The Living Desert
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Desert Animals

Desert animals face many challenges to survival and have developed a multitude of adaptations to endure the harsh conditions. Avoiding heat, dissipating heat, retaining water, and acquiring water are the most crucial. Desert animals have evolved mechanisms to solve the heat and water problems the desert environment creates, and there are as many or more adaptations as there are desert dwelling species. Some of the many adaptive responses to desert dwelling follow:

Avoiding Heat:

  • Crepuscular activity – active morning and evening – one reason, humans seldom encounter rattlesnakes and Gila Monsters
  • Completely nocturnal (Bats, snakes, rodents foxes and skunks)
  • Seasonal migration or soaring to higher elevations
  • Use of shade and burrows or dens during the heat of the day
  • Estivation dormancy during periods of heat and dryness

Dissipating heat:

  • Open-mouthed gaping to exhaust body heat
  • Long appendages and enormous ears that act like the radiator of a car
  • Lighter coloration, which reflects heat and acts as camouflage in desert surroundings
  • Urohydrosis – excreting feces on the legs, where evaporation cools the rest of the body (birds)

Retaining water:

  • Burrowing into moist soil where water is absorbed through the skin
  • Obtaining their moisture needs from the food they eat
  • Excreting metabolic wastes in the form of uric acid to conserve water

Acquiring water:

  • Deriving water directly from plants, particularly succulents, such as cactus
  • Living in sealed underground dens to recycle moisture from their own breathing
  • Specialized kidneys that extract water from their urine
  • Specialized organs that recapture exhaled moisture in the nasal cavities
  • Manufacturing water metabolically from digestion of dry food items

Animals at The Living Desert:


Green Woodhoopoe

Phoeniculus purpureus

Phoeniculidae, wood hoopoes and scimitar bills family

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Sinaloan Milksnake

Lampropeltis triangulum sinaloae

Colubridae, the colubrid snake family.

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Beaver-tailed Agama

Xenagama batilifera

Agamidae, the agamids family

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Bibron’s Gecko

Pachydactylus bibronii

Gekkonidae, the largest gecko family

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Egyptian Mastigure

Uromastyx aegyptia

Agamidae, agamid family

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Pancake Tortoise

Malacochersus tornieri

Testudinidae, land tortoise family

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Frill-neck Lizard

Chlamydosaurus kingii

Agamidae, agamids family

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Emperor Flat Rock Lizard

Platysaurus imperator

Cordylidae, African spiny tailed lizard family

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