Of all the biomes available to us on land, deserts are possibly the most fascinating. Deserts are inhospitable places throughout the world that may not necessarily lack water but lack other essential components for survival. In fact, there are areas of the ocean that qualify as deserts too, since there is not enough oxygen there to support life. Due to such harsh conditions, deserts harbor a number of strange creatures that specifically evolved to live there. Today, we take a look at some of the more well-known ones from around the world.
Camels are unique creatures known for their remarkable physiological adaptations that allow them to thrive in the desert. Their humps store fat reserves that can sustain them for weeks without food or water. Camels also have wide, padded feet that allow them to walk on soft sand without sinking.
They can conserve water by producing dry feces and reducing their sweat and urine production. Additionally, they have a unique red blood cell structure that enables them to endure extreme dehydration. These adaptations make camels one of the most resilient and hardy animals in the world.
Fun fact: Camels have long eyelashes and ears that can be closed to protect them from sand and dust.
2. Sand Cat
The sand cat is a small wild cat found primarily in the deserts of northern Africa and southwestern Asia. They are well adapted to life in hot and arid regions, with dense fur on the soles of their feet to protect them from the hot sand. Additionally, their long, bushy tails help them maintain balance while running. Sand cats are solitary and nocturnal, typically resting during the day in burrows or under rocks, and become active at night to hunt for prey such as rodents, lizards, and insects.
Fun fact: Sand cats are actually friendly to humans and can be domesticated.
Jirds are small rodents that inhabit a lot of the arid regions in Asia and Africa. They span as far north as Mongolia and as far west as Morocco, with no species naturally existing beyond the Sahara desert. Jirds are rather rat-like in appearance but are actually more closely related to gerbils. These animals have short but strong claws that they use to dig burrows. These burrows help in survival more than you think. Burrows provide jirds with protection from predators and extreme temperatures. They are able to maintain a constant temperature and humidity level within their burrows, which helps them to survive in arid environments.
Fun fact: Jirds make excellent pets and live up to 6-7 years.
4. Kangaroo Rats
Kangaroo rats are small, desert-dwelling rodents found in North America. They have large hind legs that are adapted for hopping, much like kangaroos, and long tails that help with balance. Kangaroo rats are nocturnal and feed on seeds, insects, and other small animals. They lack sweat glands entirely, which helps their bodies retain water for longer. Despite their name, kangaroo rats are not closely related to kangaroos or rats but are part of their own unique family, Heteromyidae.
Fun fact: Kangaroo rats are known for their remarkable ability to jump up to 9 feet in a single bound, which helps them evade predators.
5. Sand Vipers
Sand vipers, or horned vipers, are venomous snakes found in the desert regions of North Africa and the Middle East. They are small, usually less than 2 feet long, and have a distinctive pair of “horns” above their eyes. Sand vipers are ambush predators, hiding in the sand and striking out at prey as it passes by. Despite their venomous nature, sand vipers play an important role in their ecosystem by controlling rodent populations. They are also fascinating to researchers studying the properties of their venom.
Fun fact: Their venom is potent and can cause serious injury or death to humans if bitten.
6. Fennec Fox
The fennec fox is a small, nocturnal fox found in the Sahara Desert and other arid regions of North Africa. It is known for its distinctive large ears, which help it to dissipate heat and locate prey underground. Fennec foxes are typically around 9-16 inches long and weigh less than 3 pounds. They are opportunistic predators, feeding on insects, small mammals, and plant material. Fennec foxes are also well-adapted to life in the desert, obtaining water from their food and digging burrows to escape the heat.
Fun fact: They are often kept as pets due to their small size and cute appearance. Although this practice is not recommended as they require specialized care.
7. Sand Gazelle
Gazelles are small to medium-sized antelopes found in Africa, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent. They are known for their slender build, long legs, and distinctive curved horns. Gazelles are herbivores, feeding on grasses and other vegetation. They are adapted to living in open grasslands and semi-arid regions, where they are able to outrun predators with their incredible speed and agility. Gazelles are also social animals, typically living in herds or small groups. They are very well adapted to their environment, requiring little to no water outside of what they get from their food.
Fun fact: Sand gazelles have the unique ability to shrink their livers and hearts to conserve water.
Impalas are medium-sized antelopes found in eastern and southern Africa. They are known for their agility and impressive leaping abilities. Impalas are able to jump distances of up to 33 feet and heights of up to 10 feet. They also have a specialized stomach that allows them to extract nutrients and water from tough, fibrous plant material. In addition, impalas are able to regulate their body temperature through panting and sweating, which helps them to avoid heat stress.
Fun fact: Impalas are able to detect and avoid predators through their keen senses and impressive leaping abilities. This allows them to survive in areas where food and water resources may be scarce.
The oryx, also known as the gemsbok, is a large antelope found in arid regions of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. They are known for their distinctive long, straight horns, and striking black and white markings. Oryx are adapted to living in harsh, dry environments, obtaining most of their water from the vegetation they eat. They are also able to regulate their body temperature through their unique nasal structures, which help to cool the air they breathe. Oryx are social animals, typically living in small herds, and are able to survive in areas where other large mammals may struggle due to the scarcity of food and water.
Fun fact: It is believed that Oryxes inspired the origination of the mythical unicorns.
The ostrich is the largest living bird, found in Africa’s savannas and deserts. It is known for its distinctive appearance, with long legs, a long neck, and a small head. Ostriches are flightless birds but are incredibly fast runners, able to reach speeds of up to 43 miles per hour. They are herbivores, feeding on plants and occasionally small animals.
Ostriches are social animals, living in groups of up to 20 individuals. They are also well adapted to their environment, with specialized respiratory and digestive systems that allow them to survive in arid regions. Ostriches are hunted for their meat, skin, and feathers, and are also raised on farms for these products.
Fun fact: In one step, Ostriches can cover more than 10 feet of distance due to their long legs.
Cheetahs are large, sleek felines found in various African regions and Iran. They are known for their distinctive spotted fur, slender build, and impressive speed. Cheetahs are carnivorous predators, preying mostly on smaller antelopes such as gazelles. They are also diurnal, and typically hunt during the early morning and late afternoon. Cheetahs are solitary animals, except during the mating season, and are not particularly territorial. Due to habitat loss and hunting, cheetahs are considered a vulnerable species and efforts are being made to save their populations through conservation programs and breeding efforts.
Fun fact: Cheetahs can run at a speed of 70 miles per hour. They can pick up this speed within just 3 seconds!
The coyote is a canid species found throughout North and Central America. They are known for their adaptable nature and are found in a variety of habitats from deserts to forests. Coyotes are omnivores, feeding on a wide range of food including rodents, rabbits, fruits, and insects. They are also known for their distinctive howling calls, which are used for communication and territorial defense. Coyotes are highly adaptable and have been able to thrive in suburban and urban environments, sometimes becoming pests when they prey on livestock or pets. Despite this, they play an important role in the ecosystem as a predator and scavenger.
Fun fact: Coyotes are one of the few monogamous animal species.
13. Diamondback Rattlesnake
The diamondback rattlesnake is a venomous snake found throughout the southern United States and parts of Mexico. They are known for the distinctive diamond-shaped patterns on their backs and their iconic rattling tails. Diamondback rattlesnakes are ambush predators, feeding on a variety of small mammals, birds, and reptiles. They use their venom to immobilize their prey and their heat-sensing pits to locate them.
Diamondback rattlesnakes are also well-adapted to their environment and able to regulate their body temperature by basking in the sun and seeking shade. They are important predators in their ecosystems and control various populations.
Fun fact: Diamondback rattlesnakes are very aggressive and can also pose a danger to humans, especially when threatened or cornered.
Roadrunners are birds that are found in North and Central America, particularly in arid and desert regions such as the southwestern United States, Mexico, and parts of Central America. They are particularly well-adapted to living in hot and dry environments, and can be found in a variety of habitats, including deserts, grasslands, and scrublands. Roadrunners are known for their distinctive appearance, including their long tail, short wings, and the distinctive crest of feathers on their heads. They are opportunistic predators, feeding on a wide range of prey including insects, small reptiles, and rodents.
Fun fact: Roadrunners are also known for their speed and agility, and can run up to 20 miles per hour.
15. Gila Monster
The Gila monster is a venomous lizard found in the southwestern United States and parts of Mexico. Gila monsters are known for their unique and distinctive appearance, with a stocky body covered in black and pink/orange patterns and a rough texture to their skin. They are primarily active at night and are slow-moving, spending much of their time underground or in rock crevices.
Gila monsters feed on a variety of prey including eggs, small mammals, and other lizards. Their venom is used for defense and to subdue prey. It is considered relatively mild in humans but can cause severe reactions in some individuals. Gila monsters are an important part of their ecosystem but are threatened by habitat loss and over-collection for the pet trade.
Fun fact: Scientists are studying the Gila monster’s venom for its ability to treat Type 2 Diabetes. A component in the lizard’s saliva called Exendin-4 is similar to a human hormone responsible for Insulin production.