The Remarkable Adaptations of Desert Animals: Surviving Extreme Conditions
Deserts are some of the most hostile environments on Earth. Intense heat, freezing nights, lack of water, and relentless sunlight create seemingly unforgiving conditions that few creatures can endure. Despite facing numerous challenges when living in the desert, some creatures have adapted and managed to survive, even thrive, in such stark surroundings. Coming up with remarkable strategies, these animals have managed to not only cope with extreme conditions, but even display vivid and interesting behaviors that have made them some of the most fascinating species in the world.
What Are the Extreme Conditions of Deserts?
Deserts are areas where natural precipitation is scarce and the temperature is often excessively hot during the day, and cold at night. Some deserts have even been known to experience temperatures over 113°F (45°C). Most deserts also receive minimal amounts of rainfall, if any at all, and the average humidity levels are very low. This creates a hostile environment with little vegetation or bodies of water, and often very little food resources. Most deserts do not support life, however, some of the toughest creatures on the planet have evolved incredible adaptations that allow them to survive these extreme conditions.
Adaptations of Animals in the Desert
Animals living in a desert environment need to be able to blend in to their surroundings in order to avoid becoming an easy target for predators. To do this some animals take on the color of the sand or rocks, and some animals even have the ability to adjust their color in order to better match their environment. An example of this is the dodo, which can change its color from yellowish-brown in the cooler months to more of a camouflage green when temperatures begin to rise.
- Behavioral Adaptations
To conserve energy and avoid the dangerous midday temperatures, many desert animals are nocturnal and search for sustenance during the cooler nights. Species like the kangaroo rat uses its huge ears to detect predators, and when it feels threatened it will run in short bursts followed by short periods of rest, allowing it to save energy.
- Physiological Adaptations
Adaptations of the body are just as important as the behaviors of desert animals. The Bactrian camel is a great example of this. It has the ability to save water by reusing the moisture in its breath, and two humps on its back act as a reserve of fatty tissue which will be converted into water and energy during times of drought.
Many desert animals rely on digging burrows to keep cool during the daytime and to create a safe spot to sleep and breed. The meerkat, for instance, excavates burrows to sleep in during the day and keep warm during the night. The burrow also acts as a safe haven for the meerkat’s young, since predators are unable to follow the meerkat into its burrow.
- Insectivorous Diets
Insects are the most abundant source of food in the desert, and as such, many desert animals eat insects to survive. The NamaquaSandgrouse eats and drinks from ground water, but also feeds its young with insects. The tiny kangaroo rat can also survive on only a few drops of liquid and can collect water from its food source, which includes succulent plants and seeds, as well as insects and spiders.
Deserts are some of the harshest environments on the planet, yet many animals are able to survive these extreme conditions by developing remarkable adaptations. With their ability to blend in with their surroundings, the ability to adjust their behavior, the ability to store fat and water, finding safe refuge deep under the desert floor, and incorporating insectivorous diets, desert animals are some of the most resilient species found in nature.