On an exciting ATV tour through the desert, you might stop for a break and observe the peaceful landscape. The desert sun hangs in the pale blue sky, while a cool breeze blows in and cuts through the heat of the the afternoon. What you might not notice in this pause with nature is that all around you, predators are lurking, while their prey are in a near constant state of high alert.
Like many ecosystems, the predator/prey dynamics in the desert are wide and varied. They feature some animals that live all over the continent, but many more who almost exclusively call the desert their home. We often see these various creatures on our fun Las Vegas ATV tours and here are some of the major players in this game of life and death:
One of the larger animals in the desert, coyotes are opportunists that will prey on just about any of the smaller animals around, and aren’t above scavenging. Rabbits, mice and gophers are among their usual meal choices, but grass, insects, and berries might be on the menu too. Although coyotes are large compared to most desert animals, these lanky canines only weigh in at about 25-30 lbs, and have known to be prey to top predators like mountain lions.
The Mojave rattlesnake’s venom is considered among the most potent in the world, and humans should give them a wide berth if encountered. These snakes hunt at night for rodents and lizards, but will also eat other snakes, birds, and some insects. While it has a formidable bite, the Mojave rattlesnake is considered prey to larger animals like the California kingsnake, the roadrunner, or large birds of prey.
The popular image of the roadrunner is the Looney Toons character who perpetually avoids Wile E. Coyote’s traps, but the real bird is just as interesting. Only able to fly short distances, the roadrunner prefers using its legs to get around. With a top speed of around 20 MPH and lightning quick reflexes, these funny looking birds can catch snakes, mice, and even hummingbirds or dragonflies out of midair. Swallowing all of its prey whole, a roadrunner might be seen walking through the desert with a snake hanging out of its mouth, slowly being swallowed and digested bit by bit.
Named after their low, sad-sounding coo, the mourning dove is found all across America and most of Mexico, including the desert. This mild-mannered bird is prey for the desert’s big cats (like mountain lions and bobcats), birds of prey, and larger snakes.
Another animal specifically adapted to the desert, these lizards fulfill all of their water requirements from plants that they eat, and spend their time either basking in the sun or hiding in compact dwellings under rocks. Coyotes and large birds are the chuckwalla’s likely predators, but it’s rare to see them becoming anyone’s dinner, probably due to their time spent dwelling under rocks where they can’t easily be reached.
This adorable ground squirrel likes to live in burrows that provide protection from both predators and the desert’s extreme temperatures. Measuring about six inches long, these small mammals eat mostly seeds and vegetation, but will prey on insects, and perhaps even smaller rodents. As prey itself, the antelope squirrel is mainly hunted by birds of prey, snakes, and coyotes.
You may not get a chance to see these predator/prey relationships in action, but next time you’re in the desert, you’ll know that the circle of life is continuing all around you.