What kind of critters will you see on a Grand Canyon rafting trip?
There are a lot of critters in Grand Canyon! Both along the rims of Grand Canyon, and while you’re on a Grand Canyon rafting trip. If you’re the kind of person who feels better equipped to handle things when you know about it ahead of time, this article is for you. If that’s not you, ignore this blog post. 😉
So, let’s dive in. There are many more than what’s listed below, but here you’ll see the most talked about, the most likely to be seen and the most common, but not likely to be seen, animals.
MOST TALKED ABOUT ANIMALS THAT YOU MAY OR MAY NOT SEE
Rattlesnakes: There are 9 species of rattlesnakes found in Grand Canyon. They prefer the shade during hot days and are hidden most of the time, but watch out for them hiding under rocks, in crevices on the rock walls, or sometimes slithering by while you hike. If you see one or hear one rattle, locate it, and then move away. Alert a guide. Do not attempt to get closer to it. There are many other species of non-venomous snakes in Grand Canyon, but you are not likely to see them or rattlesnakes on a trip.
Scorpions: The Bark Scorpion and the Giant Hairy Scorpion are the 2 species found in the Canyon. While scorpions are everywhere, you are unlikely to encounter one as they prefer to stay hidden and are nocturnal. If you do see one, it will most likely be the more common bark scorpion, but they blend in well with the sand, so you can easily miss them. We recommend not going barefoot in camp and shaking out clothing and shoes before putting them on to avoid potential stings (though this won’t guarantee you won’t get stung). Also, delay putting your sleeping bag out until you’re ready to climb into it yourself. If you would rather not know how many scorpions might be near or in your camp, don’t go on the scorpion hunt some guides might lead.
Tarantulas: These docile large spiders are rarely seen, and they’re generally harmless. Although I’ve heard they have a painful bite, I have never actually heard of anyone getting bit by one. They are not considered venomous to humans. There are many other species of spiders in Grand Canyon as well.
Skunks: There are 3 species of skunks found in Grand Canyon: the striped, spotted and the uncommon hog-nosed skunk. All these cute little guys can produce a fierce stink, but they are not exceptionally common, so you’re unlikely to smell or see one down there.
Lions, Tigers and Bears Oh my! Mountain Lions are not common inside the Canyon, but there are healthy populations of them on both rims. While they do sometimes wander far down into the abyss, they are incredibly rare to see. Bears are occasionally seen on both rims, however, there are only two confirmed sightings of bears down by the river. The chances of seeing one of these top predators are like winning the lottery. On rare occasions, grey foxes, bobcats or coyotes are seen in the canyon. There are no tigers in Grand Canyon, but to find out what is the MOST dangerous animal you might encounter at Grand Canyon, read on!
COMMON ANIMALS YOU’RE MOST LIKELY TO SEE
Red Harvester Ants: Harvester ants are often confused with fire ants, maybe because they are red (perhaps people associate red with the word fire in the fire ant name), but harvester ants are nothing like fire ants at about 4 times the size. There are no tiny fire ants in Grand Canyon. The large species of red harvester ant has a painful sting that can hurt for up to a couple days. They are seen at most every place you may stop. And on almost every trip, there is at least one person stung by one! On a river trip, the harvester ant is the most likely animal to have a negative encounter with, so be observant of where you walk and step at all times.
Lizards and amphibians: There are 5 species of lizards commonly seen within Grand Canyon, from very little lizards to some good-sized lizards. They are the Spiny lizard, Whiptail lizard, Tree lizard, Side Blotched lizard and Collared lizard. The “horny toad” lizard is only likely to be seen at Lees Ferry or on the rim, and the rare Gila Monster has only been seen a few times in far western Grand Canyon. Lizards are most active in the warmer months. There are commonly seen amphibians as well, with several species of frogs and toads frequently seen in the Canyon.
Bats: You’ll likely hear them and see them every single night on your trip, especially in the warmer months. They make various distinct “chirping” sounds. There are 22 species that have been found in Grand Canyon. Bats are super cute and cool to see in the Canyon and they keep the flying insect numbers reduced around camp. However, they have occasionally been problematic on river trips. Some bats in Grand Canyon have been confirmed to be carrying rabies. The Park Service, in concordance with the CDC recommends that any person with a potential bat bite or scratch be evacuated from the river trip in order to receive the rabies vaccine series. The Park Service oversees making this decision on river trips, and although it doesn’t happen often, we have had some bat encounters on our rafting trips over the years. The Park and AzRA recommend you sleep in a tent to avoid potential bat interactions.
Flying insects: Obnoxious flying insects like flies, mosquitos and gnats “noseeums”, can occasionally be common in some locations in the Canyon. Over the years, the fly population has increased. There are many species, but the most annoying and common of them is the Stable Fly. They do bite and they probably became established in the Canyon from mules at Phantom Ranch. Insect repellant is becoming more useful down there every year, as the United States Geologic Survey (USGS) works to increase the insect population for the fish. Increasing river temperatures may also promote more bug life. Mosquitos and gnats are most likely to be encountered in spring or very early summer in Grand Canyon, if they are seen at all. Grand Canyon is a more humid habitat during our summer monsoon season (end of June through mid-September), and during exceptionally rainy summers, it’s possible there may be more mosquitoes. All the more reason to bring a little repellant with you. There is also a diverse population of commonly seen and beautiful butterfly, moth, dragonfly and wasp species (including the common and colorful Tarantula Hawk species) in the Canyon.
Beetles: There are many different types of beetles and other insects (both terrestrial and aquatic) commonly found in Grand Canyon. They are fun and interesting to observe as they go about their busy, little lives. Learn about the fascinating Carrion Beetle which you are most likely to see by the “Groover”.
Bighorn Sheep: These are some truly magnificent creatures that very few people get to see in nature, as up close and personal as you do in Grand Canyon! You will be truly impressed seeing them down there and you’re most likely to see them close to river level, when they come down to the river to drink and eat foliage. You’ll likely see more than one at a time, and it’s a real treat to see these noble, sure-footed creatures.
Mule Deer: Deer are common in some areas of the Canyon, although they can be seen just about anywhere, you are most likely to see them where there is access to the rim, larger deltas and shorelines with lots of vegetation. Another area within the Canyon that they are quite common in is around Phantom Ranch and the Bright Angel Trail.
Birds: Many bird species can be seen every day, but Ravens are the most noticed birds in the Canyon. They are large, intelligent and pesky, and have learned over time how to rifle through dry bags and open backpacks for food. You’ll often see them cleaning up camp after you leave to find any accidental leftovers hidden in the sand. There are too many other regularly seen birds to name here, but my personal favorite is the Canyon Wren. You’ll likely hear its unique song every morning on your trip. It’s truly glorious.
Fish: If the river is running clear, you are likely to see both non-native rainbow trout and common carp, as well as the native Humpback chubs and Flannelmouth suckers. Look for them near camp where the dirty dishwater is tossed into the river. You may also see them in some of the side streams. There are many other native (some endangered) and non-native fish in the river, but the ones listed are the most observed.
Squirrels: And now for the MOST DANGEROUS animal at Grand Canyon! The Rock squirrel, at least according to Grand Canyon Park Rangers! This little critter earns this title through quantity, not quality, of bites as injurious interactions with squirrels occur with “exponentially higher frequency than injuries from any other animals.” While rock squirrels are common at the bottom of the Canyon, they fortunately are not very habituated to humans, as river camps are kept very clean, and feeding is discouraged. However, it is a completely different story on the rim and along the Bright Angel =Trail because they have become habituated to humans feeding them, either intentionally or by accident. Be cautious around these cunning, dangerous rodents! Listen for their repetitive bird-like alarm “chirps” when floating along the river.
NOT LIKELY TO BE SEEN, BUT COMMON ANIMALS
Mice/Rats: There are many species of small rodents in Grand Canyon, but you most likely won’t see them, although they are probably in every camp. You may hear them skittering around from time to time, and they could come looking for food. So don’t store food in your dry bags. They (along with ants) are one of the reasons river trips try to not even leave crumbs on the beach! At least one species of rodent in Grand Canyon can carry hantavirus (a serious illness), which is another reason the Park and AzRA recommend using a tent to reduce possible exposure.
Ring-Tail Cats: These critters are super cute, sporting long striped tails, cat-like faces and weasel-like bodies. They have also learned how to forage through dry bags for food. They, along with mice and squirrels, are why we tell you not to leave food in your dry bags overnight! They’re very secretive and are mostly active at night.
Beavers: Beavers are also active at night, so look for them swimming in the river at dusk and dawn. Since the dam was built, their numbers have increased in the Canyon. They are most common in areas with an abundance of willow species. Look for their burrows in steep dirt banks and their tracks and slides in the sand, from them going to shore to feed.
Interested in reading about other critters in Grand Canyon? Go to our blog, and click on “Wildlife”.