Plants and animals from deserts are adapted to surviving in adverse climatic conditions. The desert animals list given below presents some interesting facts about these hardy xerocoles.
There is a great diversity in the flora and fauna of earth. Animals and plants live in diverse climatic conditions of deserts (hot and cold), jungles, oceans, etc. The desert biome poses adverse conditions which requires certain adaptations on the part of desert animals and plants to fulfill their basic needs.
The Desert Biome
Desert biomes are characterized by the presence of animals and plants which need minimal moisture for their survival. The maximum annual rainfall received in deserts is 10 inches; on the other hand, evapotranspiration taking place in deserts is greater in comparison to the total rainfall received. The soil in these areas is saline/alkaline in nature. Topography of deserts is characterized by presence of sand dunes and rocks. Shrublands, grasslands and woodlands are observed in arid regions.
Plants found in deserts include cactus, date, oleander, etc. The Sahara desert plants mostly grow in regions along the Nile river and highlands. The Northern region of this desert, which borders with the Mediterranean sea, has large number of olive plants. The plants like doum palms, oleanders, date palms, etc. grow in the highlands of Sahara.
What are Xerocoles?
Xerocoles are animals which adapt themselves to desert conditions. These animals can be classified as drought resistors and drought evaders. Xerocoles have a built-in mechanism which minimizes the moisture loss during excretion and evaporation.
List of Desert Animals
The list of desert animals and descriptions about them should help us understand them in a better manner.
The Addax Antelope is found in isolated pockets of the Sahara Desert. This animal is found in sandy as well as semi-arid desert regions. It weighs between 130 and 250 pounds and is 1m tall. The addax is known for its characteristic crooked horns. A grass called Astridia is the staple food of addax. However, it also feeds on leaves, grasses and bushes found in deserts. A single herd of addax antelope contains 20-25 animals. The lifespan of the addax antelope is 19 years.
African Ground Squirrel
These squirrels inhabit the northwestern region of Sahara desert. They feed on roots, seeds, small vertebrates and insects. African ground squirrels are diurnal and they live in burrows. The Cape ground squirrel is a type of rodent, commonly found in Africa. It is 450 mm long and weighs about 2.5 pounds.
The African or crested porcupine is found in sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, Sicily and Italy. The length of this porcupine ranges from 600-900 mm. One of the distinguishing features of this porcupine is its skin – covered in brown or black-colored bristles.
The porcupine, basically a terrestrial animal, is also capable of swimming. However, it doesn’t climb trees frequently. Although porcupines feed on small vertebrates, insects and carrion, they are primarily herbivorous creatures. These animals feed on roots, crops, bulbs, etc.
American Pika is found in the western region of North America. These pikas are 6-8 inches long and they weigh around 170 grams. Pikas are capable of fulfilling their body’s water needs by extracting moisture from food. They inhabit grasslands, deserts and mountain slopes.
The Arabian horse is a large-sized ungulate with a slender body. This animal is known for stamina and intelligence. It is a herbivorous animal with a lifespan of 20-25 years. Weight of the Arabian horse ranges from 800-1000 pounds and its height is 1.5 m. Hoofed feet, long legs and flowing mane are the distinguishing characteristics of the Arabian horse.
Bat is the only mammal capable of attaining true flight. This creature lives in almost all regions of the world except for the cold, polar regions. Lifespan of a bat ranges from 4-32 years; it weighs between 0.03 and 3.3 pounds.
The different types of bats which inhabit dry regions are described below.
Big Free-tailed Bat: These bats are found in the Chihuahuan and southern region of Sonoran desert. The big free-tailed bat is also known as bulldog or mastiff bat due to its dog-like face. There are 90 species of this bat and they belong to the Molossidae family.
Brazilian Free-tailed Bat: This bat is found in all the 4 deserts of USA. Their population of nearly 100 million makes Brazilian Free-tailed bat the most populous mammal in USA.
Cave Myotis: This bat is found in the Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts.
California Leaf-nosed Bat: The California leaf-nosed bat bat inhabits the Mojave and Sonoran deserts.
Mexican Free-tailed Bat: The Mexican free-tailed bat is a sub-species of Brazilian free-tailed bat. It is mainly found in the Chihuahuan desert.
Spotted Bat: It is one of the largest North American bats, found in all the four deserts of USA. The Spotted bat is also known as Death’s Head bat.
Vampire Bats: There are three species of vampire bats and they feed on warm-blooded animals. These bats make sharp incisions in their prey’s body. The three species of vampire bats are Diaemus youngi (White-winged vampire bat), Desmodus rotundus (Common vampire bat) and Diphylla ecaudata (Hairy-legged vampire bat).
The bighorn sheep is found in deserts of North America. Scientific name of this sheep is Ovis canadensis nelsoni. Bighorn sheep is found in the region that lies between Nevada, California, south Mexico and west Texas. It has a muscular body, pointed ears and a narrow muzzle. The bighorn sheep is a gregarious animal, generally found in flocks of 100. This creature feeds on a variety of desert plants, sedges, forbs, grasses, etc.
The Bilby, also known as Rabbit-eared bandicoot, is found in the deserts of Australia. This burrowing animal is nocturnal in nature. It possesses strong claws that are used for digging long and winding burrows. The bilby feeds on mice, lizards, worms, snails, seeds, fruits and small-sized plants. Bilby’s vision is poor however, its sense of smell and hearing are sharp. Feral cats and foxes prey on bilbies.
These are large-sized lizards found in the Mojave desert (Nevada, California, Arizona and Utah) of North America. The chuckwallas can grow 16 inches long. Weight of this lizard is 2 pounds. These herbivorous creatures feed on Brittlebush and flowers and leaves of different kinds of desert plants.
The collared peccary inhabits deserts, chaparrals and dry woodlands of Mexico and southwestern USA. This animal is 3 feet long and it reaches a shoulder height of 22 inches. Collared peccary is a herbivorous creature which feeds on grass shoots, plant bulbs, nuts, fruits, roots, mushrooms, berries, grubs, etc.
This carnivorous animal is found in Central America and deserts of North America. A coyote can have brown, black, gray or cream colored skin coats; desert coyotes have sandy coats. This animal weighs between 20 and 50 pounds; it feed on birds, reptiles, rodents, scorpions. etc. The lifespan of coyotes is around 13 years.
Desert elephants are found in the Damaraland and Kaokoland regions of northwestern Namibia. These elephants inhabit areas surrounding the ephemeral riverbeds. Desert elephants are adapted to living in desert conditions. They regularly travel in search of waterholes scattered across deserts.
Desert elephants have longer legs as compared to other African elephants. Also, their feet are a bit flatter, which facilitates easy movement in deserts. These elephants feed on shoots, leaves, flowers, barks, tubers, bulbs, roots, etc. A desert elephant is slightly smaller in size than a typical African elephant.
Desert iguanas are found in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts of northwestern Mexico and southwestern United States. The desert iguana can grow 16 inches long. These iguanas possess a gray-tan skin with light brown reticulated pattern. Desert iguana is a herbivorous animal that feeds on fruits, buds and leaves of annual and perennial plants.
The desert tortoise is found in Sonoran and Mojave deserts of USA and Mexico. These tortoises are 10-14 inches long and their height is 4-6 inches. Their dome-shaped shells have a greenish-tan color. Body of desert tortoise is covered in claw-like scales; this tortoise uses its heavy front legs for digging. Diet of a desert tortoise includes fruits, herbs, wildflowers and new growth of cacti.
Dingo, a type of wild dog from Australia, inhabits the dry plains of this country. This hunting dog has a medium built body and its skin is covered with yellowish-tan fur. The dingo has got large ears and is known for its sharp sense of smell. This nocturnal creature feeds on lizards, rabbits, kangaroos, rats, birds and farm animals.
Desert donkeys are hoofed animals which inhabit deserts and grasslands. These nomadic creatures feed mainly on shrubs and grasses. The donkeys found in deserts of Africa are descendants of the African Wild Ass. These donkeys can be identified from their characteristic reddish-brown hair.
The dromedary, also known as Arabian camel, is found in the Middle East, northern regions of Africa, and the Thar desert – which falls on the border of India and Pakistan.
These camels have a hump on their back, which functions as a storehouse of fats. It enables them to survive without water or food for 3-4 days. The dromedary possesses strong limbs, padded feet and leathery pads on the chest and knees. Their specialized nostrils protect them from desert sandstorms. A dromedary can grow 7 feet tall and weigh about 1600 pounds. These herbivorous creatures feed on grass, dates, oats, and wheat.
The bald eagle, native to North America, is diurnal in nature. This eagle is found in the region that lies between Alaska and northern Mexico. The tail, head and wing tips of bald eagles are covered in white feathers. Rest of the body is covered in brown feathers. Snakes, small mammals and small birds form the main diet of bald eagles.
The Egyptian vulture is 85 cm long and it has a wingspan of 1.7 m. This vulture is found in northern Africa, southern Europe, Middle East and Asia. It mainly feeds on carcasses of dead animals; the Egyptian vulture also preys on small mammals. This vulture can travel a distance of 70 kms in search of food. The Egyptian vulture is also referred to as Pharaoh’s Chicken.
These foxes are found in the northern region of Africa, especially the Sahara desert. The Fennec fox is a nocturnal animal living in groups of ten. Large ears of the fennec fox distinguishes it from other foxes. Ears of the Fennec fox allow it to lose excess body heat. Body length of Fennec foxes is 14-17 inches and they weigh between 2 and 3.5 pounds. Fennec foxes feed on plants and desert animals. Their diet includes rodents, insects, birds, snails, berries, fruits, and small plants.
This creature belonging to the rodent family is found in the sandy deserts of Middle East, Africa and Asia. The length of gerbils ranges from 3-7 inches, excluding the 3-9 inch long tail. Their skin color can be gray, white or light brown; they have a sharp sense of hearing and teeth that grow throughout their life. Gerbils are omnivorous creatures and they feed on seeds, grains, fruits, flowers, roots, grasses, desert insects and worms.
Gila Monster is a venomous lizard found in the Sonoran, Mojave and Chihuahuan deserts. This lizard weighs about 3 pounds and is 18-22 inches long. The gila monster is a carnivore which feeds on frogs, lizards, birds and eggs.
These small creatures have their hair modified to spiky spines. A hedgehog is found in a variety of climatic zones including deserts, plains and forests. Hedgehogs have a soft underbelly; it is lined with white hair; length of the body ranges from 6-14 inches. These creatures are primarily insectivorous. However, they may also feed on bees, beetles, wasps, snails, lizards, mice, birds, snakes, animal carcasses and plants.
Hyenas are mainly found in sub-Saharan deserts, bushlands and Savannahs. These animals are characterized by a bear-like gait and their front legs are longer than their hind legs. Hyenas resort to scavenging and hunting for obtaining food. Generally, hyenas hunt in packs. Small to medium-sized ungulates form their main diet.
Ibex is a wild goat found in East Africa, North Africa and Eurasia. The weight of an ibex ranges from 200-270 pounds; its height ranges from 27-43 inches. Skin coat of the ibex is light sandy brown. These creatures mainly feed on grasses and leaves. Their horns are long and thin; horns of the ibex curve upwards, backwards and downwards. Vultures, eagles and leopards prey on this creature.
Kangaroo rats inhabit the western region of North America. Their strong hind legs are of great use for digging burrows. The length of kangaroo rats ranges from 9-16 inches. Seeds of plants form the main diet of these rats. Kangaroo rats obtain moisture from the food they consume.
The lappet-faced vulture is an endangered vulture species that belongs to the genus, Torgos. This creature is found in the north-west of Saudi Arabia, the Negev desert of southern Israel and Sinai peninsula in Egypt. Length of these vultures ranges from 95-115 cm and their wing-span is 2.5-3 m. The lappet-faced vulture obtains food by scavenging the carcasses of animals.
The Llama is a desert animal, similar in appearance to camels. This animal is raised for its wool and meat. Their two-toed feet are covered with toenails. Height of a llama ranges from 3-4 feet. Lifespan of llamas ranges from 15-28 years. These herbivorous animals are basically ruminants. Their diet is mainly formed of herbs and grasses.
This burrowing animal is basically a mongoose. These creatures inhabit the Kalahari desert of southern Africa. Length of meerkats ranges from 10-14 inches and they weigh around 2 pounds. Meerkats feed on insects and larvae obtained by scratching and digging the ground surface.
The Nine-Banded armadillo inhabits deserts and semi-arid regions. Being an omnivore, the armadillo feeds on fruits, ants, termites, beetles, worms, berries and vegetables. The body of a nine-banded armadillo is covered in a bony and platy protective shell; it has white hair on the belly. Ears and snout of the armadillo are pointed and it has got small eyes. The body color is brownish tan and its length is between 15 and 23 inches. The nine-banded armadillo weighs between 10 and 22 pounds.
Oryx is one of the genera of antelopes and it incorporates 3-4 species. This animal is native to Africa and the Arabian peninsula. It became extinct in the Arabian peninsula in 1972; later, it was reintroduced in countries like Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan, Israel and Saudi Arabia. These animals live in herds. They possess the ability to survive without water for a long time.
The pack rat is one of the desert animals found in northern Mexico and western USA. These rats are known for building specialized nests called ‘middens’ – built from the cactus plant. The cactus plays an important role in the desert food chain. Pack rats search for food and material for building their nest at night.
Peregrine falcon is the fastest bird on earth. This falcon possesses pointed wings; it flies at a maximum speed of 90 mph. Body of the peregrine falcon is bullet-shaped, which assists the bird in its flight. Peregrine falcons have a sharp vision and they can spot their prey from a height of 1000 feet. This falcon preys on pigeons, sea birds, waders, etc. It inhabits the mountainous regions of North America.
The Pronghorn is also known as the ‘American antelope goat’. This creature inhabits deserts, grasslands and open plains. Proghorn reaches a shoulder height of 3.5 feet and weighs between 90 and 150 pounds. This hardy animal can endure extreme temperatures ranging from -50 °F to 130 °F. The pronghorn feeds on cacti and different kinds of shrubs and grasses.
The desert horned lizard, also known as horny toad and horned toad, is 3-5 inches long. It is characterized by thorn-like scales present on either side of its throat. The Phrynosoma platyrhinos is native to North America. It is found in southwestern Idaho, Oregon and northwestern Mexico.
It is one of the types of kangaroos found in southwestern Australia. The quokka weighs about 6 pounds and is 3 feet long. It has got powerful legs and makes use of all the four limbs for walking. These herbivorous creatures first swallow their food and then chew it after regurgitating. The quokka feeds on leaves, grasses and roots.
Jack Rabbits are also referred to as hares. In fact, these rabbits are considered as true hares because they do not build nests. There are three kinds of such hares: Black-tailed hare, White-tailed hare and Snowshoe hare. White-tailed hare is the largest of all; the White-tailed and Black-tailed hares are referred to as Jack rabbits. Snowshoe hare is also known as Snowshoe Rabbit.
This poisonous snake leads a solitary life. Rattlesnake has the characteristic rattle on its tail, which makes a buzzing sound. The Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake is considered as the biggest rattlesnake. This snake grows at a slow pace. The rattlesnake uses venom to kill its prey; its venom also acts as a digestive juice. It preys on lizards, rodents and other small animals.
The Roadrunner, also known as Ground cuckoo, inhabits deserts, grasslands, and scrubs of southwestern USA and Mexico. This bird is known for its long legs, long tail, and a 23-inch long body. Scorpions, small lizards, and spiders form the main diet of roadrunners. The scientific name of roadrunner is Geococcyx californianus.
It is one of the many venomous snakes found in the Arabian desert. Sand cobras can be found in rocky terrains and semi-arid areas. The snake is slim and its color resembles sand. This animal is nocturnal and lives in rocks and sand. Lizards and mice form the main diet of these snakes.
Sandgrouse is basically a family of 16 bird species found in different parts of the world including the Middle east, Central Asia, India and Eastern Africa. The length of sandgrouse ranges from 24-40 cm. Its weighs between 150 and 500 grams. Seeds of plants form the main diet of these birds. However, these creatures are known to prefer legumes the most.
Scorpions are known to survive in extreme conditions ranging from freezing temperatures to hot deserts. The body of scorpions is divided into cephalothorax and abdomen. In most species of scorpions, reproduction is sexual in nature. The lifespan of scorpions ranges from 4-25 years. The venom of scorpions can paralyze or even kill the prey.
There are two types of sidewinder snakes: the Bitis peringueyi, found in deserts of Namibia and Crotalus cerastes, which inhabits southwestern USA and northwestern Mexico. The average length of Bitis peringueyi is 20-25 cm. The snake is known for its keeled scales; it can hide itself under sand when it is hunting; only the eyes and tip of the tail are above the ground surface.
Lizards that belong to the Meroles and Aporosaura genera form the main diet of this snake. The Crotalus cerastus is 18-30 inches long; the snake feeds on lizards and kangaroo rats.
These creatures appear similar to lizards. However, their small legs and absence of a proper neck differentiates them from lizards. Most skinks are 12 cm long; however, few arboreal species like the Corucia can be as long as 35 cm. Skinks are found across the globe in different habitats ranging from deserts to grasslands. Their diet includes grasshoppers, crickets, caterpillars, beetles, slugs, snails, isopods, rodents and lizards.
These hairy spiders inhabit almost all the warm regions of the world including Africa, Australia, America and Europe. Most tarantulas live in underground burrows. They feed on reptiles, insects, frogs and some of the birds. One of the distinguishing characteristic of tarantula is its strong jaws.
This creature is found in the deserts of southern Saudi Arabia and Yemen. A veiled chameleon possesses the ability to change its color in response to changes in temperature, light, and emotions (excitement and fright). The length of body of veiled chameleons ranges from 1.3-2 feet. These chameleons possess a long tongue meant to catch insects.
Animals from Antarctica and Arctic Circle
Antarctica and the Arctic circle are amongst the coldest regions on earth. The annual rainfall received in the coastal regions of Antarctica is just 200 mm. Precipitation in the inland regions is even lesser. Polar bears and penguins are found in the Arctic circle and Antarctica respectively.
Polar bear lives in one of the coldest deserts of earth, the Arctic region. It is one of the largest carnivores on earth. Length of an adult male polar bear ranges from 2.4-3 m and it weighs between 770 and 1450 pounds. Bearded and ringed seals form the main diet of polar bears.
Penguins are found in the cold desert of Antarctica – which lies in the southern hemisphere of Earth. The sea fish found in this region form the main diet of penguins. A penguin weighs about 80 pounds and is 1.1 m tall.
List of Other Desert Animals
The cape hare or brown hare is found throughout Africa. Today, cape hares are also found in Australia, the Middle East, Asia and Europe. The cape hare is a nocturnal animal. This herbivorous creature feeds on shrubs and grasses.
The fan-tailed raven is a member of the crow family. This bird is native to the Arabian peninsula and Eastern Africa. Fan-tailed raven is 47 cm long and it has got a short tail and thick bill. The raven obtains food from scrapes left by humans, grains found in animal dung, carrion, etc. It also feeds on invertebrates and insects.
These birds inhabit warm and tropical areas including the deserts lakes of Africa. Flamingos have long necks and legs and their feet are webbed. They have orange-yellow eyes and a large bill which is used for filter-feeding on crustaceans, insects, algae and diatoms. The water consumed by flamingos is filtered for nutrients by a comb-like organ present in the tongue.
Great Indian Bustard
The Great Indian Bustard is a land-dwelling bird with long legs, similar to those of the ostrich. It is mainly found in India, in the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka. The average height of male and female bustards is 48 inches and 36 inches respectively. The omnivorous diet of this bird includes small shrubs, grasses, rats, insects, groundnuts, millets, grams, etc.
Jerboas are rodents found in drylands of Asia and Africa. Notable features of jerboas include their large eyes, short front legs and long hind legs. Length of these creatures ranges from 2-6 inches; their fur is tan colored. Jerboas mainly feed on insects and seeds of plants.
Lizards form a large group of reptiles and they are formed of 5000 species. Their external limbs and ears make lizards different from snakes.
These burrowing animals are found in deserts of Western Australia. Marsupial moles are blind because their eyes are in the form of vestigial lenses. They are 12-16 cm long and weigh between 40 and 60 grams. These insectivorous creatures primarily feed on cossid caterpillars and beetle larvae. The short limbs and reduced digits of these moles enable them to excavate the ground surface for burrowing.
The onager is a grazing animal which belongs to the Equidae family. It is mainly found in Iran, Syria, Pakistan, Israel and Tibet. The onager, also known as Asian Wild Ass is 2.1 m tall and weighs about 650 pounds.
The Peruvian fox, also known as Sechuran fox, is found in the Sechura desert situated between southwestern Ecuador and northwestern Peru. The Peruvian fox weighs about 50 pounds and is 60 cm long, excluding the 25 cm long tail. The fur of Peruvian fox is gray and its teeth are small; this fox is known to feed on dry plants and insects.
The pocket mouse is a nocturnal animal. It has got a long tail, soft pelage and small feet. The long claws of this creature enable it to burrow, which in turn helps in sifting sandy substrates to obtain seeds. The pocket mouse goes in torpor (temporary hibernation) and stays in burrows for long durations.
Serval is an endangered animal which belongs to the cat family. It is mostly found in the sub-Saharan region of Africa. The serval grows 40 inches long and 20 inches tall (at shoulders). An adult cat weighs about 30 pounds. Servals feed on hares, rodents, antelopes, reptiles, birds, etc.
Wallaby is a group of marsupials which includes the Nabarlek and Quokka. Their skin coat is soft and woolly. These creatures are found in many different colors including red, brown and gray.
This long-legged creature is found in North, Central and South America. The deer weighs about 400 pounds and its height ranges from 3-3.5 feet. Diet of the white tailed deer includes grass, acorn, bark and plants.
The article gives us a snapshot of information on the different animals found in deserts. The study of desert biome should reveal some useful insights on how desert animals and plants make use of the limited natural resources and survive extremes of temperature and water scarcity.