What animals live in the desert?

What animals live in deserts? Animals ranging from mammals, birds, reptiles and arachnids live in the desert. These animals are able to survive the harsh conditions of the habits due to some terrific adaptations that’ve evolved overtime.

First things first, what is a desert?

A desert is a barren area of landscape that experiences very little precipitation annually. By this definition which most experts agree with, some part of the arctic and antarctic regions are considered deserts too, since very little amount of precipitation persists there annually. (Precipitation here can mean rainfall or snow.)

These regions are known as polar deserts and their summer months usually experience very low temperatures, with conditions dropping below 10°C (50°F) while winter months have temperatures plunging down to -10°C (14°F) or less.

The other types of desert (the ones in the majority group) are the hot and dry ones. They often have abundance of searing sunlight and hard-baked grounds in the daytime and chilly to extremely frigid temperatures, even below the zero degree mark at night time.

Daytime temperatures in the summer can rise to as much as 54°C (130°F) in some places while mid-night temperatures can plummet below 4°C (40°F) or lower.

General characteristic of all deserts

All deserts are characterized by having precipitation (rainfall or snowfall) of no more than 25 cm or 10 inches per year. They are made up of dry, avid lands, which depending on the type and location of the desert can have great expanses of sand, rock, gravel, snow or salt flats.

Deserts can also contain mountains and almost all usually have sparse hardy vegetation. Shades are extremely scarce. Sand dunes only exists in about 20 percent of the entire deserts of the world, the rest are mostly characterized as above.

All deserts have little water available for organisms and lifeforms that inhabit them. Humidity is usually very low, almost near zero in some deserts, and clouds rarely form as a result.

Light rains very often evaporate into the dry air when they pour. Rainstorm can come as violent cloud bursts and are usually very rare, some regions can even go a whole year without rainfall.

The violent cloudbursts of rain can cause immense flooding in some deserts, carving out rocks and ground paths.

Deserts persist in almost every continent and make up about 1/5th the entire land mass on earth. Subtropical deserts, (the hottest of the pack) are the most numerous on earth and are characterized by very hot summer and mildly cold winter. Other deserts have very hot summers and considerable cool winters while other have mildly hot summers and very cold winters. 

Deserts, despite their harsh conditions and inhospitable climates, are ecosystems that are home to many plants and animal lifeforms. These animals have unique adaptations that help them survive the avidity and temperature extremities of these regions.

Animals and plants aren’t the only lifeforms that call deserts their home, some 1 billion people, roughly about 1/6 th of the total population of earth, live and thrive in and around desert regions. These people too, who are mostly farmers, rely on one form of adaptation to the other in order to be able to live comfortably within the perimeters of these highly inhospitable climates or bear them. 

The animals that live in the desert

Animals that live in deserts are called xecroyets and virtually all of them in one way or the other have evolved some form of adaptations to survive the unfavorable conditions of these habitats.

The most abundant lifeforms in the desert regions are non-mammalian vertebrates such as reptiles and arachnids. Mammals exists, but occur in small numbers (specie wise) and are often small mammals like the kangaroo mice of North American deserts.

Larger mammals are relatively few because most of them cannot store sufficient water nor survive the scorching heat of the deserts. Other lifeforms also include birds and insects.

Example of hot desert animals: Scorpions, Desert tortoise, Spiders, Rattle snakes, Deathstalker scorpion, Desert fox, Coyotes, Rats, Rabbits, Camels, Armadillo lizard and Thorny devil.

Example of cold desert animals: Polar Bears, Seals, Kangaroo Rats, Killer Whales, Penguins and Reindeers and Arctic foxes.

Hot desert animal adaptations

Hot deserts are mainly characterized by avid or very dry environments, hard-baked grounds, abundance of searing sunlight and very little water available year round.

Animals inhabiting these regions develop different kind of adaptations to survive these extremities and derive sustenance year in year out. 

Here are some fauna adaptations to the inhospitable environments of hot deserts.

How animals avoid heat

To survive the body baking heat (from above and on the grounds) of hot deserts, many animals adopt behavioral and physiological adaptations.

Most desert animals are either nocturnal or crepuscular, meaning that they are mostly active at night or during twilights, respectively. They observe their foraging during these relatively cool periods and retire to more cooler shades, dens and burrows for the remainder of the day.

Some animals instead of remaining active enter into a state of dormancy and sleep away the hottest part of the day or year.

These animals often store enough energy reserves to sustain them throughout their dormant periods. This dormancy also helps them sustain on very little food and water until the desert conditions become favorable for foraging.

Very few animals remain active during the daytime and virtually all of them end up perching under moving shades to avoid sun most of the time. These animals often have unique body adaptations and features like thick shoe covers and body furs that help them tolerate heat more.

Some animals, especially birds, choose to live in the deserts during the cooler spring months and migrate to higher elevations (out from the deserts) during the hottest periods which coincides with summer.

Other birds that may choose to stay during summer can keep their bodies cool by soaring high in the air in addition to being nocturnal or resting in shades,

How animals keep cool

Different desert animals have different means for keeping cool. Some use burrow, or dens that collect dews and thus become significantly colder than the surroundings to stay cool.

Others use their long appendages to give off excess heat to their surroundings or even prevent absorption of excess heat, for example jackrabbits have long ears with numerous blood vessels that release heat when the animals are resting in shades. Reptiles can have long legs that prevents them from absorbing less surface heat while running.

Some animals like the turkey and black vultures can urinate on their bodies to cause cooling by evaporation and circulation of cooled blood.

Animals can also appear pale to limit heat intake from their surroundings, and this adaptation also helps camouflage them from predators.

How animals source for scarce water

Scarcity of life-sustaining water is one of the most noticeable things in almost all deserts around the world. Animals must therefore not only find means to acquire water but must also develop ways to retain this water for longer duration. Water is essential for the sustenance of every lifeform, without it, virtually all living things will die of dehydration including the primary producers — plants.

Most desert creatures derive water from the food they eat. Insect and other herbivores can derive their water from the plants parts they consume such as leaves and fruits, while predators like foxes mostly get their water from their preys.

Many animals of the desert also have adaptations to be able to go very long periods without water. In some of them, their kidney are able to extract enough water from the food they eat so they do not have to search for water to drink.

Others are capable of producing their own water internally, for example, camels can produce water by combing (oxygen) in the air they breath with the hydrogen molecules in their fat; located and stored in their humpbacks. This helps sustain them for most of the dominant periods when water is scarce.

How animals retain water

Animals mostly avoid being active during the day time when the temperature is hottest to avoid loss of water. Some animals  can excrete very concentrated wastes in order to avoid releasing out water through excreta.

Some animals can even go the extreme and recycle moisture from their own breath.

How prey animals camouflage from predators

Paleness, which is the major characteristics among majority of desert animals, particularly the prey animals, is what helps provide camouflage against predators. Rattle snakes take the color of desert sands while desert turtles look like rocks.

Polar desert animal adaptations

Cold deserts are mainly characterized by very dry environments, ice cold sheets, extremely cold climates and scarcity of water year in year out.

Here are some fauna adaptations to the inhospitable environments of polar deserts.

How animals keep warm

Most polar mammals develop thick layers of fat or blubber to stay warm. In addition of this, they usually have very thick body fur, sometimes in layers to prevent heat escape.

During extremely cold temperatures, animals may dig dens or burrows to hide from the climate. Some animals may hibernate (go into deep sleep) during the winter when foraging or simply maintaining a normal body condition becomes next to impossible. They usually hibernate in dens or carved out spaces which can be made by them or naturally, and can sleep the entire winter in these well insulated homes.

Arctic fishes develop behavioral and physiological adaptations to stay warm in the polar cold. A majority of them migrate to warmer waters to regulate body heat since they are cold blooded animals that depend on their ambient temperatures for thermoregulation.

How animals conserve water

Concentrated feaces are part of adaptation for conserving water in cold deserts. Animals can derive their water from plants and animals they feed from.

Most animals, like their hot desert counterparts, also derive their water for their preys and can go up to several months without actively looking for water to drink.

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Cite this Article (APA Format)

Bunu. M. (2020, May 20). What animals live in the desert?. Retrieved from http://emborawild.com/what-animals-live-in-the-amazon-rainforest/

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