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11 Of The Coolest Desert Critters

As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the California Desert Protection Act, which elevated Joshua Tree and Death Valley from national monuments to national parks and created Mojave National Preserve, there is a lot to love! Beyond temperatures that top 120+ degrees, features like wetlands, extinct volcanoes and lava caves, giant sand dunes, wild rivers, and even waterfalls are found in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts – as well as some pretty cool critters; so many that a top 10 list just wouldn't do!

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1. Desert Kit Fox

Benjamin Smith

At four pounds of absolute adorable, the kit fox is the smallest wild canine in North America and preys on jackrabbits, kangaroo rats, squirrels, mice, lizards and birds. Kit foxes thrive in the desert's dune systems and are primarily nocturnal.

2. Desert Bighorn Sheep

National Park Service Photo by Robb Hannawacker / Via Flickr: joshuatreenp

These acrobats can scramble up the side of a mountain at 15mph, thanks to their concave hoofs that grip the rocks. They are also sprinters and can hit 30mph along flat ground.

3. Black Throated Sparrow

Steve Berardi / Creative Commons / Via Flickr: steveberardi

These pint-sized birds are well adapted to desert conditions, consuming less water than any other seed-eating birds. Their secret weapon? Moisture-filled insects. During summer's drought-like conditions, they give up their vegetarian diet and become insect-eaters. Genius!

4. Chuckwalla

David Lamfrom / NPCA

While these large lizards may look like fierce predators, they are vegetarians that make their meals out of desert flowers, fruits and leaves. When the desert reaches scorching summer heats, Chuckwallas keep cool by laying low in rock crevices.

5. Desert Tortoise

David Lamfrom / NPCA

These engineers of the desert emerge from their burrows just prior to a desert thunderstorm and dig a trough to collect rainwater so they can get a cool drink. Desert tortoises can go for more than a year without drinking as they store water in their bladders.

6. Tarantula Hawk Wasp

National Park Service Photo by Robb Hannawacker / Via Flickr: joshuatreenp

This two-inch wasp is not to be messed with. The females attack and paralyze large spiders and deposit their eggs. When the eggs hatch, the wasp goes for a round 2 feast of baby spiders!

8. Banded Gecko

National Park Service / Via Flickr: joshuatreenp

Night time is the right time for these lizards to feed on spiders, baby scorpions and other small insects. They store fat in their tails and wave them about to distract predators. If attacked, the tail can break off, leaving the gecko unharmed and the attacker with a tasty meal!

9. Greater Roadrunner

National Park Service / Via Flickr: joshuatreenp

Meep meep! Proven in the classic cartoon and real life, the Greater Roadrunner is fast - clocking in at running speeds up to 20 mph. Speediness comes in handy for hunting down prey including snakes, small birds and mice, which the bird holds in its bill, body-slamming it against the ground until ready to devour.

10. Mojave Tui Chub

National Park Service / Via National Park Service

The Mojave River's only native fish, this rare and endangered chub has since left the river and now calls Mojave Chub Spring in the Mojave National Preserve one of its last holdouts.

11. Kangaroo Rat

David Syzdek / Creative Commons / Via Flickr: dsyzdek

This nocturnal desert denizen never takes a drink of water during its entire life! Seriously. Never. All the water this critter needs comes from seeds.

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