Death Valley National Monument

Animal and Plant Life

Life in surprising abundance is found below sea level. Desert coyote, kit fox, wild cat, and Mexican badger are to be seen by the careful observer. the Nelson bighorn, still found in the mountains, has been known to visit the valley floor. The smaller mammals of the region are the jack rabbits, Arizona cottontail, 2 species of ground squirrels, the kangaroo rat, wood or trade rat, several smaller rodents, and 6 varieties of bats. Among the permanent bird residents of the valley are the road runner, prairie falcon, raven, LeConte thrasher, burrowing owl, and the rock wren. The winter bird visitors are several species of ducks and geese, a number of the wading birds, hawks, and owls. Of the small migrants, there are warblers, sparrows, blackbirds, blycatchers, bluebirds, doves, and robins. The horned toad and chuckwalla, interesting lizards, are rarely seen because of their protective coloring.

Strangely enough, there are fish in Death Valley. At Salt Creek and Saratoga Springs one may see the small "desert sardine", so called locally because the only other known name is Cyprinodon macularius, in reality a small killifish. It is a "relict" fish--all that is left of the once abundant ichthyological life of the great inland sea that is now Death Valley.

Of all the plants growing on the floor of the Valley, the thorny mesquite has played the most important part. It furnished food for the Indians and the birds, as well as forage for the stock. The crewbean, a near relative, was useful in the same manner but to a lesser degree. The arrowweed was formerly of economic importance to the Indian. It furnished strong, straight shafts for arrows and it was used in the construction of their dwellings. Desert cane served in a like capacity. Other plants in the valley are the beautiful desert holly with pale foliage and red flower buds, the iodine bush growing at the very edge of the salt beds, and desert heather characterized by purple foliage.

Higher along the washes and in the mountains are many other examples of plant life, foremost of which are several species of the cactus family. The sting-bush, derives its name from the "stinging hairs" that cover the leaves and stems, and the wet-leaf is so called because the under surfaces of the large leaves are always wet. Of particular interest to scientists are two plants with very localized distribution--Death Valley sage and an astragalus or loco week. The location of the various plants in the valley is controlled largely by two factors, the plant's water requirements and tolerance or intolerance of salts.

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