creek pupfish lives in the shallow, warm waters of Salt Creek and can tolerate high levels of salt and temperatures up to 104°F. They feed on algae and small aquatic insects and have a distinctive breeding behavior where males dig shallow nests in the sand and attract females by flashing their brightly colored fins.
There was a boardwalk known as the Salt Creek Interpretive trail that allowed for easy viewing of the fish in winter and spring but it was destroyed by a massive flash flood in August of 2022. They flood alteres the creek bed and surrounding are and it will take some time to get things rebuilt.
The Devils Hole pupfish, found only in the Devils Hole pool in the Amargosa River basin, is one of the most endangered fish species in the world. They are adapted to the constant, warm temperatures of the pool and have a specialized diet of blue-green algae. hey are heavily protected by park rangers.
A recent study by national park service scuba divers shows that there are about 175 Devils Hole pupfish, up from the low of 35 in 2013.
The Cottonball Marsh pupfish, found in the springs and marshes near the Nevada border, is one of the largest pupfish species in the park and is known for its bright blue coloration during breeding season. They are found in Cottonball Marsh on the west side of central Death Valley.
Finally, the Amargosa pupfish, found in the Amargosa River system, is also adapted to high temperatures and salt levels. They are small and relatively plain in appearance, but are important indicators of water quality in the region. Found in the Amargosa River northwest of Saratoga Springs.
The horned lizard, also known as the horny toad or the horned desert lizard, is a common sight in Death Valley National Park. These unique lizards are easily identified by their distinctive body shape and the rows of horns on their heads and backs.
This small reptile typically grows to be around three to five inches long. They are well adapted to life in the desert, with a wide, flattened body that helps them stay close to the ground and avoid the intense heat of the sun. Their skin is covered in a series of bumpy scales, which help to protect them from predators and conserve water.
One of the most interesting things about the horned lizard is its unique defense mechanism. When threatened, the lizard will puff itself up with air, making it appear larger and more intimidating to predators. Some species of horned lizard are also able to shoot blood from their eyes as a way of deterring predators.
In Death Valley National Park, horned lizards can be found in a variety of habitats, from rocky outcroppings to sandy washes. They are most commonly spotted in the early morning and late afternoon, when they are most active. Look for these fascinating reptiles in rocky areas, or near the base of shrubs and other vegetation.
One of the best places to look for horned lizards in Death Valley is around Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Here, visitors may spot the desert horned lizard, which has a distinct pattern of black and white spots and stripes that help it blend in with the sand. Horned lizards can also be found in other areas of the park, including Wildrose Charcoal Kilns and around the Furnace Creek area.
The zebra-tailed lizard, also known as the “tiger lizard,” is a small species of lizard found in Death Valley. They are easily identified by their distinctive black and white striped tails, which resemble those of a zebra.
These lizards are well adapted to the harsh desert environment, with their flat bodies allowing them to easily move over loose sand and rocky terrain. You may also see them on washes or on the edge of roads. They are primarily active during the daytime, and are often seen basking in the sun or seeking shade under rocks or other objects.
In Death Valley National Park, they can be found in areas with loose sand and rocky outcroppings, such as the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and the Badwater Basin. Another great place to see zebra-tailed lizards is in the hills around Titus Canyon.
Zebra-tailed lizards feed primarily on insects such as grasshoppers, beetles, and ants. They are also known to occasionally eat other small lizards.
The Desert Iguana is a common lizard species found in Death Valley. It is a medium-sized lizard that can grow up to 10 to 16 inches in length, with a relatively flat body, and a long tail that makes up two-thirds of its total length. They have a unique coloration, with a tan or gray body, and dark spots or stripes on the back, making them well-camouflaged against the sandy desert terrain.
The Desert Iguana is a diurnal reptile, meaning that it is active during the day and rests at night. They are primarily herbivores and feed on various desert plants, such as cactus, flowers, and leaves. However, they occasionally consume insects and other small animals.
During the breeding season, which occurs in the spring and early summer, the male Desert Iguana becomes territorial and will engage in head-bobbing and push-up displays to establish dominance over other males. Females will lay 3-8 eggs in a burrow dug in the sand, where they will incubate for 2-3 months.
Visitors to Death Valley National Park are likely to spot Desert Iguanas in rocky areas or desert terrain where there is ample vegetation. Some of the best places to spot them in the park include the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Mosaic Canyon, and Emigrant Canyon. They are also commonly seen along roadsides, basking in the sun.
Tarantulas are one of the many interesting creatures found in Death Valley National Park. There are two species of tarantulas in the park, the desert tarantula and the Arizona blonde tarantula. The desert tarantula is the more common of the two and can be found in the lower elevations of the park, while the Arizona blonde tarantula is found in higher elevations.
These tarantulas are generally brown in color with a hairy body and legs. They have eight eyes, but their vision is poor and they rely more on their sense of touch and smell. They are nocturnal and spend their days in burrows that they create in the ground. At night, they venture out to hunt for insects and other prey.
While tarantulas have a fearsome reputation, they are generally harmless to humans. Their venom is not deadly and is mainly used to subdue their prey. However, if provoked or handled roughly, they may bite as a means of self-defense.
The best time to see tarantulas in Death Valley National Park is during the fall when they are out and about looking for mates. They can be found in open areas and along hiking trails. If you come across a tarantula, it is important to give them space and avoid disturbing them.
There are two species of scorpions commonly found in Death Valley National Park: the desert hairy scorpion and the stripe-tailed scorpion.
The desert hairy scorpion is one of the largest scorpion species in North America, growing up to six inches in length. They are commonly found in Death Valley, and are known for their hairy appearance. They are nocturnal and feed on insects and other small animals.
The stripe-tailed scorpion is a smaller species, growing up to three inches in length. They are also found in desert regions and are recognizable by the distinctive stripes on their tails. They are also nocturnal and feed on insects and other arthropods.
Both species of scorpions in Death Valley are venomous and should be treated with caution. While their stings are usually not life-threatening, they can cause pain and discomfort, and some individuals may experience an allergic reaction. Visitors should always avoid handling or disturbing scorpions.
Love learning about the animals that live in national parks? Then check out our guide to Animals in Yosemite.