Although desert environments are too harsh for many living things, there are plenty of animals who have adapted to desert life. From bugs and birds to reptiles and mammals, desert creatures are known for their intelligence and resiliency.
Creepy Crawly Desert Creatures
Bugs, insects, and small flying creepy critters living in the desert are often venomous to protect them from predators. These tiny creatures sometimes build elaborate homes to keep them sheltered from the heat.
These unique critters roll around large piles of poo to help them survive.
- They are found in deserts of Australia and Africa.
- They only eat dung, or poop, of bigger animals.
- Dung is full of water, so they never have to look for watering holes.
Saharan Silver Ant
The Sahara Desert is the largest desert in the world and home to these futuristic-looking desert dwellers.
- They have longer legs than other ants to help keep them safe on hot sand.
- They're active for only 10 minutes per day.
- The ants are covered in tiny silver hairs that help reflect sunlight and shed off heat.
There are more than 2,000 species of scorpions in the world, and they are some of the heartiest desert inhabitants.
- Deathstalker scorpion is the most poisonous scorpion in the world.
- A scorpion can slow its own metabolism so it can live on as little as one insect per year.
- Tiny hairs on their legs help them sense vibrations, or movements, to catch prey.
There are many desert-dwelling spiders, but the Tarantula is one of the most recognizable.
- It digs burrows lined with silk webbing.
- They sense vibrations in the ground to know when prey or predators are nearby.
- Tarantulas inject venom into prey to liquify it because they have no teeth to chew it.
Desert Reptiles and Snakes
Snakes, toads, and lizards often adapt well to hot climates because they are cold-blooded and take on the temperature of their surroundings.
This unique snake is found in U.S. and Mexico deserts and has cool adaptations that help it move fast on hot sand.
- It slithers diagonally to help gain traction on sand.
- The snakes become nocturnal during hotter parts of the year.
- They eat smaller rodents and reptiles.
Venomous Sand Viper
These sand-colored snakes of the Sahara Desert blend in with their surroundings.
- Sand vipers bury themselves in sand during hot parts of the day.
- They have a thin membrane that protects their small eyes from sand.
- It produces a toxin that immediately kills prey.
While you might think mostly of crocodiles and alligators as living in or near water, these guys like the heat.
- The desert crocodile is a West African crocodile living in the Sahara Desert.
- It sleeps, or aestivates, during droughts to survive.
- It can gather at small pockets of water when it rains.
This cool Australian desert lizard is well-armored to help it survive.
- It has sharp growths, or thorns, over its entire body to keep predators away.
- Thorns help them get water when dew collects on them.
- They bury themselves in sand and wait until prey walks by.
This carnivorous reptile, found in the Sahara Desert, spends its time alone.
- It hibernates from September to April.
- The position of their nostrils keeps sand out.
- It eats mostly rodents and eggs.
Large and small birds call deserts their home and find simple ways to beat the heat.
Found in Mojave, Sonoran, Chihuahuan, and southern Great Basin deserts, these fast little birds have specialized body functions built for desert life.
- Special nasal gland gets rid of extra salt in the body.
- Roadrunners reabsorb water from their feces before pooping.
- They drop their energy level by 50 percent during hottest parts of day.
This flightless bird calls the desert home and has no trouble living there.
- It's the largest living ostrich in the world
- The ostrich can adjust its own body temperature to reduce water loss.
- They don't need to drink water.
This smallest owl in the world lives in desert regions near U.S. and Mexico border.
- It nests in old woodpecker holes in giant cacti.
- It plays dead when captured.
- The owls migrate further south because northern desert winters can be too cold for insects.
Small Desert Land Animals
Rodents and small mammals inhabit the large plants and the ground in desert landscapes.
Although they look similar to rabbits or guinea pigs, these are actually the closest living relatives of elephants.
- They live in groups of up to 80.
- A special secretion on the soles of their feet helps keep them moist and cool on hot sand.
- They sunbathe for hours to warm up and energize before searching for food each day.
There are only two species of these mice, and they are exclusive to U.S. deserts.
- The soles of their feet are covered in dense fur to protect against sand.
- They produce concentrated urine and dry feces to reduce need for water.
- They hibernate from November to March.
Despite their name, these cute creatures are actually hares, not rabbits.
- Extra tall ears help it lose body heat.
- They feed on plants and can even eat cactus.
- They rest in shade during the hot part of the day.
One of the most adorable desert creatures, these little guys pack some big adaptations.
- They have exceptionally large ears that help them move heat away from their body.
- The fox eats birds, insects, and small rodents.
- Their feet are covered in thick fur making it easier to walk on hot sand.
Large Desert Land Animals
Although they are large, these animals are all plant-eaters.
Known for their ability to leap and run fast, gazelles are always alert for predators.
- Dorcas gazelles can go their entire lifetime without drinking water.
- Rhim gazelles have a very pale coat that reflects sunlight to keep them cool.
- Sand gazelles can shrink their liver and heart to help decrease water loss.
This endangered species is one of only two types of antelopes that can live in the desert all year long.
- They get water mostly from dew and the grasses they eat.
- The antelopes have pale coats to help reflect sunlight.
- Their broad hooves help them travel efficiently on sand.
These two-humped camels are found largely in Central Asia.
- It's the largest species of camel in the world.
- They have two humps that store fat to give them energy.
- The thick coat helps them stay warm in winters then falls away when it gets hot.
These one-humped camels are found largely in Africa and are used to help people travel through tough terrain.
- Long eyelashes help keep sand out of their eyes.
- They have only one hump.
- Their large, thick lips help them eat thorny desert plants.
Every wild place has a few predators that are known for their speed and hunting skills. These are some creatures who live at the top of the desert food chain.
These skinny, dog-like animals usually live alone but sometimes form packs to hunt bigger food sources.
- The Mexican coyote lives in deserts of Mexico and the U.S.
- They have large ears to help cool their bodies.
- They eat anything they can find.
African Wild Dog
Known for their stink, these dogs resemble hyenas.
- It's an endangered species found only in sub-Saharan Africa.
- It eats mostly antelopes.
- They have large ears to help keep body temperature down.
Extreme speed helps cheetahs cover a lot of land during night hunts and easily capture prey when they find it.
- This is a critically endangered species with only about 250 left in the wild.
- They are solitary and semi-nomadic.
- They mostly hunt gazelles and antelope at night.
Get Wild About Deserts
While these desert creatures might be different in many ways, they also have similarities that help them survive in extreme heat. Learning about how these insects and animals live in the desert can help you think of ways to beat the heat at home.