Grand Classroom

Since Grand Canyon spans over 8,000 ft. in elevation, it harbors wildlife whose habitat range from arid desert to mountainous environments. Three main regions characterize the environments local to Grand Canyon: 1. The Rim or Coniferous Forest Region, 2. The Inner Canyon or Desert Scrub Region, and 3. The Colorado River and Inner Gorge, or Riparian Region. Within each region lies a distinct group of plant and animal life.

The Rim or Coniferous Forest Region

The region highest in elevation is home to over 50 species of mammals, numerous birds, several amphibians, and many reptiles. More prominent mammal species include several types of squirrels, including the more common red squirrels and Albert squirrels, mule deer, elk, and coyote. Around 90 species of birds inhabit this region with some of the more ubiquitous including the red-tailed hawk. The golden eagle and raven are common sights around the area as well. Perhaps the most intriguing bird of the region is the endangered California condor. With fewer than 200 presently in existence, it was reintroduced to the region in 1996. The California condor is North America’s largest land bird. Countless varieties of insects and arachnids occupy the region as well. Honey bees, orange paper wasps, beetles, black ants, swallowtail and monarch butterflies are commonly seen. Garden spiders, black widows, and tarantulas can also be found at this elevation.

Plants and trees of this region share in the diversity of the animals and insects. Most trees and shrubs dwell in higher elevations of the North and South Rims. Examples of indigenous trees and shrubs include white fir, Douglas fir, blue spruce, ponderosa pine, Utah juniper, Colorado pinyon, and Arizona walnut. Shrubs like fernbush, boxelder, catclaw acacia, chokeberry, netleaf hackberry, big sagebrush, and birchleaf buckthorn can be found in the region as well.

The Inner Canyon or Desert Scrub Region

Over 50 species of mammals inhabit the Desert Scrub Region. Of these, most are rodents and bats with a notable exception of the bighorn sheep which, after near extinction, is slowly making a comeback in the region between river and rim. Approximately 30 bird species can be found in the inner canyon. One of the more common is the canyon wren, whose distinctive song can frequently be heard when hiking into the canyon. Another interesting inhabitant of the inner canyon is the peregrine falcon which finds an abundance of prey in the form of other birds, bats, and rodents throughout the canyon. The canyon rattlesnake, with its camouflage exterior with diamond-shaped design feeds on rodents and insects in the region. Other reptiles include the chuckwalla, the largest and most recognizable of the numerous reptiles in the region.

The flowering shrubs of the area are typical to those in the North American desert environment. One commonly can find white bursage, western honey mesquite, mariola, and big sagebrush in the area. The cliff rose and mountain mahogany produce beautiful flowers when in bloom. Prickly pear and grizzly cactus are among the common cacti in the area.

The Colorado River and Inner Gorge, or Riparian Region

Like the other two areas of the canyon, most of the mammals in the Inner Gorge are rodents. However, there are a significant number of predators that stalk the ubiquitous little creatures. The ringtail, gray fox, mountain lion, raccoon, spotted skunk, coyote, and bobcat all comprise the rodent’s most lethal enemies, but the quantities of each of these predators are rather low. Bighorn sheep and mule deer also find their way into the Riparian region, mostly when food and water in other areas become scarce. Over 250 species of birds can be found in the Riparian Region of Grand Canyon. Most are migratory birds, yet many make their home there year-round. The majestic bald eagle is an example of a migratory bird that preys on trout while the black phoebe and the Bell’s vireo are annual natives to the region. Thanks to rich vegetation and abundant prey, most of Grand Canyon’s reptiles can be found in the Colorado River region. Gila monsters and chuckwallas, the two more prominent lizards in the area, can be found there, along with six species of rattlesnakes, the pink rattlesnake being the most common. Before the completion of the Glen Canyon Dam in 1963, native fish like the humpback chub and the humpback sucker dominated the Colorado River. After the advent of the dam, however, colder-water fish such as the brown and rainbow trout have threatened the natives’ control of the river. Fish both indigenous and non-native find plenty on which to feed via the region’s insect population. Caddis flies, black flies, beetles, butterflies, and moths are common in the region. In addition to the insects, the black scorpion and giant hairy scorpion can also be found.

The Colorado River provides copious plant-life as well. The coyote willow, cottonwood, columbine sedges, and horsetail are all common to the region. Lush vegetation can produce hanging gardens near water’s edge and cool water algae is an important source of food for much of the aquatic life. Mosses, lichens, and fungi, and prairie grasses can easily be found in the vicinity as well.

More information...

Alden, Peter; Cassie, Brian; Friederici, Peter; Kahl, Jonathan D. W.; Leary, Patrick; Leventer, Amy; and Zomlefer, Wendy B.;

1999; National Audubon Society guide to the Southwestern states. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 448 pp. (A Chanticleer Press Edition.) [Cover adds subtitle: "Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah" and lists authors Peter Alden and Peter Friederici.]

An Introduction to Grand Canyon Ecology / by Rose Houk ; with illustrations by Tony Brown. Grand Canyon, AZ.: Grand Canyon Association, c1996; Benson, Lyman, and Darrow, Robert A.;

1944; 19.249; A manual of southwestern desert trees and shrubs. University of Arizona, Bulletin, 15(2) (Biological Science Bulletin, 6), 411 pp. >Mon. 8: 4-11< FQ11B:22 FQ12:36 Guidon 52; Carothers, Steven W., and Goldberg, Nancy

1980; 19.415; The living canyon: Plants, animals, and their interrelationships with man. In: Euler, Robert C., and Tikalsky, Frank (eds.), The Grand Canyon up close and personal. [Dillon, Montana]: Western Montana College Foundation, pp. 17-34. >Mon. 8: 4-12

1995; 19.594; A field guide to the plants of Arizona. Helena, Montana: Falcon Press, 347 pp.; Epple, Anne Orth, and Epple, Lewis E.