The Franklin Mountains are rich in biodiversity

Rock squirrel by Rick LoBello

by Rick LoBello, Education Curator

Everyone of us living on the planet needs biodiversity and ecosystem services to function. Biodiversity provides the world’s supply of oxygen, clean air and water, pollination of plants, pest control, wastewater treatment and many other ecosystem services. As a result we need to be informed and inspired to protect wild places and biodiversity. Our animals at the Zoo are conservation ambassadors for biodiversity around the world. They remind us that we share the planet with them and if the world becomes a unsafe place for wildlife, it will no doubt be an unsafe place for humans.

At the Zoo many of our animals and plants come from far away places like Asia and Africa. We also have animals and plants from the Chihuahuan Desert and our own backyard. For years the Zoo has encouraged our guests to continue their adventure after they visit the Zoo by exploring the natural world around us in local national parks and nature reserves. More and more parks are reopening and one of the best to explore close to home where you can connect with and learn to value biodiversity, is Franklin Mountains State Park. Franklin Mountains State Park currently summarizes what is known about the biodiversity of the Franklin Mountains on the list below. Next time you visit the park see how many plants and animals you can identify. The free iNaturalist app that you can download to your phone can help. The Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition has a FaceBook group where you can post pictures and get help.

Ocotillo flower.


More than 650 species of vascular plants have been reported for Franklin Mountains State Park.  Among the most common and characteristic species are: creosote bush, Agave lechuguilla, ocotillo, Southwestern barrel cactus, sotol, Texas sacahuista, pricklypear cactus, desert willow, skeletonleaf goldeneye, resinbush, Sneed’s pincushion cactus (endangered species), Texas rainbow cactus and eagle’s claw cactus. 



Although we do not have concrete research on the number of species of insects and other invertebrates, it is estimated to be in the thousands.  Some of the most characteristic species include walking stick insects (3 different species), desert tarantula, scorpions, millipedes, several species of beetles, grasshoppers and butterflies.


There are only two species of amphibians recorded in Franklin Mountains State Park.

Order Anura – Frogs and Toads

Scaphiopus couchi
 – Couch’s Spadefoot

Family Bufonidae – Toads
Bufo punctatus – Red-spotted Toad


There are about 33 species of reptiles confirmed to inhabit Franklin Mountains State Park.

Order Testudines – Turtles

Family Emydidae – Box and Water Turtles
Terrapene ornata – Western Box Turtle

Order Squamata
Suborder Lacertillia – Lizards

Family Iguanidae – Iguanids
Cophosaurus texanus – Greater Earless Lizard
Crotaphytus collaris – Collared Lizard
Holbrookia maculata – Lesser Earless Lizard
Phrynosoma cornutum – Texas Horned Lizard
Phrynosoma modestum – Round-tailed Horned Lizard
Sceloporus undulates – Eastern Fence Lizard
Urosaurus ornatus – Tree Lizard
Uta stansburiana – Side-blotched Lizard

Family Scincidae – Skinks
Eumeces obsoletus – Great Plains Skink

Family Teiidae – Whiptails
Cnemidophorus exsanguis – Chihuahuan Spotted Whiptail
Cnemidophorus inornatus– Trans-Pecos Striped Whiptail
Cnemidophorus neomexicanus – New Mexico Whiptail
Cnemidophorus tesselatus – Checkered Whiptail
Cnemidophorus tigris – Western Whiptail
Cnemidophorus uniparens – Desert Grassland Whiptail

Suborder Serpentes – Snakes

Family Leptotyphlopidae – Blind Snakes
Leptotyphlops humilis – Trans-Pecos Blind Snake

Family Colubridae – Colubrids
Bogertophis subocularis – Trans-Pecos Rat-snake
Diadophis punctatus – Ring-necked Snake
Gyalopion canum – Western Hooknosed Snake
Hypsiglena torquata – Texas Night Snake
Masticophis flagellum – Western Coachwhip
Masticophis taeniatus – Striped Whiptail
Pituophis catinifer – Sonoran Gopher Snake
Rhinocheilus lecontei – Texas Long-nosed Snake
Salvadora deserticola – Big Bend Patch-nosed Snake
Salvadora grahamiae – Texas Patch-nosed Snake
Sonora semiannulata – Ground Snake
Tantilla hobartsmithi – Mexican Blackhead Snake
Trimorphodon vilkinsoni – Texas Lyre Snake

Family Viperidae – Vipers
Crotalus atrox – Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
Crotalus lepidus klauberi – Banded Rock Rattlesnake
Crotalus molossus – Blacktail Rattlesnake


There are at least 100 species of birds recorded by direct sight within the park boundaries.  The most common species are:

Mourning Dove, White-winged Dove, Gambel’s Quail, Scaled Quail, Greater Roadrunner, Golden Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, Barn Owl, Great Horned Owl, Western Kingbird, Scott’s Oriole, House Finch, Black-throated Sparrow, Canyon Towhee, Cactus Wren, Rock Wren,  among others.  See complete list below.


Turkey Vulture – Cathartes aura 

Mississippi Kite – Ictinia mississippiensis
Northern Harrier – Circus cyaneus
Sharp-shinned Hawk – Accipiter striatus
Cooper’s Hawk – A. cooperii
Northern Goshawk – A. gentilis
Harris’ Hawk – Parabuteo unicinctus
Swainson’s Hawk – Buteo swainsoni
Red-tailed Hawk – B. jamaicensis
Ferruginous Hawk – B. regalis
Golden Eagle – Aquila chrysaetos

American Kestrel – Falco sparverius
Merlin – F. columbarius
Prairie Falcon – F. mexicanus
Peregrine Falcon – F. peregrinus

Scaled Quail – Callipipla squamata
Gambel’s Quail – C. gambelii
“Scramble” – Scaled – Gambel’s Quail Hybrid

Rock Dove – Columba livia (I)
Band-tailed Pigeon – C. fasciatta
White-winged Dove – Zenaida asiatica
Mourning Dove – Z. macroura
Eurasian Collared Dove – Streptopelia decaocto (I)

Greater Roadrunner – Geococcyx californianus 

Barn Owl – Tyto alba 

Flammulated Owl – Otus flammeolus
Great Horned Owl – Bubo virginianus
Burrowing Owl – Speotyto cunicularia
Long-eared Owl – Asio otus
Short-eared Owl – A. flammeus
Northern Saw-whet Owl – Aegolius acadicus

Lesser Nighthawk – Chordeiles acutipennis
Common Nighthawk – C. minor

Common Poorwill – Phalaenoptilus nuttallii
Whip-poor-will – Caprimulgus vociferus

Black Swift – Cypseloides niger

Vaux’s Swift – Chaetura vauxi

White-throated Swift – Aeronautes saxatalis

Black-chinned Hummingbird – Archilochus alexandri
Costa’s Hummingbird – Calypte costae
Calliope Hummingbird – Stellula calliope
Broad-tailed Hummingbird – Selasphorus platycercus
Rufous Hummingbird – S. rufus

Red-naped Sapsucker – Sphyrapicus nuchalis
Ladder-backed Woodpecker – Picoides scalaris
Northern Flicker – Colaptes aurantus 

Say’s Phoebe – S. saya

Ash-throated Flycatcher – Myiarchus cinerascens
Cassin’s Kingbird – Tyrannus couchii
Western Kingbird – T. vociferans

Horned Lark – Eremophila alpestris 

Violet-green Swallow – T. thalassina
Cliff Swallow – Hirundo phrrhonota
Barn Swallow – H. rustica

Western Scrub Jay – Aphelocoma californica
Pinyon Jay – Gymnorhinus cyanocaphalus
Chihuahuan Raven – Corvus cryptoleucus
Common Raven – C. corax 

Verdin – Auriparus flaviceps    

Cactus Wren – Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus
Rock Wren – Salpinctes obsoletus
Canyon Wren – Catherpes mexicanus
Bewick’s Wren – Thryomanes bewickii
House Wren – Troglodytes aedon

Ruby-crowned Kinglet – Regulus calendula
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – Polioptila caerulea
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher – P. melanura

Western Bluebird – Sialia. Mexicana
Mountain Bluebird – S. currucoides
Townsend’s Solitaire – Myadestes townsendi
Hermit Thrush – Catharus guttatus
American Robin – Tardus migratorius

Northern Mockingbird – Mimus polyglottos
Sage Thrasher – Oreoscoptes montanus
Curve-billed Thrasher – Toxostoma curvirostre
Crissal Thrasher – T. dorsale

Cedar Waxwing – Bombycilla cedrorum

Phainopepla – Phainopepla nitens 

Loggerhead Shrike – Lanius ludovicianus

Solitary Vireo – Vireo solitaries
Hutton’s Vireo – V. huttonii
Warbling Vireo – V. gilvus
Philadelphia Vireo – V. philadelphicus 

Yellow Warbler – Dendroica petechial
Yellow-rumped Warbler – D. coronate
Wilson’s Warbler – Wilsonia pusilla

Western Tanager – Piranga. lucoviciana

Pyrrhuloxia – Cardinalis sinuatus
Black-headed Grosbeak – P. melanocephalus
Blue Grosbeak – Guiraca caerulea

Green-tailed Towhee – Pipilo chlorurus
Spotted Towhee – P. maculatus
Canyon Towhee – P. fuscus
Cassin’s Sparrow – Aimophila. Cassinii
Rufous-crowned Sparrow – A. ruficeps
Chipping Sparrow – Spizella passerine
Clay-colored Sparrow – S. pallida
Brewer’s Sparrow – S. breweri
Field Sparrow – S. pusilla
Black-chinned Sparrow – S. atrogularis
Vesper Sparrow – Pooecetes gramineus
Lark Sparrow – Chondestes grammacus
Black-throated Sparrow – Amphispiza bilineata
Sage Sparrow – A. belli
Lark Bunting – Calamospiza melanocorys
Savannah Sparrow – Passerculus sandwichensis
Song Sparrow – Melospiza melodia
Lincoln’s Sparrow – M. lincolnii
White-crowned Sparrow – Zonotrichia leucophrys
Dark-eyed Junco – Junco hyemalis

Brewer’s Blackbird – Euphagus cyanocephalus
Brown-headed Cowbird – Molothrus ater
Bullock’s Oriole – Icterus bullockii
Scott’s Oriole – I. parisorum

House Finch – Carpodacus mexicanus
Pine Siskin – Carduelis pinus
Lesser Goldfinch – C. psaltria
American Goldfinch – C. tristis

House Sparrow – Passer domesticus 

Bobcat, NPS Photo


There are about 30 species of mammals within Franklin Mountains State Park.

Order Insectivora – Insectivores
Order Chiroptera – Bats
Family Vespertilionidae – Vespertilionid Bats
Lasiurus  cinereus – Hoary Bat
Myotis californicus – California Myotis
Pipistrellus herperus – Wetern Pipistrelle
Plecotus townsendii – Townsend’s Big-eared Bat

Family Molossidae – Free-tailed Bats
Tadarida brasiliensis – Brazilian Free-tailed Bat

Order Lagomorpha – Hares and Rabbits
Family Leporidae – Hares and Rabbits
Lepus californicus – Black-tailed Jackrabbit
Sylvilagus auduboni – Desert Cottontail

Order Rodentia – Rodents
Family Sciuridae – Squirrels and Allies
Ammospermophilus interpres – Texas Antelope Squirrel
Spermophilus spilosoma – Spotted Ground Squirrel
Spermophilus variegatus – Rock Squirrel

Family Geomyidae – Pocket Gophers
Thomomys bottae – Botta’s Pocket Gopher

Family Heteromyidae – Pocket Mice and Kangaroo Rats
Chaetodipus intermedius – Rock Pocket Mouse
Chaetodipus nelsoni – Nelson Pocket Mouse
Dipodomys ordii – Ord’s Kangaroo Rat

Family Muridae – Mice and Rats
Mus musculus – House Mouse (introduced)*
Neotoma albigula – White-throated Woodrat
Peromyscus eremicus – Cactus Mouse
Peromyscus maniculatus – Deer Mouse

Order Carnivora – Carnivores
Family Canidae – Canids
Canis latrans – Coyote
Urocyon cinereoargenteus – Common Gray Fox

Family Procyonidae – Procyonids
Bassariscus astutus – Ringtail

Family Mustelidae – Mustelids
Mephitis mephitis – Striped Skunk
Mustela frenata – Long-tailed Weasel
Spilogale gracilis – Western Spotted Skunk
Taxidea taxus – American Badger

Family Felidae – Cats
Felis concolor – Mountain Lion
Felis rufus – Bobcat

Order Artiodactyla – Even-Toed Ungulates
Family Tayassuidae – Peccaries
Tayassu tajacu – Javalina, Collared Peccary

Family Cervidae – Cervids
Odocoileus hemionus – Mule Deer

Taken from – El Paso’s number one Conservation Education news source.

Big Bend, a moment in history

Big Bend National Park is one of the best places in the world where you might see a mountain lion while driving through the park or hiking.

Special thanks to Dion Recachina who I met over 30 years ago at a Cooperating Associations Conference for all his help in making this film a reality. We talked about how Big Bend National Park needed a good documentary and without any cost to the park we worked together with park staff to produce this story. Since the film was released the park helped to produce three other documentaries with the most recent ones available through the Big Bend Natural History Association.

The script was a collaborative effort between Dion and his team and the park’s Interpretive Division. I was fortunate to serve as the location director and arranged to take the film crew at no cost to the park through Santa Elena Canyon. I also found a doctor in Fort Stockton with a pet mountain lion, but the most memorable moments happened in a helicopter. Thanks to the Border Patrol sector in Marfa a pilot and helicopter were donated to the park for several hours. Imagine how exciting it was after working in the park since 1975 to be able to tell the pilot where to fly to take the aerial footage.

Thanks to YouTube and the copyright holder I was able upload this original version of the production to my channel. It was dedicated to the memory of my mother Shirley LoBello.

Join our team at the Zoo

Our Sumatran orangutan family is one of most exciting exhibits at the Zoo.
I have been fortunate to travel around the world. Here I am with a baby giant panda in China.

This year marks my 18th year working as the El Paso Zoo’s first Education Curator. It has been a very interesting year so far as you can imagine with many of us working from home and many more of us going to work every day to take care of our precious collection of rare and endangered wildlife. Did you know that you can show your support for our efforts with the click of your mouse? All you need to do is visit our Conservation Education blog and enter your email address in the “follow link” at the bottom of your screen on your phone or at the bottom of the page on your computer. We also are looking for people to join our team to help us share our conservation messages on social media and more. Learn more here.

One of the most common things people have said to me in El Paso is how lucky I am to work at the Zoo. Well it may be difficult to get a job there, but you could still be involved. I want to give everyone who reads this message the opportunity to join the Zoo’s conservation education team. No matter where you live and what you do or how old you are, there are many ways you can get involved with our organization and support conservation projects to save endangered species.

As you can see from the video clip below, my passion for conservation and wildlife is something that is a very big part of my life. Ever since I was 4-years old and my mother joined my kindergarten class as a chaperon on a field trip to the Buffalo Zoo in New York, I loved being close to nature and different kinds of animals. The challenges we face in conserving our planet and all the plants and animals we share it with are growing every day. Let’s get going and do something about it. Joining our team at the El Paso Zoo is one way you can get more involved.

Join our conservation education team at the Zoo and join me in following your wildlife dreams

click here to learn more