Any animal that thrives in the harsh desert environment is pretty hardcore. Though we think of endless sand and blazing sunlight, some of the world’s harshest deserts are actually cold and windy. The main characteristic of a desert is that it’s very, very dry.
But what about desert animals? What allows these hardcore animals to succeed?
Most desert animals employ at least a few tricks to help them succeed in these extreme environments. Common special adaptations of desert animals include:
All desert animals have some special adaptations that help them succeed in this difficult environment. Most desert animals have adaptations that specifically help them reduce water loss.
Here are some of the most hardcore animals that live in the desert.
These little birds don’t look like much, but they’re extremely tough. They enter burrows to cool themselves off with sand. The females often only lay one egg per year, to help reduce spent energy on chick-raising. Most surprisingly, though, these birds are able to allow their body temperature to soar to 45 degrees Celsius, much hotter than most other birds!
The Desert Lark is found in the deserts between Morocco and India. It largely eats seeds and insects.
These gazelles have taken their desert adaptations to the extreme. Breathing is a great way to lose water. If you can reduce how much you exhale, you’ll reduce water loss. These gazelles shrink their hearts, livers, and stomachs during times of drought. This way, they need less oxygen and are able to lower respiratory rate. These gazelles are also unusual because they store fat in their brains, helping them get through lean times.
Arabian Sand Gazelles are native to the Arabian and Syrian Deserts. They’re quite endangered.
Male sandgrouses sure make dedicated parents! These birds have special belly feathers that are well-suited to soak up water. The males will fly up to 50 miles in a single day to soak their feathers, then carry water back to their mate and chicks.
There are 16 different species of sandgrouse, which can be found primarily in central Asia.
These little lizards are armed to the teeth – they’re covered in thick spines. The gaps between these thick spines actually help draw water in from the air, directing it with capillary action towards the eyes and mouth.
These lizards are tough, surviving on nothing but ants in the brutal Australian Outback.
As we mentioned earlier, the Dorcas Gazelle has some pretty hardcore desert adaptations. These little gazelles don’t actually urinate. Rather than wasting water with liquid urine, their excretory systems have modified enough that they produce solid white pellets of uric acid, rather than giving up on water. As far as we know, this species is actually capable of living its whole life without drinking!
The Dorcas Gazelle can be found in the deserts of northern Africa. They are classified as endangered.
While the above desert animals are specialists, there are other hardcore animals – the generalists. Sure, it’s tough to survive on the Himalayan Steppes or in Death Valley. But it’s also an incredible feat to survive and thrive around the world in a variety of different environments.
Adaptability isn’t about being a specialist – it’s about being able to make do. You’re probably already familiar with the world’s most adaptable animals because they’re the animals we see most around the world. We’ll focus this list on animals with spines, rather than the many insects and microbes that are also exceptionally tough.
It’s hard to out-survive a rat. These critters are the ultimate survivalists, invading the world’s islands and succeeding in incredibly tough conditions. Rats are incredibly adaptable, making them potential invasive species as well.
The common pigeon is truly tough. These birds survive well in cities, farmland, and rocky outcroppings. They do well everywhere from the equator to the nearctic and palearctic. As an introduced species, pigeons are incredibly adaptable.
That’s right – humans are probably the most adaptable beings on the planet. Sure, we need to use technology to survive. But we have that technology thanks to our incredibly adaptive brain (and opposable thumbs). Even before we had down jackets and air conditioning, humans could be found from the Amazon to the Himalaya, the Sahara to Patagonia.