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Exhibits: Desert Grassland

At our Desert Grassland exhibit you will be surrounded by native grasses and animals that are found in desert grasslands. You can observe the antics of our ever popular prairie dogs, see a replica of a mammoth kill site, and stroll through towering soap tree yuccas.

Grassland is a semiarid biome characterized by warm, humid summers with moderate rain and cold, dry winters. (The central valley of California is an exception; it is a winter-rainfall grassland at a lower than typical elevation.) Grass is the dominant life form; scores of species form a nearly continuous cover over large areas. Other well-represented life forms are annuals and geophytes (herbaceous perennials such as bulbs that die to the ground each year). Populations of trees, shrubs, and succulents are kept at low levels by periodic fires during the dry season.

Most of the grasslands in the western states are intermediate between the true prairies of the American Midwest and deserts. They are called semi-desert or desert grasslands. Compared with prairie grassland, the grasses in desert grassland are shorter, less dense, and are more frequently interspersed with desert shrubs and succulents. Desert grassland or chaparral borders the northern Sonoran Desert on the east.

Currently on exhibit in our Desert Grassland:

Black VultureBlack-tailed Prairie DogGreat Blue Heron

Black-tailed Prairie Dog

Nowhere else can you see this sight: black-tailed prairie dogs in an Arizona grassland. Once numerous over their small range in this state, now they're completely gone. Black-tailed prairie dogs (one of five prairie dog species) still live elsewhere in the western United States and in Mexico.

Prairie dogs are grassland squirrels. They eat vegetation, mostly grass, which is 70 - 90% of their diet.

Black-tailed prairie dogs do not hibernate, but may stay underground in bad weather. Prairie dog predators are eagles, hawks, bobcats, rattlesnakes, coyotes, badgers (and at one time, the black-footed ferret, which specialized in prairie dogs and is also now gone from Arizona).

Generally loved for their antics, prairie dogs are hated by some people and have been exterminated because they were thought to compete with livestock for food. The degree of competition is difficult to determine and is still under investigation.