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:


Barbados Blackbelly Sheep

Barbados Blackbelly Sheep

Ovis aries

Bovidae, the cow and gazelle family.

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Bat-Eared Fox

Bat-Eared Fox

Otocyon megalotis

Canidae, the dog family.

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Bearded Dragon

Bearded Dragon

Pogona vitticeps

Agamidae, the agama lizard family.

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Bibron’s Gecko

Pachydactylus bibronii

Gekkonidae, the largest gecko family

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California Kingsnake

Lampropeltis getula californiae

Colubridae, the colubrid family.

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Cape Porcupine

Cape Porcupine

Hystrix africaeaustralis

Hystricidae, the Old World porcupines.

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Cape Thick-knee

Burhinus capensis

Burhinidae, thick-knee family

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Caracal

Caracal

Caracal caracal

Felidae, the cat family

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