It’s amazing how animals can survive and even thrive in the harshest and cruelest climates. Deserts, where food and water are scarce and temperatures fluctuate between intense heat and freezing cold, provide some of the most challenging environments. Discover how some hardy creatures have evolved to survive.
Surviving Without Water
There’s a daily water shortage in the desert, and every drop of moisture counts. The greater roadrunner maintains a diet of creatures with moist skin tissue and blood, and it has a digestive system that reabsorbs water from the bird’s feces before excretion. This clever bird also cries tears of excess salt through glands above its eyes. The Dorcas gazelle can survive without ever drinking water or urinating, gaining hydration from the moisture in its food and expelling only pellets of uric acid.
Hanging Onto Every Drop
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The skin-drinking desert lizard absorbs water from pools, rainfall or even damp sand using a capillary action on its skin’s surface to draw moisture towards its mouth. The sand grouse has highly absorbent belly feathers that soak up water to take back to its nest. The desert tortoise has a huge bladder that holds up to 40 percent of its total body weight when full, while the desert cockroach’s mouth sports a pair of bladders that condenses moisture from the air to keep the creature hydrated. Surprisingly, the camel’s hump stores fat, not water, but the animal can process the fat to provide food and liquid.
Kangaroos aren’t just licking their arms to keep clean. Their forelegs are full of blood vessels that are cooled by the spit evaporating in the hot sun. The cute fennec fox’s enormous ears function in a similar way but without the added lick.
The sandfish survives by moving through the cooler sand below the surface using a swimming motion. The sidewinder uses a rapid twisting movement to ensure only two small parts of its body ever come into contact with the hot sand at a time.
Face and Body Armor
Like many desert creatures, the sandfish has tough skin and eye membranes for protection. The camel and jerboa can close off their nostrils, and the camel has enviable eyelashes to bat away sand.
The secretive sand cat has evolved claws that don’t completely retract, along with tough, fur-covered pads. These features enable it to creep along the sand without burning its feet.
Puffed up to Perfection
The chuckwalla escapes predators by hiding under a rock and puffing up loose folds of skin to wedge it firmly in place.
Built-In Sun Shades
When the sun is high, the furry Cape ground squirrel holds its bushy tail aloft for instant shade. The meerkats’ sun shades – the dark circles around their eyes – absorb sunlight to prevent the glare from blinding them to their predators.
When All Else Fails, Dig a Hole
In times of drought, the African Pixie frog burrows underground and seals itself within a mucous membrane, where it can hibernate safely for up to seven years. When moisture returns to the ground, the cocoon melts away and the creature is miraculously reborn.
High Life Among the Spikes
In largely barren deserts, the towering cacti can provide a great ecosystem. Birds like the Gila woodpecker drill holes for shelter and nesting, hummingbirds sup nectar from the plants’ flowers, while other birds can find a cool perch on the spikes and feast on the moist flesh. This striking [candleholder] provides a daily reminder of this splendid plant.