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:


Sinaloan Milksnake

Lampropeltis triangulum sinaloae

Colubridae, the colubrid snake family.

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Slender-horned Gazelle

Slender-horned Gazelle

Gazella leptoceros

Bovidae, The cow and goat family.

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Snowy Egret

Egretta thula

Ardeidae, the heron and egret family.

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Speckled Rattlesnake

Crotalus mitchelli

Viperidae, the Viper and Pit viper family

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Spur-winged Plover/Lapwing

Vanellus spinosus

Charadriidae, lapwin and plover family

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Star Tortoise

Geochelone elegans

Testudinidae, the tortoise family.

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Striped Hyena

Striped Hyena

Hyaena hyaena

Hyaenidae, the hyena family.

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