Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum celebrates its 60th anniversary this weekend, Join the celebration

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (ASDM) first opened for business on Labor Day, 1952. Since then, ASDM has been providing education and enjoyment to thousands of visitors with its zoo, botanical gardens, Docent tours and interpretations. It also has a thriving Art Institute.

Since its founding in 1952, the Desert Museum’s mission has been to instill in visitors a deeper understanding, appreciation, and concern for stewardship of the remarkable ecosystem of Sonoran Desert region.



Some new exhibits/programs:

There is a new Great Blue Heron exhibit down in the grasslands habitat.

You can see some behind the scenes activity with the new Keepers Interaction Program. Watch the Museum’s professional keepers working with individual animals in training exercises, feedings or enrichment activities. Upon arrival, check the Plan Your Day board at the Entrance Patio for a daily list of animals, times & locations!

Come join the celebration.

New Coatis at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum has four new coatis to accompany an older resident coati. The newcomers are just out of quarantine and are getting used to their new habitat.


 The coati (males are called coatimundi) is a racoon-like animal with a long tail and long snout. It ranges from Columbia, through Central America into Mexico, southern Texas, New Mexico, and southern Arizona. The subspecies in the U.S. is called the white-nosed coati, Nasua narica, but there seems to be controversy over the taxonomy and the number of species.

Coatis have reddish-brown to chocolate-colored fur with gold highlights. They have a white snout and sometimes white on the breast. The two-foot long tail often has light and dark bands which become more prominent with age. Coatis grow 30- to 55 inches long and stand 8- to 12 inches at the shoulder. Females usually weigh about 10 pounds and males can weigh up to 25 pounds.

Coatis inhabit scrub-oak woodlands and riparian areas. They make nests in caves or platforms in trees. Coatis are relative newcomers to Arizona. They were first reported in Arizona in 1892 and seem to be expanding their range.

Coatis are opportunistic omnivores, feeding mainly on fruits, invertebrates, and small vertebrates. They have strong, curved digging claws on the front feet which they use to tear up logs and dig in the soil. They use the front feet and claws to roll small prey in the dirt prior to biting off the head. Coatis have a keen sense of smell and a nose that is used much like a pig’s for rooting out insects, lizards, and tubers. In Arizona, they will eat acorns, cactus fruit, manzanita berries, pinon nuts, wild grapes, stalks and seeds of agave, a variety of roots and grains, insects, arachnids, mice, pack rats, snakes, lizards, carrion, bird eggs, squirrels, and even skunks.

Coatis are very social animals. They tend to travel in large bands, mainly females and the young. The bands commonly contain 25 to 30 individuals and bands of 75 have been reported. Mature males are solitary except during mating season (April). The mated females give birth to 4- to 7 pups in July.

Coatis use their long tail for balance and communication. The tail is usually held up communicating safety and contentment. The tail is down to signal danger. Coatis also use a variety of vocalizations. According to ASDM, coati communication includes the following:

The contact call: a rapid series of high-pitched, low intensity chittering sounds used when members of the tribe become separated.

 Grooming: an activity that helps strengthen social bonds.

 Contact/chase: Females chase and threaten males during the spring. This threat is used during the summer against other females if they approach cubs too closely. In the fall and winter, this activity is friendly play.

 Nose Up: The nose-up posture is used during an antagonistic encounter, often accompanied by baring the teeth, with the neck extended and the tail held straight out behind.

 Lunge: This may follow the nose-up along with biting if the other coati does not retreat.

 Chittering: A rapid series of short, high-pitched, bird-like sounds used by sub-adults as an offensive signal often followed by an unfriendly chase.

 Squealing can accompany antagonistic encounters and fighting.

 So now you know how to talk to coatis. Go out to the museum to see them. They’re just hanging out waiting for you.

Raptor Free-Flight Returns to Desert Museum

With cooler weather, the raptor free-flight program has returned to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. There are two shows each day at 10 am and 2 pm.

The morning flight features three to five birds which may include Chihuahuan Ravens, Barn Owls, Great Horned Owls, Ferruginous Hawks, Gray Hawks, Prairie Falcons, or Greater Roadrunners. The afternoon flight features a family of Harris’ Hawks.

The shows demonstrate the different behaviors of the birds and their hunting strategies. During the flights, some of the birds fly just inches over your head. After the flights, museum staff usually have the birds on their fist which provides another opportunity to get very close to the birds.

Raptors are birds that eat live prey and also have excellent vision, sharp talons or toenails, and hooked or curved beaks. The ravens and roadrunners are not considered raptors, but they do scavenge and hunt. The raven is an omnivore, and feeds on grains, cactus fruit as well as insects, other invertebrates, reptiles, and carrion. The roadrunner, a member of the cuckoo family, hunts snakes, large insects, lizards, rodents, and various small birds.

The free-flights will be presented each day, weather permitting, through April 11, 2011.

Speckled Rattlesnakes at ASDM

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum has a new exhibit on Speckled rattlesnakes. The exhibit will run through November.


Speckled rattlesnakes most commonly inhabit dry, rocky, granite-filled canyons and their speckles resemble rock pattern and color, giving the snakes camouflage. Speckled rattlesnakes come in several colors including white, orange, pink, blue, tan, silver, black, and gray. They are generally small, 2- to 3 feet, but one subspecies can be up to 5 feet long.

Their range includes Central and Western Arizona, Southeast California, Northwest Sonora, Baja California, and several islands in the Gulf of California.

The exhibit focuses on the characteristics of skin color and pattern.

For more information on rattlesnakes in general see my article:RATTLESNAKES.