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Life in the Desert

Oct 08, 2015

There's no doubt the desert looks forbidding; it is a dry, seemingly uninhabitable landscape. We know that humans, animals, and plants all need water to survive, so it makes sense to think that there is very little life to be found in the desert. You'd be wrong, though; deserts around the world are actually teeming with living things!


  • Most desert animals have evolved over time to be able to handle extreme heat as well as low water availability.
  • Many animals that live in the desert are forced to be active only at dusk and dawn, in order to avoid direct sunlight and the hottest parts of the day (this is why people rarely see rattlesnakes). 
  • Small animals, such as reptiles and rodents, know to create burrows under desert sand in order to escape from the sun.
  • Some desert lizards actually have longer legs so that they can run super quickly across hot surfaces to avoid getting burned!

This thorn tree is leafless during a dry period. This thorn tree is leafless during a dry period. Courtesy of Luca Galuzzi


  • Water can certainly be scarce in desert landscapes! Animals that can retain water are more likely to survive in the desert; turkey vultures can actually get all of their hydration needs met just by eating. 
  • The cactus is a succulent plant, meaning that it holds on to water. Most desert insects and many animals get water through either eating or tapping cacti!
  • Some rodents, like kangaroo rats, live in dens underground and actually recycle the moisture created by their breathing!
  • Animals like the desert toad hibernate during the driest parts of the year and "wake up" again once there are signs of rain.
  • Many animals live only part time in the desert and migrate to other places when the weather is too dry for survival.

Cacti provide much-needed water to desert insects and animals.Cacti provide much-needed water to desert insects and animals.Courtesy of walloza.com

Types of Animals

  • Different types of animals live in different desert regions. 
  • Animals like the jerboa (a small rodent resembling a rabbit), the Fennec fox (a very small fox), and the camel (which stores water in humps on its back) all call the Sahara Desert home.
  • In the deserts of the United States, animals such as the bobcat, the coyote, and the desert tortoise can be found.

The jerboa is so cute! The jerboa is so cute! Courtesy of factzoo.com

If you thought that the desert was barren of wildlife, I hope you were surprised by what you've learned! In fact, aside from the Amazon rainforest, desert landscapes feature some of the widest variety of animal and plant life in the entire world. 

Have Your Say!

Have you ever been to a desert before? What kind of animals and plants have you seen? Share with us!