How do Desert Animals Survive?

white antelope from genus of oryx in desert
Photo by Pat Whelen on

Desert animals have found numerous ways to beat the heat. Most animals know the best trick. They sleep during the day and slowly creep out during the evening hours when it’s cooler. They spend their days napping in underground burrows.

Desert animals also have physical traits that help them handle the heat.

For example, rabbits and foxes have large ears with lots of tiny blood veins. Heat escapes from the veins. This helps cool their bodies. Another helpful feature is a thick coat. Instead of keeping it warm, a camel’s thick jacket blocks out the sun’s hot rays. Finally, various desert animals have light-colored feathers, fur, or scales. The pale colors absorb relatively less heat. They help the animals lurk in the sand too.

Since water is so scarce, most desert animals get their water from the food they eat: succulent plants, seeds, or their prey’s body tissues and blood.

Other animals have bodies meant to save water. Wolf spiders and scorpions have a thick outer covering that reduces moisture loss. The primitive kidneys of desert animals concentrate urine so that they pass less water.

Protection from sand

Desert animals such as the addax, camel, and kangaroo rat have long feet to prevent them from sinking in the sand. The fennec fox has extra fur on the soles of its feet to give it traction and protect it from the hot sand. Most animals in arid environments are slender with long legs, giving them the speed as they travel long distances for food and water.

The three main vulnerabilities against the sand are through the nose, ears, and eyes. To keep sand out of their eyes, desert animals, including reptiles and birds, and some mammals and amphibians have a nictitating membrane in their eyes: a third, transparent eyelid that protects the cornea from blowing sand and can dislodge it from the eye. Reptiles also have eyes the size of pinholes or protected by valves.

Protection from the Sun

Desert Animals are usually light and sandy in color to reduce heat absorption and reflect solar radiation. Some change color with the seasons to reflect more sunlight: addaxes transform from gray-brown to nearly white. Iguanid lizards can change color on a much smaller time scale by varying melanin concentrations. They become darker when burrowing and lighter when basking – both the zebra-tailed lizard and desert iguana become so pale that they appear to shine due to the amount of light they reflect.

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