Arizona is full of amazing wildlife that varies immensely depending on the part of the state. Arizona contains several different ecosystems, there are thousands of species to explore when visiting. This article will walk you through some of Arizona’s most well-known, dangerous, and unique wildlife!
Wild Animals in Arizona
Native Animals in Arizona
Arizona is rich in native wildlife, from large mammals like coyotes and cougars to smaller cactus mice and striped skunks. Some of the species that call Arizona home are found widely across the United States; however, they have many unique species.
Sonoran Desert Toads
Scientific name: Bufo alvarius
The Sonoran Desert Toad, often called the Colorado River Toad, is native to Arizona, New Mexico, and Central America. They release dangerous toxins through their glands, and have been known to kill full grown dogs that get their mouths around them.
Giant Desert Centipedes
Scientific name: Scolopendra heros
These large centipede species can be found across the southern United States and Northern Mexico. Giant desert centipedes are one of the most commonly found in Arizona, and often find their way into houses.
The Gila Monster
The Gila monster (pictured above) is a venomous lizard found in northwestern Mexico up into the Southwestern United States. This lizard reaches around 60 cm long and is not known to be very quick moving; however, don’t let that fool you.
This species is the only venomous lizard in the United States and is found in many parks around the state. They prefer cooler and wetter habitats and are rarely seen in the desert.
The black-footed ferret is native to central North America and is not specific to Arizona; however, it is an endangered species and can be hard to spot. They’re often referred to as the American polecat or prairie dog hunter as they primarily feed on prairie dogs.
The bighorn sheep can be found widely across Arizona and is one of a few hoof stock species in Arizona, including Sonoran pronghorn and the American bison. The horns of bighorn sheep can weigh up to 14 kg, and the sheep itself can reach up to a weight of 143 kg.
Dangerous Animals in Arizona
Arizona is home to several dangerous animals, as many desert-predominant states are. At the top of the list for dangerous species are:
- The Gila monster mentioned above is a venomous lizard that is protected in Arizona.
- 14 different species of rattlesnakes: if you spot a rattlesnake in the Arizona landscapes, be sure to give it plenty of space.
- The bark scorpion is the most commonly seen scorpion in Arizona and poses a significant threat to humans.
- Arizona coral snake: a bite from this snake is two to three times more dangerous than that of a rattlesnake based on venom potency; however, since they have shorter fangs, they inject less venom than a rattlesnake.
There are several snakes, spiders, and other insects to be aware of when traveling through Arizona. Always be aware of these species and avoid stepping on them or getting too close. Close contact can be dangerous for both you and the animal.
Scientific name: Centruroides sculpturatus
These small scorpions are common in Arizona, the southwest United States, and Mexico. They barely reach 8 centimeters long, with females of the species only reaching 7. It isn’t hard for these scorpions to become a pest in Arizona homes.
Scientific name: Crotalus
There are 14 species of rattlesnakes in Arizona, and all of them are venomous. Three species of these snakes are protected in the state, including the Arizona Ridgenosed Rattlesnake. This rattlesnake is the state reptile.
Scientific name: Latrodectus
Black Widows are a widely distributed spider, and they are commonly found in Arizona. They can be identified by a vibrant red marking on their back. These spiders are extremely poisonous and can cause death.
American black bears
Scientific name: Ursus americanus
This medium sized bear species is the smallest and most widely distributed species of bear in North America. They are omnivores that enjoy eating fish and berries, but they can be dangerous if you come across one in the wild.
Endangered Animals in Arizona
Arizona has about 43 endangered and threatened species living in the state. These species are all protected under state and federal laws to ensure they aren’t legally being hunted. These laws also prohibit habitat degradation, so all at-risk species have the best chance at survival.
A few endangered species that live in Arizona include:
- The Mexican gray wolf
- The black-footed ferret
- Sonoran tiger salamander
Scientific name: Canis lupus baileyi
This subspecies of gray wolf is native to Arizona, and can also be found in other regions of the southern United States and northern Mexico. Efforts to conserve this rare wolf species were started in the 1970s, with action still being taken today to protect them.
Scientific name: Crotalus willardi willardi
This rattlesnake is one of three rattlesnake species that is protected in Arizona, due to their endangered status. The ridgenosed is a relatively small snake, only reaching about two feet long. It was also named the Arizona state reptile.
Sonoran tiger salamanders
Scientific name: Ambystoma mavortium stebbinsi
This type of mole salamander can be found across the southern United States, northern Mexico, and southwestern Canada. While Arizona has the Sonoran tiger salamander listed as a species of concern, they don’t have any protected habitat in the state.
Invasive Animals in Arizona
Invasive species in Arizona play a significant role in the degradation of the landscape and available resources for native species. They often wipe out native populations and overtake landscapes because they have no natural predators.
A few of the most common invasive species in Arizona include:
- Red-eared sliders
- Quagga mussels
- Brown-headed cowbirds
- European starlings
Some of these species were brought into the environment as pets, such as the bullfrog and red-eared slider. Others were intentionally introduced into the ecosystem as bait, like the crayfish. Regardless of the introduction methodology, all of these species are harmful to the Arizona ecosystems they inhabit.
Scientific name: Lithobates catesbeianus
This large amphibian is native to North American and commonly found throughout the United States. Even though it is a native species, it has become invasive in western regions like Arizona. They don’t lose any harm to humans and have few natural predators.
Scientific name: Cambarus sp.
Also known as crawfish, these fresh water creatures are not native to Arizona. They are considered one of the worst invasive species in freshwater habitats because of the harm they can cause.
Scientific name: Cyprinus carpio
Carp can easily become an invasive species when introduced into new habitats, and that is exactly what it has done in Arizona. The lack of natural predators allows them to run rampant in the state’s lakes and rivers. They can also eat three times their weight each day, which causes a negative impact on other fish populations.
Arizona State Animals
State amphibian: Arizona tree frog
The Arizona tree frog became the state amphibian in 1986. This species of treefrog was chosen by Arizona school children in 1985 as part of a wildlife awareness program.
The Arizona tree frog measures to only be slightly larger than a quarter, at about ¾ of an inch to two inches long. They are most often green with a dark black stripe on each side of their body that runs from their eyes to their back legs.
They most commonly live on oak, pine, or fur trees and prefer to be above 5,000 feet in elevation. You’re most likely to spot one of these frogs in central Arizona.
State bird: Cactus wren
Arizona also has a state bird, the Cactus wren. They will build their nests inside of cactuses in order to keep predators away. The Cactus wren is a relatively small species measuring between seven and eight inches long when fully grown.
They are brown and have white speckling on their chest. A distinguishing feature of the bird is their white lines above each eye. They primarily live in the desert landscapes of Arizona.
State butterfly: Two-tailed swallowtail
The two-tailed swallowtail became the state butterfly for Arizona in 2001 and is considered the largest butterfly in the United States. They can only be found west of the Mississippi River and are relatively easy to spot, thanks to their bright yellow wings.
State mammal: Ringtail
The ringtail belongs to the Procyonidae family, along with raccoons and coati. The species was named the state mammal in 1986 and are very choosey about the kinds of habitats they live in.
The ringtail, commonly referred to as the ringtail cat, is closely related to the raccoon. The ringtail is a small carnivore that looks like a fox with a raccoon tail.
They will not live in flat open landscapes, desert landscapes, or high mountains. Therefore, if you’re looking for a ringtail in Arizona, steer clear of the desert.
State reptile: Arizona ridge-nosed rattlesnake
This small rattlesnake weighs only a few ounces and measures around 24 inches in length. This rattlesnake is considered the last to be named out of all rattlesnake species by herpetologists.
State fish: Apache trout
The Apache trout is most commonly found in the rivers that run through Arizona. You can most easily spot them by looking for the pink bands that cross their yellowish bodies.
Summary of Arizona’s Wild Animals
Depending on where you travel within Arizona, you’re bound to see a wide variety of wildlife. Since many of the insects and snake species found in the state are venomous, you must give them plenty of room when you do come across them. If you spot a species you cannot identify, avoid contact as it may be dangerous.