Desert mammals face many challenges, among them - heat, cold, usually relentless sunlight, scarcity of water and civilization. If they are to be successful on the hostile desert, they must adapt to these conditions.


Some, like the black bear and wolf, are mostly mountain inhabitants, but occasionally stray down onto the desert. Mountain lions, also called cougars, are also among this group. They are common enough in the mountain ranges (especially the San Gabriel Mountains and San Bernardino Mountains), but rarely are seen down on the desert. When they do stray into populated areas it usually causes a commotion.


Coyotes, which are related to wolves and dogs, are more common than one might suppose, but more heard (howling) than seen. They are mostly scavengers and civilization-followers on the desert, but will often catch and eat rodents. But the wily and usually secretive coyote (Spanish for "wild dog") frequently pays a visit to neighborhoods looking for dog and cat food, and even catches and eats domestic pets.


The bobcat, fox and kit fox are secretive, too, and frequently prowl at night. They seem to see, smell, and hear better at night. And by being mostly nocturnal and diurnal (dawn and dusk) they don't have to face the realities of heat and hot sun. They get most of their moisture from prey.


And then there's the rodent population. We have two common rabbits present on the desert - the jackrabbit (actually a hare) and the cottontail rabbit. Hares mature more quickly than common rabbits and are therefore more adaptable. Both fluctuate with conditions, especially rainfall (which increases plants they principally live on), but are also civilization-followers, and like Peter Rabbit, will not hesitate to dine in your garden or eat landscape vegetation.


Other rodents include the Mojave ground squirrel and common chipmunk. They are similar in appearance, although the adult squirrel is larger than the chipmunk. The chipmunk is rapidly edging out the ground squirrel, which is native to the desert. Chipmunks climb trees and ground squirrels don't, or rarely do. We also have kangaroo rats with their conspicuous long tails, a third their body length. There are occasional field mice, which are the ones that invade homes. Also, the civilization-following gopher can be very destructive. It is best to poison gophers and chipmunks by locating their holes and pouring a generous amount of poison barley into the hole. However, do it without disturbing the hole (they will sense the disturbance). What is left of the barley will just sprout, not leak into the soil.


Occasionally one sees wild burros, and even horses, on the desert. The wild burros are probably descendents from miner's animals. Report these to the local BLM office and let them capture and relocate the animal.


And finally we have numerous feral wild dogs and cats, and even mice, hamsters, and an occasional bird, who have gotten away from someone's home or been abandoned. Report these to local animal control for pick-up, because they complete with native species.


Next month, we'll cover reptiles (including s-s-snakes) and amphibians and fish. Stay tuned!