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:


Cheetah

Cheetah

Acinonyx jubatus

Felidae, the cat family.

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Chuckwalla

Chuckwalla

Sauromalus obesus

Iguanidae, the iguana family.

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Cuvier’s Gazelle

Cuvier’s Gazelle

Gazella cuvieri

Bovidae, The cow and goat family.

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Desert Bighorn Sheep

Desert Bighorn Sheep

Ovis canadensis nelsoni

Bovidae, the cow and goat family

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Desert Iguana

Dipsosaurus dorsalis

Iguanidae , the iguana family.

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Desert Millipede

Orthoporus ornatus

Spirostreptidae, the millipede family

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Desert Rosy Boa

Lichanura trivirgata gracia

Boidae, the boa family.

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Desert Tortoise

Gopherus agassizii

Testudinidae, the tortoise family.

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