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Life in Arizona: An Environment Trying to Kill You


Tell someone you live in Arizona and they immediately think about resort life, retirement, year-round golf, beautiful winter temps (highs in the 70s, lows in the 30s), and sunshine for 350 days a year (even Arizona gets clouds a few days each year).

The only thing that is better than our daily intake of Vitamin D is our freeway art – we do have some of the most beautiful freeways in the world.

Image: Highway Interchange with Channelized River, © Adriel Heisey

What people don’t always know, however, is that life in the desert can be a challenge. Mostly because we have the only environment in the world that is actively trying to kill you.

I’m sure you think I’m exaggerating, so let’s compare your state to Arizona…

Arizona Wildlife

Other places have plenty of vicious animals.

  • Florida has alligators (and “Florida Man…”).
  • Alaska has grizzly bears (and Sarah Palin <cough>).
  • New York has suicidal deer that hop in front of cars (probably so they won’t have to live in New York).

Arizona animals are slightly different. Not only will they playfully lure you, your kids, and your pets into the desert for the sole purpose of killing you; they’ll lounge on your patio and play in your pool when they’re done with the meal. Meet the javelina, bobcat, black bear, coyote, and mountain lion.


It’s true that we don’t have water moccasins floating down the river in tightly woven packs of lethal snake balls (like Texas). Or Copperheads slithering through the underbrush (like Kentucky).

Instead, we have 17 species of Rattlesnakes, all of which store enough venom to kill a person (or several persons).

The Mojave rattlesnake is so territorial and aggressive, it will not only bite you, but will chase you through scrub for a quarter mile to bite you again. Okay, that’s a total exaggeration, but you still don’t want to run into one…

On the bright side, their sheds make amazing soap!

Gila Monsters

Arizona is also home to one (of only two) venomous lizards in the world: the elusive Gila Monster. They carry just about as much venom as a rattlesnake; but you’ll probably need a bite stick to remove a Gila Monster from your leg.

Gila Monster

Sonoran Desert Toads

You may have frogs and toads in your state – but in Arizona, our amphibians are toxic.

Meet the Sonoran Desert Toad, which emits a neurotoxic venom called Bufotenine. This toxin induces serious hallucinations (and not the good kind).

Bufotenin is a tryptamine related to the neurotransmitter serotonin. It’s an alkaloid found in the skin of some species of toads; and also in mushrooms, and some mammals.

The Sonoran Desert Toad may not kill you, but it could kill your pets. These toads live in the ground and come out when humidity gets higher (usually during monsoon season or rainy periods). So, watch for these cute little guys any time it rains and keep your pets away from them.

Learn more about protecting your pets from Sonoran Desert Toads (Bufo toads) here.


Javelina at play

These surly, short-tempered wild pigs have razor-sharp tusks and have taken down many a hiker who stumbled upon their trail when they were with their young.

Think suicidal deer kill more people in North America than any other animal – around 200 human deaths every year) – meet one of Arizona’s many lethal herbivores: the temperamental javelina boar (aka peccary).

Javelina can usually be smelled before they are spotted. Their musky odor is legendary. You would do well to avoid them in the wild or if they show up in your backyard.

Black Bears

Black bears are another big plus of living in Arizona.

Sure, grizzly bears are big and scary, but did you know that black bears are actually responsible for more attacks than grizzly bears?

If you’re a white male over 65 years old, you’re probably doomed, for sure.

Statistics say that if you are a white male aged over 65 and living in the southern states of the USA then you are more likely to be attacked by an animal, be it wild or domestic…

In fairness, this is because there are more of them and they live closer to populated areas. But, it’s also because that there are way too many humans are mostly stupid and disrespectful, who tend to leave trash out. This sets bears up for bad behavior.

So, please make sure you pick up after yourself whether you’re in the city or our beautiful wilderness.

Our Plant Life

The Sonoran desert is home to over 1,700 species of plants (most of them trying to prick, prod or poison you).

Yes, even our plants will try to kill you.

Sure, they’re incredibly unique. There is nothing as beautiful as a night-blooming lotus or the first bloom of a saguaro cactus.

Joshua trees and ocotillo are straight out of a Dr. Seuss novel; and a Palo Verde tree in full bloom with it’s stunning canopy of yellow flowers is something you don’t want to miss.

But the vast majority of Arizona plants are filled with highly-toxic venom or possess millions of thick needles (or microscopic needles) that have the ability to attack you if you even hazard a step within a 3-foot radius (meet the jumping cholla, everyone).

Pro Tip: Keep a fine-toothed comb with you on any walk you take.


Insects of Arizona

Arizona insects are just as surly as Arizona’s other wildlife. Sure, other states have lots more insects – far more than we’ll ever have (I’m looking at you, Florida and Texas).

But, our insects are highly toxic, super aggressive and not only will they sting you and steal your blood, they’ll may just you a deadly disease while they’re doing it. They could even kill you if they’re feeling particularly feisty…

Here are a few of the insects you should know about in Arizona:

  • Africanized bees (many animal and human deaths with more attacks happening each day)
  • Scorpions: Meet the Bark Scorpion – one of three scorpions native to Arizona. We are also home to Giant Hairy Desert scorpion and the Devil scorpion. Did you know that during the 1980s, more than 800 people were killed by the bark scorpion? The venom of these spiders is necrotic (aka, ‘flesh eating’).
  • Brown Recluse Spiders: (fast and aggressive), these spiders will speed past you from the corner of your garage. But, they do a lot of good too!
  • Black Widows: The venom of a black widow is the second strongest of all spiders. As little as 0.05mg of the powerful neurotoxin can be deadly and 36 deaths were recorded from black widow spider bites between 1965 and 1990. Learn how to protect your pets from black widows.
  • Mosquitoes: These little pests are responsible for transmitting heartworm, West Nile Virus and the Zika virus. We can’t think of one single thing that is good about mosquitoes (other than they are necessary bat food).
    Speaking of bats
  • Fleas: Did you know we still have the Bubonic plague in Arizona?
  • Ticks: Of course we have ticks, which are happily transmitting Lyme disease.

But, wait – there’s more….

We have cockroaches the size of Texas, and a little beetle called the Hualapai tiger (a conenose species of bug who feeds on the blood of reptiles, animals and yes, humans) at night.

You probably won’t wake up if you’re bitten, but you’ll know they were feeding…

And, don’t forget the Tarantula Hawk.

This crazy wasp not only survives by paralyzing a Tarantula (or other spider), then dragging it back to its nest and laying eggs in the poor creatures brain. The larvae then feeds on the living tarantula as it grows.

On top of that, this wasp administers the second most painful sting in the world…

Arizona Water (or lack thereof)

The thing you might consider safe is our water supply. But you would be wrong because even our water is toxic.

We have a river that contains a flesh eating bacteria and most of our water companies have been cited for something or another (usually involving toxic chemicals or raw sewage).

Water contaminants range from uranium (!) to Arsenic (with high levels in nearly every water supply). The mineral content is so high it will coat your sink and tub with a rock solid ring of white water.

See that beautiful pond over there on the golf course? Don’t get in there to find your ball – it’s just grey-water. The same goes for that manmade lake in your backyard.

Arizona Weather

Let’s not forget the latest Arizona weather wonder, the massive dust storms (aka, haboob).

These apocalyptic-looking mile-high walls of dust bearing down on your home are becoming so commonplace, they don’t even make the news anymore.

Pity, because they really are impressive…

But not only will you get buried in dust, the dirt and dust itself carries along a fungus that lives in the dirt and results in a disease known as Valley Fever.

If you’ve lived in Arizona for longer than a few months; you’ve either had Valley Fever, will have Valley Fever, or you have it now.

Valley Fever can cripple your dog and ultimately result in death within days after exposure. While we’re getting much better at treating this disease in pets, it’s one of the biggest killers of dogs and there’s absolutely nothing you can do to prevent it.

Arizona Heat

But the absolute worse part of Arizona is the summer heat (read our “7 Stages of Heat” article for a laugh).

Heat kills more people each year than the cold. Heat will take out your plants, your pets, and yourself.

Trip and fall on a summer day? You’ll find yourself in the hospital with 2nd and 3rd degree contact burns if you happen to land on the asphalt.

Why on Earth Do You Live in Arizona?

By now, you’re most assuredly asking yourself, “Why in the world would anyone want to live in such a God-awful place?”

After all, over 7 million people have chosen to live in this state.

  • You can be in an entirely different climate in less than an hour. From Phoenix, you are 3 hours from the ocean, 90 minutes from snow skiing, 30 minutes to a river or lake, and a few hours from petrified forests.
  • Grand Canyon – need I say more?
  • Slot canyons – if you haven’t been, make arrangements to visit Oak Creek Canyon, Deer Creek Narrows, Secret Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Paria Canyon or Canyon X.
  • Miles of hiking, horseback riding and dog-friendly living
  • Rivers, including the Salt, the Verde and part of the Rio
  • You could be at the ocean in about 3 hours
  • The Sonoran Desert is the most biodiverse desert in the world.
  • Wild mustangs, Mexican black wolves, endangered jaguars and so much more.
  • We have the most incredible sunsets and sunrises that have ever been recorded.

Bottom line, come on over to Arizona. Enjoy our gorgeous climate. Explore the beautiful Sonoran desert. Hike a slot canyon, take your dogs out for a day in the desert. Just make sure you do it in January.

Continue on to learn why Arizona is the destination of the year!

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