A Homeowner’s Guide To Living with Desert Wildlife


Tucson is home to one of the most beautiful deserts in the country! The Sonoran Desert offers many stunning landscapes, including unsurpassable sunrises and sunsets. Our native plants and plant communities provide a sense of place and help define our region’s identity while enhancing our community appearance. Native plants contribute to the stabilization of desert soils, which leads to a decrease in soil erosion and promotes water conservation. No supplemental irrigation is required here. Aside from contributing to Arizona’s beauty, our native plants give life to something else we’re known for; our critters!

Due to the fact that many sonoran desert wildlife species make their homes in the open desert surrounding the city, any significant changes or damages affects them as much as it affects us. Pima County has therefore declared a percentage of these open areas to be maintained as Natural Open Spaces (NOS). In a Natural Open Space the vegetation is intended to grow naturally, and all trees, shrubs and cacti are not to be disturbed. Not only does this support the fragile plant life that lives here, it gives the critters that call Arizona home a place to live and roam freely, often roaming into local properties and homes.

As responsible homeowners, we have to live with the cute and sometimes deadly wildlife. You want to make sure that you are treating and caring for your property to minimize the amount of unwanted wildlife. Below are insights on some of our more prominent critters of the desert and tips to help prevent unwanted wildlife on your property.




Javelinas primarily eat plants such as cacti, succulent bulbs, tubers, beans and seeds, plus insects and grubs. Garbage can also provide an easy, but unhealthy, meal. Plus javelinas need drinking water, and will seek cool, moist soil for loafing, which therefore can cause significant damage to landscaping and drip irrigation systems.

  • Never feed javelina

  • Securely store all garbage

  • Feed pets indoors and remove any leftover food immediately

  • Keep birdseed and water off the ground and out of the reach of javelina

  • Landscape your yard with natural vegetation instead of ornamental vegetation that javelina enjoy eating

  • Pick up fruit as soon as it drops from your trees

  • Trim plants that could provide hiding cover

  • Keep your dogs on a leash when outdoors as javelina view dogs as a threat and will defend themselves

If you are confronted by a javelina, scare them off by making loud noises, throwing small rocks in their direction or spraying them with water from a garden hose.



(Photo credit: Gregory “Slobirdr” Smith)

Pack rats are prevalent in the desert and you can identify a pack rat as they are a little smaller and have long, sometimes, bushy tails.

Pack rats like to build their nests from twigs, often incorporating cactus, using the base of a prickly pear, Cholla cactus, bushes and shrubbery as the site for their home. To avoid these unwanted pests, the following tips are recommended:

  • Trim all your trees, shrubbery and bushes regularly. It is best to not have your cactus and bushes touch the ground as it is an invitation for the pack rats to set up their nests.

  • Stacks of wood or clippings should be kept at a higher level and not on the ground.

  • Your cacti should be maintained regularly and it is important to remove dead parts of a cactus immediately, otherwise the pack rats may find this a perfect place to nest.

  • Keep outside containers closed with a tight lid, including trash cans and plastic storage containers.

  • When trimming bigger plants such as oleanders or bougainvillea’s, make sure they are thinned out enough where you can see the sunlight through them.

  • Pick up fruit that has fallen from trees on a regular basis.

  • Pick up animal waste on a daily basis.

  • Protect the tubing at the base of your condenser by placing wire mesh screening around the tubes. This should prevent the pack rats from chewing up the condenser lines.

  • Place wire mesh screening around your plants, bushes and shrubs.



(Photo credit: Brent Myers)

The Arizona desert is home to many species of snakes, with the most famous of these being the Rattlesnake. Rattlesnakes are extremely poisonous and are held in well-deserved respect. Another venomous snake found in the desert is the Coral snake. Arizona is also home to many non-venomous snakes, the most popular being the King snake. The coral and some species of king snakes are very similar in color and to differentiate the coral snake from the king snake, a little memory device can help: “If red touches yellow, it can harm a fellow; if red touches black, it’s okay for Jack.” The best safety, however, lies in caution – just stay a safe distance away!

There are also many other harmless snakes, including the gopher snake, the banded sand snake, the western shovel-nosed snake, and the desert worm snake. A snake’s diet consists of rodents, lizards, birds and other snakes. Snakes can be an asset as they help in controlling rodents, especially those pesky packrats!

The following tips are recommended to help keep your property and pets safe from snakes:

  • Tidy up your yard by clearing away undergrowth, toys and tools that make great hiding places for snakes.

  • Clean up spilled food, fruit or bird seed, which can attract rodents – and therefore snakes – to your yard.

  • Walk your pet on a leash and steer your pet clear of long grasses, bushes and rocks.

  • A snake can strike from a distance equal to about half his body length, so if you see a snake, head back the way you came.

A snake bite is always considered dangerous, not only to people, but to pets as well. Should you or your pet be bitten by a snake, it is important to get to the hospital immediately, or in the case of your pet, get them to a veterinarian or contact the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at their 24-hour hotline at 1-888-426-4435.



Photo credit: David~O

Scorpions are also common desert dwellers and therefore we need to pay close attention as there are some species that have a strong enough poison to kill a person. Scorpions are nocturnal and feed at night, typically eating insects. They come in a variety of colors which allows them to blend in well with the surrounding areas.

Below are some methods of eliminating scorpions from your home and property:

  • Keep your home free of other pests such as cockroaches and spiders so the scorpion won’t have any food sources to crave.

  • Do not stockpile lumber, firewood, compost heaps or rocks.

  • Seal the cracks in windows and doors, and check your foundation to keep other insects from coming in.

  • Placing glue boards can be a simple, but impactful pest control. Scorpions like to follow a wall when walking, so place the glue traps in the corner of the room. Placing them in a closet can also help as this is a perfect place for daylight hiding.

  • Boric acid powder can also be used as it adheres to the legs of the scorpions and works as a powerful natural insecticide. Place the powder in cracks, crevices and hard to reach places.

The best prevention to dealing with the wildlife critters in our desert is first and foremost “stay away!” By treating and caring for your home and property from the desert wildlife, you will keep it safe and minimize the amount of unwanted wildlife. If you still have problems with wildlife in or around your home, consider contacting a local pest control firm for help. Here are three local companies with good reputations:

Northwest Exterminating, (520) 888-2847

Dorado Pest Control, (520) 886-3037

Conquistador Pest Control, (520) 624-5901