Western Patchnose Snake

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While hiking in the Cerbat Mountains in Arizona, I encountered this slender 3 foot snake. Most noticeable is the large, patch-like scale on the end of its nose. These tend to be earthtone snakes with black stripes.


The Western Patchnose Snake is found in sandy soils or rocky areas in lowland desert with open creosote bush flats or desert scrub. It is a very fast-moving snake and can disappear quickly if threatened.

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It’s eyes are large relative to the size of the head, which is an indication that this is a day-active predator that hunts mainly by sight.

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The enlarged scale on its nose is useful for burrowing while in search of its food: lizards, small mammals and reptile eggs. This snake does not constrict its prey, though it does throw loops of its body on top of the prey to subdue it.

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Many animals have curious adaptations that give them an advantage in surviving the natural world in which they inhabit. This reptile’s special scale, which appears as if it had been patched on in haste, gives it an edge when rooting out food items from the ground.

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Catclaw Acacia

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Catclaw Acacia provides an excellent nectar source for honey and is attractive to butterflies. The dense spikes of cream colored flowers emit a powerfully sweet fragrance.

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This plant is a member of the Pea Family and its fairly large seeds occur in 2-6 inch long, twisted, stringbean-type pods. They start off as green and eventually age to a brown color.

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Catclaw Acacia branches have wickedly sharp, curved thorns that can easily scratch skin and snag clothing. Close encounters with this plant can leave you looking like you were in a cat fight.

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Even along the driest desert washes, this shrub often presents a lush appearance with stems densely clothed in feathery leaves.

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This plant provides shade and protective cover for wildlife. Its pods, twigs and leaves are eaten by a variety of desert birds and mammals.

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Black-tailed Jackrabbit


The Black-tailed Jackrabbit has huge ears. It can regulate its body heat by increasing or decreasing the blood flow through its ears.


It usually rests during the day and feeds in the late afternoon and the night. In it eats a wide variety of plants – a favorite food is alfalfa.


The Black-tailed Jackrabbit gets most of the water it needs from the plants it eats. It lives in the extreme environments, where temperatures are hot during the day and cold at night, and there isn’t a lot of rain.


The soles of a Black-tailed Jackrabbit’s feet are covered with fur. This cushions their feet on hard ground and insulates them from the scorching heat of the desert sand. Their fur color blends in well with the habitat that it lives in.


It is not really a rabbit; rather, it is a hare, because its young are born with fur and with their eyes open. This is a swift mammal that can run at speeds of up to 30 miles an hour and it can jump distances of about 20 feet.


I have found that Black-tailed Jackrabbits are pretty hard to get close to in the wild. They are very wary and burst from their hiding spots with a jolt of speed.

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Prickly Pear Cactus

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This classic North American desert plant consists of about a dozen species. All have flat, fleshy pads that look like large leaves. The pads are actually modified branches or stems that serve several functions — water storage, photosynthesis and flower production.

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Most Prickly Pear Cactus have yellow, red or purple flowers – even among the same species. They vary in height from less than a foot to 6 or 7 feet. Like other cactus, most prickly pears have large spines, which are actually modified leaves growing from tubercles (small, wart-like projections).

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The fruits of most prickly pears are edible and sold in stores. Prickly Pear Cactus branches (the pads) can be cooked and eaten as a vegetable.

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Prickly Pear Cactus are found in all of the deserts of the American Southwest, with different species having adapted to different localities and elevation ranges.

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There has been medical interest in the Prickly Pear plant. Some studies have shown that the pectin contained in the Prickly Pear pulp lowers levels of “bad” cholesterol while leaving “good” cholesterol levels unchanged.

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I enjoy seeing the different forms of this “classic” desert plant whenever I visit the Mojave Desert. And with its many uses to man, who knows what other secrets this arid-dwelling succulent may reveal?

Third Eye Herp

Desert Night Lizard

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I came across this secretive lizard of arid and semi-arid habitats this week. It is not often seen. During the day it may be found under fallen debris of desert plants and under rocks. It is usually found near yucca plants.

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This is the tiniest lizard in the Mojave Desert, reaching 1½ to 2¾ inches long, with a tail roughly the same length. The lizard’s coloring is usually gray, yellow-brownish or olive.  It is a slim, velvet-skinned lizard.

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Despite their name, night lizards are active during the day. They are good climbers and usually eats termites, small insects, spiders and other invertebrates. They are the only lizards in the southwest that do not have eyelids, so like snakes, their eyes are always open.

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Like all night lizards, the Desert Night Lizard does not lay eggs, instead it gives birth to live young, producing 1 to 3 young from August to December.

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The Desert Night Lizard displays unusual behavior for a lizard in that it forms family social groups with a father-mother pair and offspring. The baby lizards may stay with their parents for years before going out on their own.

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Giant Desert Hairy Scorpion

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The Giant Desert Hairy Scorpion is the largest scorpion in North America, reaching lengths of 6 inches.

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They have sensory hairs can detect air movement up to a foot away. They also have a long tail that is tipped with a bulb-like poison gland and stinger as well as large pinchers and four pairs of legs.

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This creature burrows deep in the desert soil and often follows the moisture line, creating burrows as deep as 8 feet below the surface. It emerges from its burrow at night to hunt. Its nocturnal habits allow it to withstand the extreme heat of its desert habitat.

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The scorpion’s large size allows it to feed on other scorpions as well as a variety of other prey, including desert insects, spiders, centipedes and small vertebrates, such as lizards.

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As with all scorpions, the Giant Desert Hairy Scorpion bears live offspring. As the babies are born, they quickly crawl up their mother’s pincers and legs and onto her back where they will safely ride for about one week. After that they leave their mother and are independent.

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Scorpions are the oldest known terrestrial arthropods, having been on earth for 430 million years. Finding this ancient creature that still makes a living in modern times and in a harsh environment was one of the highlights of visiting the Mojave Desert.

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Gambel’s Quail


These are plump birds that tend to stay on the ground. Males and females are both are gray overall with brown sides that are streaked with white, and both sport a black plume feather on the forehead that bends forward. Males have a black face outlined in white and a red cap. Females have a gray head and face.


The Gambel’s quail is named in honor of William Gambel, a 19th-century naturalist and explorer of the Southwestern United States.


These birds mainly move about by walking and can move surprisingly fast through brush and undergrowth. They are a non-migratory species and are rarely seen in flight.


Desert mountain foothills, mesquite springs, plains with diverse vegetation and any area of the desert receiving slightly more rainfall than surrounding parts, are all home to these birds.


Most of the Gambel’s Quail diet is in the form of plants. Various types of seeds and leaves are eaten throughout the year. During certain times of year fruits and berries from cacti are eaten. A few insects are eaten during the nesting season in spring and early summer.


This week I’ve seen a few pairs of Gambel’s Quail walking around the desert with their brood of chicks. Young quail are capable of running around and feeding soon after hatching. They are fun to watch as parents and offspring frequently communicate back and forth with each other.


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Longnose Snake

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This slender snake tends to reach a length of about 3 feet. While there is considerable variation in pattern and color, generally this snake is banded or blotched with black, white (or yellow) and red.

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Active primarily at night, this small constrictor primarily eats lizards and their eggs, but it will also eat small snakes and small mammals.

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It is a ground burrower and like most desert snakes, it spends the majority of the hot daytime hours underground. The Longnose Snake prefers living in rocky or brushy habitat in desert, grassland and scrubland areas.

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This is a gentle species that sometimes vibrates it tail when annoyed or hides its head in its coils when trying to avoid a potential enemy. I’ve caught quite a few of them over the years and have never had one attempt to bite.

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This is one of my favorite desert snakes, as no two look exactly alike.

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Sacred Datura

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It’s hard to miss the gigantic white flowers on this plant which look like a Morning Glory on steroids. It is a member of the tomato, potato and eggplant family. This plant has several other common names, including Jimson weed, thorn apple, Indian apple, moon lily, moon flower and angel’s trumpet.

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Sacred Datura mostly grows in sandy washes. Its dark grayish-green, heart-shaped leaves form mounds from which sprout striking, 6-inch-long, bright white flowers which ripen to become sharp-prickly seed-pods.

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Each large, trumpet-shaped, blossom blooms for only one night and must therefore work fast to attract its pollinators. The flower opens at twilight and releases a strong lemon-like scent. Hawk Moths are its major nocturnal pollinators, but various other insects also arrive the following morning to enjoy the pollen at the heart of the flower.

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All parts of this strikingly massive plant are toxic.  It contains numerous poisonous alkaloids and their narcotic and hallucinogenic properties have made it part of sacred rituals and experimentations – both of which have resulted in many deaths.

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So it’s best to look, but not eat this very interesting part of the southwestern landscape.

Third Eye Herp

Side-blotched Lizard

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These are the most abundant and commonly observed lizards in the Las Vegas-area desert. They commonly grow to six inches long; their relatively small size enables them to warm up quickly and be active at cooler temperatures than most other desert reptiles.

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Males often have bright throat colors and can be quite beautiful. They are also amusing to watch, as they exhibit an array of behaviors, like doing “push ups” or walking around just using their front feet while their back end drags behind them.

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Because of their small size and widespread distribution, Side-blotched Lizards are prey items for many desert species. Snakes, larger lizards and birds all have them on the menu. In turn, these reptiles eat arthropods, such as insects, spiders, and occasionally scorpions.


Side-blotched Lizards can be found in a wide variety of arid and semi-arid habitats with scattered shrubs growing in soil may be sandy, gravelly or rocky. The species is often found in sandy washes with scattered rocks and bushes.

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It is a day-active reptile and is usually the first lizard species out in the morning. It is active mostly on the ground, but it is also a good climber. I often see Side-blotched Lizards basking on rocks or hopping from boulder to boulder.

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