An Animal Lover’s Guide to the Wildlife in Joshua Tree National Park

No matter which trail you turn down or area you choose to explore, you are likely to see many species of desert wildlife during your trip to Joshua Tree National Park. Many people probably expect to see desert lizards, but not many realize that many other animals make the desert their home.

But, in fact, there are about 57 different mammal species, 46 reptile species (including tortoises!), 250 bird species, 75 species of butterfly, as well as many other invertebrates and amphibians.

All residents of Joshua Tree National Park have adapted to life with little water and harsh conditions such as high summer temperatures. Some even hibernate during the arid summer months and coldest winter months.

How To See Animals In Joshua Tree

During your visit to the park, you will no doubt see birds, lizards and ground squirrels in abundance. To increase your chances of seeing more wildlife you want to plan a hike (use our guide to best hikes) in the early morning right after dawn or near dusk in an area that is not as well-traveled.  Walk slowly and look closely to see as many species as possible.

Remember if an animal starts to back away from you, you are too close.

Mammals In Joshua Tree 


Most mammals in the park hide during the day and come out in the evenings after temperatures have cooled. They are also lighter in color than their forest-dwelling cousins to help them adapt to the heat.

Some of the more common mammals you will see on your trip, even during the daytime include the jackrabbit, cottontails, squirrels, and mice.

In the evenings and early mornings, you are more likely to see many more species of squirrels, gophers, grey foxes, and maybe even coyote.

If you are hiking near large boulders or near the springs you may see the giant mule deer or even bighorn sheep.

Fun fact: There are 16 known species of bats that have been seen in the park and if you are there for very long you are sure to see them.

Although present in the park, you will more than likely not see bobcats or mountain lions.

Birding in Joshua Tree National Park

Bird watching is a favorite hobby for many visitors to Joshua Tree and with more than 250 different species present at different times of the year, it is likely you will see several of them.

Common birds include woodpeckers, sparrows, hummingbirds, quail, turkey vultures and red-tail hawks. You may also see mockingbirds, great horned owl, and migrating waterfowl like ducks or even pelicans.

Although they are present in the park, it is rare to see bald eagle, falcons or roadrunners.

Desert Reptiles (And Amphibians)

It is no surprise that many species of lizards and snakes make their home in Joshua Tree National Park, but it may come as a surprise that tortoise and even frogs can be found here.

You will definitely see gecko and multiple varieties of spiny lizards and may see a desert iguana. These lizards are fun to watch as they track their prey in the underbrush.

There are several different varieties of rattlesnake, so be mindful of that as you hike, especially where undergrowth or rocks create a good hiding place for them.

Insects & Spiders In Joshua Tree

There are more than 1,000 varieties of insects and spiders in the park and there is no doubt you will see them on your hike. Be mindful when turning over rocks or scrambling into caverns. You are for sure to see tarantula, butterflies, scorpions and ants.

Dangerous Animals In Joshua Tree National Park

Remember, these animals call Joshua Tree home and many species inside the park are on the rare or endangered list, like the Mojave Desert Tortious, so respect their habitat and take only photos.

Although there are some dangerous or poisonous animals, insects and snakes in the park, they are all protected by federal law and it is a serious crime to hurt or kill any animals.

If you are worried about your safety, stay clear of all animals and insects and watch where you are going. Another good rule of thumb is to never feed any of the wildlife you encounter. Keep your food in your car, in a backpack or hard-sided container, and place all waste in designated garbage bins. Never leave food out for them to find. Also, keep your distance and admire them from at least a few feet away.  Be sure and check out our list of safety tips while in Joshua Tree National Park before you go.