Desert-Dwelling Animal Adaptations

Desert animal adaptations

Disclosure: Some links may be affiliate links. If you buy an item via links on our site, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

A desert is a vast, barren wilderness, and there are 25 of them in the world. As many as 13 of these deserts are hot and experience extreme temperatures and a serious lack of rainfall or water.

But since water is so important to life, this poses the question of how animals survive in these hot deserts. Surprisingly, there is an abundance of life and in this article, we will look at some of the amazing adaptations that animals have to survive the challenging conditions of the hot desert.

What is a Hot Desert?

What is a hot desert?

There are two types of deserts that are classified according to their temperatures: hot deserts and cold deserts. For the purposes of this guide, we’ll focus on the hot desert, but what actually does this mean?

A hot desert is an area where there is very little or sparse vegetation and a lack of rainfall; less than 10 inches (250 mm) each year. These areas experience very high temperatures, with the record being 56.7 °C (134 °F), and are usually located no more than 15 to 20 degrees on either side of the equator.

Some of the most well-known hot deserts are the Sahara, the Great Australian desert, and the Arabian desert.

Common Characteristics Among Hot Desert Animals

Common characteristics among hot desert animals

The desert is a very hostile place to live with soaring temperatures and low rainfall so, if animals are going to survive here, they have to have special characteristics. Animals that are adapted to live in a desert are known as xerocoles and must be able to live without as much water and spend their lives in excessive heat.

1. Often Live in Burrows

Heat rises and so it would make sense that to get out of the hot sun, animals would head further down. This means burrowing in the ground or hiding under rocks where it’s much cooler and shadier. Inside the burrow, the air is much more humid, and it doesn’t get too hot nor too cold. Animals usually remain in their burrows until the sun starts to set when they’ll come out to feed.

However, it’s typically only mammals and reptiles that behave in this way, yet it seems to be very effective. According to research, burrowing mammals seem to be better able to survive the extremes of the desert compared to animals like birds.

2. Many are Nocturnal or Crepuscular

Imagine trying to find your next meal in the heat of the midday desert sun; not even animals who are adapted want to do that. This is why a lot of desert animals only come out to hunt at night; these are called nocturnal animals.

There are also crepuscular animals that hunt and feed at dusk and dawn when the air is much cooler. They also do many of their other rituals at this time, including mating. Even some diurnal bird species in the desert are more active at dawn than any other part of the day.

3. Some Have Impervious Skin to Minimize Water Loss

No matter what kind of creature you are, your body needs water to survive. However, in very hot conditions, water can evaporate right off an animal which is why some of them have impervious skin to prevent this from happening. For example, the wolf spider has a thick outer skin to prevent moisture loss, and the scales of many desert reptiles prevent evaporation from taking place.

A lot of desert animals also have kidneys that concentrate their urine, so they do not need to pee as often, therefore saving water in the body. More on this later!

Of course, actually getting water in the first place isn’t easy when you live in the desert, so a lot of these animals have gotten rid of the need to directly drink water. Instead, they will get most of their moisture needs from their food.

4. Have Unique Physical Adaptations

Being able to survive the desert doesn’t only require special behaviors. These amazing animals also rely on their physical traits to help them stay alive.

Big Ears

Having big ears doesn’t just make these animals look adorable; it’s actually a way of helping them to cool down.

The larger surface area allows the blood to dissipate through blood vessels that are close to the surface of the skin, therefore keeping the animal nice and cool. This is a feature seen in animals like the fennec fox and the desert mouse, among many others.

No Sweat Glands

As I’ve already discussed, there’s a lack of water in the desert so animals need to conserve as much of it as possible. Not having sweat glands prevents animals from losing precious moisture in the heat, and while humans sweat to cool down, these creatures have other ways of staying cool.

Pale Colored Fur

Have you ever noticed how much warmer you feel in the sun when you wear darker colors? That’s because dark colors absorb heat, whereas lighter ones reflect it. The same happens with animal fur, so you’ll notice that a lot of desert animals have pale colored fur, skin, or scales.

What’s more, this coloration helps the animal to blend in with its surroundings, making it able to hide from predators.

Specialized Kidneys

Human urine contains around 6% urea, whereas some desert animals excrete urine with up to 24% urea making their urine much more concentrated. But how and why does this happen?

These animals do this with their specialized kidneys that take less water from the bloodstream. When the animal excretes urine, they aren’t getting rid of as much water, which is essential in these kinds of environments.

But this highly concentrated urine could be good for what little plantlife is found in the desert since scientists say that urea is imperative as a source of nitrogen for plants.

Store Fat

One of the most well-known desert animals is the camel, and its distinguishing feature is its hump. While a lot of people think that the hump is primarily used to store water, it’s actually used to store fat. This acts as a food reserve for times when the animal is unable to find nourishment in the desert.

The fat-tailed gecko is another species that stores fat for this very reason. But their tails are also pretty impressive as they will fall off and later grow back when the animal needs to escape danger.

Adaptations in Desert-Dwelling Animals

There are hundreds of animals that manage to survive in the desert, and it’s an impressive feat of nature and evolution that they’re able to do this. Let’s take a look at some of the adaptations of these remarkable creatures.

1. Fennec Fox (Vulpes zerda)

The fennec fox can live for up to 10 years in the wild. It’s an omnivorous animal that mainly feeds on lizards and rodents, as well as tubers and fruits, where available. It hunts at night and may fall prey to things like the African horned owl.

Super cute and with some of the largest ears in the animal kingdom, these mammals can survive without water thanks to their especially adapted kidney.

Range & Habitat

The fennec fox is sometimes called the African fennec fox since it is found across North Africa in countries like Morocco, Sudan, Egypt, and Mauritania.

These animals live in desert areas where there are no trees and sparse vegetation. They can often be found living among small sand dunes.


  • Fennec foxes have large ears to get rid of excess body heat, keeping them cool.
  • Unlike other mammals, fennec foxes have fur on their feet to protect the skin from burning on the hot ground and stops it from sinking into the sand.
  • The fur that covers its body is very thick, so the fox can stay warm at night when things get significantly chillier.
  • The fennec fox is light in color to reflect heat.

2. Kangaroo Rat (Dipodomys spp.)

Bcexp / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

The desert kangaroo rat is a sweet little rodent, and there are more than 20 different species of this animal. They are one of the larger of all of the species and can grow up to around 12 inches (30 cm).

Range & Habitat

The desert kangaroo rat lives in deserts as well as other arid areas and can be found throughout the south west and western parts of the United States.

They prefer areas where there are lots of cacti and grasses and are usually found where there is sandy soil. They’ll typically remain in their burrows and, when sleeping, will seal off the entrance to protect from predators.


  • Kangaroo rats burrow under the ground during the day to keep out of the heat.
  • These animals do not require liquid water and get most of their moisture from their diet of seeds.
  • Larger ears allow better dissipation of the blood, therefore, cooling the animal.
  • With large, strong rear legs, the kangaroo rat is able to jump up to 10 feet (3 meters) to evade a predator. These animals also have large back feet which prevent them from sinking into the sand.
  • Kangaroo rats have specially adapted skulls with long nasal cavities that filter hot air which would otherwise take away moisture.

3. Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)

One of the most fascinating things about the desert tortoise is that each individual’s gender is determined at birth by the temperature of the environment. When eggs are laid in warmer climates, the hatchlings will be female, whereas when eggs are laid in cooler climates, this will produce males.

Range & Habitat

The desert tortoise is found in the most southerly of the United States as well as down into Mexico. They’re common in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts and can be found in the southern parts of Utah, Nevada, and California as well as in Arizona. These animals prefer areas of the desert where there are lots of grasses.


  • Much like other desert animals, the desert tortoise will bury itself under the ground in order to stay out of the heat.
  • Desert tortoises do not need a lot of water and get most of their hydration through the foods they eat. However, amazingly, adults can last up to 12 months without the need to drink. That said, they will dig small holes in the ground to gather water when it rains.
  • These animals will become active during the night in hotter weather but may become crepuscular when the temperature isn’t as high.

4. Arabian Camel (Camelus dromedarius)

Sometimes called the dromedary camel, these animals are one of the most well-known desert animals in the world. There are lots of wild camels, but they’re also kept domestically and commercially as working animals, mainly as a form of transport for passengers and cargo.

They are also farmed for their meat and milk and are often nicknamed the ships of the desert.

Camels feed on pretty much any vegetation they can find and will eat parts of plants that other animals simply could not manage, such as spiny parts of the acacia.

Range & Habitat

Camels are largely found in very hot, arid deserts and do extremely well at surviving the challenging conditions and heat stress.

These animals are common across northern Africa in countries like Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia. They’re also widespread across Arab nations and parts of the Middle East.

Interestingly, camels were introduced to Australia from the Canary Islands back in 1840. There are now significant numbers of wild camels across the continent, and in Western Australia thay are considered a problem because of the agricultural damage they cause.


  • Camels store fat in their humps to use as an energy reserve when food is sparse.
  • The camel’s lips are thick-skinned which allows them to eat dry, prickly vegetation. They will only eat certain parts of plants, and when traveling in herds, the individuals will spread out so they do not eat everything in the area.
  • Camels have wide, tough feet for better weight distribution across the sand.
  • Camels do not sweat to prevent them from losing precious water. Moreover, they fluctuate their body temperature between 93.2 °F (34 ºC) and 105.8 °F (41 ºC) to help conserve water.
  • Long eyelashes and thin nostrils that can be closed protect the camel when the sand is thrown about by desert winds.

5. Sand Cat (Felis margarita)

The sand cat has to be one of the most adorable members of the desert animal family. What’s special about it is that the sand cat is the only feline that lives in the sandy desert.

Range & Habitat

Sand cats are found in some parts of southwest Asia and all over North Africa. They can be found in both stony and sandy deserts on flat terrain where there are lots of bushes for hiding as these areas are preferable for hunting compared to sand dunes.


  • Sand cats have large ears that help it to dissipate heat. Because their ears are set so low, this also helps to protect them from sand when it is windy and gives them an advantage as they’re able to hear what’s going on underground and find prey easily.
  • To get out of the heat, sand cats will hide out in abandoned burrows made by other animals, but they will make them larger if needed.
  • The sand cat has thick fur all over its feet which prevent them from burning on the hot sand.
  • During the summer, when it’s very hot, the sand cat becomes nocturnal. But for other parts of the year, it is a diurnal animal.

6. Meerkat (Suricata suricatta)

Meerkats are intelligent animals that live in large groups of up to thirty individuals. These groups may inhabit an area of up to 2 mi² (5 km²).

The clear social hierarchy is evident within meerkat groups, and this determines which individuals are allowed to breed. Those that do not breed are used to take care of the young, while the dominant adults continue to reproduce throughout the year.

Range & Habitat

Meerkats are often found around the Kalahari desert in southern parts of Africa in countries like Botswana. They’re also found in the Namib desert and in parts of south-west Angola.

These animals prefer to live in sandy areas where there are grasses and lots of scrub. Meerkats are also very often found in rocky areas where they can hide from the heat.


  • Meerkats have long claws that allow them to burrow into the ground. When doing this, they are able to close their ears to prevent soil and sand from getting in. They also have what is known as a nictitating membrane on the eyes (sometimes called a third eyelid and seen in such animals as rabbits) which they use to get sand out of their eyes.
  • When burrowing, meerkats will create several entrances to ensure they are always able to evade a predator.
  • Having a much slower metabolism, meerkats do not need to feed as often, nor do they require as much water.
  • Have you ever noticed those dark circles around a meerkat’s eyes? Those are there to help reduce the glare from the hot desert sun.
  • The fur of the meerkat adapts to the conditions keeping the animal warm when the temperature drops and cool when it’s very hot.

7. Sonoran Desert Toad (Incilius alvarius)

You usually think of toads as animals that live near a water source, and while the Sonoran desert toad does only come out when it rains, it’s still able to survive the harsh desert conditions.

When it comes to breeding, these toads know how to do it right, with females laying as many as 8000 eggs in one go!

Range & Habitat

As one can guess from the name, the Sonoran desert toad inhabits the Sonoran desert in the southern part of North America. It can be found as far down as Mexico and in states like Arizona and New Mexico as well as some southern areas of California.

It resides in lowlands under the cover of brush but can also be found in mountain canyons.


  • These incredible toads spend as many as ten months of the year burrowed underground where they cover themselves in a special secretion and will only emerge when it rains. In order to dig its burrow, the toad has hook-shaped appendages on its rear feet.
  • When they are active, Sonoran desert toads will hunt only at night to avoid the heat of the desert sun.
  • When the desert toad is in hibernation, its fat reserves serve as a source of energy.

8. Red kangaroo (Osphranter rufus)

In the Australian landscape, the kangaroo is potentially one of the most well-known animals. They’re even the national animal of this country.

The red kangaroo is the largest of all the kangaroo species although the females are smaller than the males and are more grayish in color as opposed to the male’s rusty red coloration.

Range & Habitat

Red kangaroos are found all over mainland Australia although they aren’t as abundant in rainforest areas along the east coast or the fertile areas of Western Australia.

These marsupials tend to prefer flat desert land but opt for places where there is some shade under the cover of trees.


  • Kangaroos maintain a homeostasis body temperature of 96.8 °F (36 °C) through the use of various adaptations. They have a layer of fur for insulation but will spend a lot of time in the shade to better regulate their temperature.
  • Requiring less water than other types of kangaroos, the red kangaroo is able to thrive in a desert environment. Moreover, they have very concentrated urine so there’s no need to lose more water than necessary. Studies have shown that some kangaroos are able to withstand periods of drought for up to 8 months.
  • Kangaroos are largely crepuscular and will forage for grasses and plants at dusk and dawn to stay out of the heat.
  • Rather than sweating to keep cool, kangaroos will lick their forearms to encourage controlled evaporation.

9. Leopard Gecko (Eublepharis macularius)

Leopard geckos are often kept as pets, but in the wild, they excel at surviving in the harsh hot desert climate. That said, during the winter, these amazing animals can withstand temperatures as low as 50 °F (10 ºC).

Range & Habitat

The leopard gecko is found across parts of the Middle East and Asia, including countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and India. They spend time in grasslands and can also commonly be found among rocks, where they’ll hide from the sun.


  • The leopard gecko will drop its tail when attacked by a predator saving it from becoming a meal.
  • These lizards hide in crevices and holes during the day to stay cool and only hunt at night.
  • Leopard geckos excrete solid urine crystals, which contain hardly any water.
  • Leopard geckos have very thick skin that helps to protect them from surface evaporation as well as keeping them safe from injuries which could be sustained from the harsh desert conditions such as spiny vegetation and sharp rocks.
  • These animals have moveable eyelids which protect them from blowing sand.

10. Addax (Addax nasomaculatus)

The addax is a species of antelope sometimes called the screwhorn or the white antelope. These animals have super long horns which, in males, can measure up to 33 inches (85 cm) in length which they use for self-defense and fighting.

It’s fortunate that they have these horns to protect themselves as these are very slow-moving animals that are an easy target for apex predators like lions.

Range & Habitat

The addax can be found living in barren areas and deserts that are made from both stone and sand. They’re also found in semi-desert areas where they have access to succulents and various grasses. Generally speaking, these animals are native to northern parts of Africa, including countries like Chad and Mauritania.


  • To maintain a consistent body temperature, the fur of the addax changes with the seasons. It darkens to a grayish hue in winter to absorb more sunlight and gets lighter in summer to reflect heat.
  • To hide from the sun, the addax will dig down into the sand in a shady spot and stay cool.
  • Just like camels, the addax antelope has wide hooves with a flat base to prevent them from sinking into the soft sand.
  • Addaxes get most of their water from their diet of plants and therefore do not require copious amounts of liquid water.

11. Desert Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos)

The desert horned lizard is sometimes called the horny toad, and it’s not difficult to see why. Their bodies do resemble that of a toad, but they are indeed, lizards. They’re not massive animals and typically don’t grow any bigger than 4 inches (10 cm) in length. Desert horned lizards are masters of camouflage, owing to their coloration that helps them to blend into the ground.

Range & Habitat

Desert horned lizards are found in southern parts of North America, including states as far north as Idaho. They’re also common as far south as Mexico.

As far as desert animals go, the horny toad is one of the most diverse and can be found in a variety of habitats, such as grasses, sandy areas, and even forests.


  • While they are diurnal, desert horned lizards will spend a lot of time under the ground during the day to keep out of the heat.
  • When waiting for prey, these lizards will shake themselves to cover their bodies in sand with only their heads poking out. This also serves them well as it keeps them camouflaged from potential predators.
  • When they sense it’s going to rain, the lizards will strike a pose that allows them to get their mouths close to the ground to harvest rain.

12. Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox)

The western diamondback rattlesnake is one of the most effective hunters in the desert. It has infrared heat sensors on its face which makes it easy for it to hunt down warm-blooded prey. What’s more, being a venomous rattlesnake, it possesses toxins that attack the victim’s blood system.

Range & Habitat

The western diamondback rattlesnake is found across southern parts of North America where it can be found hiding among rocks as well as on desert flatlands.

They are most common in northern areas of Mexico in the Sonoran desert as well as in areas of the USA such as Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.


  • The western diamondback rattlesnake has thick scales that help to prevent moisture loss when under the hot desert sun.
  • In order to further protect itself from the heat, the western diamondback rattlesnake will spend a lot of time hiding among rocks and in crevices during the day.
  • Since the western diamondback is a cold blooded animal, it does not need to eat as often, so even when food is sparse in the desert, it doesn’t have a problem surviving. What’s more, their metabolism is a lot slower and this makes it easier for them to conserve water.

13. Sidewinder Rattlesnake (Crotalus cerastes)

The sidewinder is a type of snake that gives birth to live young and can have up to 18 young snakes in one breeding season.

These fascinating snakes move in a sideways s-like pattern which is just one of their unique adaptations.

Range & Habitat

Sidewinders prefer to frequent flatlands and are found in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. They’re common in states like California, some parts of Nevada and Utah as well as most of Arizona.


  • The way the sidewinder moves means that its body does not have to be in constant contact with the hot ground. This movement also means that the snake can move more quickly over loose sand.
  • Sidewinders are lighter in color as this helps to reflect heat and keep the animal cool. That said, they mostly come out at night to hunt when the air is cooler. Moreover, this lighter color ensures that the snake does not fall victim to predators.
  • When hunting, the sidewinder may burrow underneath the substrate looking for food. In order to protect the eyes from sand, it has special horns that fold over the eyes.

14. Gila Monster (Heloderma suspectum)

Gila monsters are a type of venomous lizard. In fact, their venom is about as toxic as that of a western diamondback rattlesnake. However, these animals do not deliver enough in a single bite to be of real concern to humans. But for predators, this is disastrous as the Gila monster will hold onto its prey for up to ten minutes!

Range & Habitat

The Gila monster is common across southern parts of the United States in places like Arizona and the southern parts of Nevada and California, as well as New Mexico and some parts of southern Utah. They are also found in some northern parts of Mexico where they frequent arid, hot areas. They prefer rocky areas and won’t often be found on open flats.


  • Gila monsters have a very slow metabolic rate, meaning that they don’t need to eat as often. Moreover, they store fat in their body and their tails which they metabolize when they do not have access to food. When they do eat, a fully grown Gila monster could eat as much as 35% of its body weight, sustaining it for a long time. Feeding this way means that they may only need to have a meal three times a year!
  • These reptiles burrow under the ground and spend almost all of their time there to keep out of the heat. They only really come out to hunt and can remain underground for up to 98% of the time.
  • Much like many other desert reptiles, the Gila monster has thicker skin that stops it from losing water to the heat.

15. Greater Bilby (Macrotis lagotis)

The greater bilby is an animal within the marsupial family. The lesser bilby actually went extinct in the 1950s. They can grow quite large up to around 22 inches (55 cm) and can weigh up to 5.5 lbs (2.5 kgs), although this applies only to the males as the females can be just half the size.

Range & Habitat

The bilby is an animal that is native to Australia. While it does live in desert areas, it can also be found in dry grasslands and forests as well as areas where there are a lot of dry shrubs.


  • Bilbies, like many other desert animals, have large ears, which they use to dissipate heat and stay cool in the hot desert temperatures.
  • Where hunting and feeding are concerned, the bilby will do most of this at night to avoid the heat of the day. What’s more, they do not have a dire need for liquid water and will get most of their hydration from their diet, which includes things like lizards, insects, seeds, and plants.

16. Arabian Oryx (Oryx leucoryx)

The Arabian oryx is another type of desert antelope, but unlike the screwhorn, it has long, straight horns that it uses for fighting and self-defense. These are the smallest type of oryx and since 2011 have been listed as an endangered species with just over 1200 adults in the wild as of 2016. Although this was an increase on the dwindling populations of five years previous.

Range & Habitat

The Arabian oryx was found in many areas of The Middle East up until the 1800s. However, their populations got pushed further and further back until, at the beginning of the 1900s, they were largely only found in Saudi Arabia.

That said, they have since been introduced to several areas, including Oman, Jordan, Syria, UAE, and Israel.


  • The almost white coat of the Arabian oryx means that it is able to reflect the heat of the hot desert sun. However, the fur on its legs is a little darker meaning that the animal can absorb heat from the ground in the morning when things are a little cooler.
  • These animals can go many weeks without having to drink water and will obtain most of their hydration through their plant-based diet.
  • The oryx spends most of the day sheltering in the shade and is able to sense when it’s about to rain.
  • During cooler times of the year, these animals become more active during cooler parts of the day, whereas their level of activity decreased in warmer weather.

17. Water-Holding Frog (Litoria platycephala)

Tnarg / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

One of the most fascinating things about the water-holding frog is its ability to go without water for an incredibly long time. At most, these frogs can go without drinking for five years! These are stocky frogs with large eyes and a flat head and were used by indigenous Australians as a food source when traveling through the desert.

Range & Habitat

The water holding frog is found throughout Australia in most states. Although it is typically found in more southerly regions of the country in arid regions.


  • Water-holding frogs have heavy fat reserves which they metabolize for energy when they cannot get food. Considering that these frogs can remain underground for many years, this is an essential adaptation. They’ll typically only emerge to feed when it rains.
  • When under the ground, the water-holding frog will go into a dormant state and slow down its metabolic rate. As well as its fat reserves, the frog will store water in its bladder to survive these long periods of inactivity.
  • The thick skin of the water-holding frog protects it from losing moisture. The frog will regularly shed and eat its skin which is reproduced when it is in aestivation (a period of dormancy.)

18. Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus)

Many of us recognize the roadrunner from the Looney Tunes cartoon of the same name, but these are real-life birds that are adapted to living in the desert.

They actually belong to the cuckoo family and have long legs and a significant wingspan. They’re also pretty feisty birds with cowboy tales of greater roadrunners seeking out snakes purely to pick a fight! And when they want to go, they can get up to speeds of 15 mph (24 kph).

Range & Habitat

The greater roadrunner is found in semi-arid and arid locations across parts of Mexico and many parts of North America. States include Texas, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado. However, these desert birds are not found in states like Kansas, Missouri, or Louisiana. It prefers open habitats.


  • The greater roadrunner is a diurnal bird but it is most active in the early morning and in the late afternoon and evening when the temperature is cooler.
  • These birds have nasal glands that get rid of excess salt and this eliminates the need to release as much urine, therefore conserving water. They are able to reabsorb lost water from a gland located near the cloaca.
  • When the greater roadrunner feels hot, it will sometimes pant to get rid of excess heat. It is also able to release water vapor through its skin in order to cool down.

19. Thorny Devil (Moloch horridus)

The thorny devil is certainly a unique-looking desert animal, but it sometimes goes by other names, including the moloch, thorny lizard, and mountain devil. It takes its name from the scaly horns on its head that make it have a devilish or dragon-like appearance. These are relatively large lizards, growing up to around 8 inches (20 cm), and can live for more than 20 years!

Range & Habitat

Thorny devils are native to Australia but are only found in the central and western parts of the mainland. They are very common in the mallee belt and prefer scrubland and sandplains.


  • The scales of the thorny devil are so placed that there are channels in between them so that the animal can collect water. They then direct this through these channels to the mouth for drinking. They collect this water by rubbing against dew-covered plants and allowing dew to collect on their bodies overnight.
  • In order to camouflage in the desert, the thorny devil is able to change its colors and blend in to evade predators. They also have a false head at the back of the neck to confuse predators as well as the ability to puff themselves up, making them more difficult for predators to swallow.
  • In very hot weather, the thorny devil will bury itself underground. Not only does this keep it cool, but it’s also thought to soak up moisture from within the sand.
  • Thorny devils tend to hunt for their favorite meal of ants in the cooler parts of the day.

20. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus)

There are five species of jackrabbits in North America but they’re not actually a type of rabbit but a hare. With enormous ears and a sweet face, these are certainly among the sweetest desert animals, but as with other desert cuties, they’re a lot tougher than they first appear.

Range & Habitat

Black-tailed jackrabbits can live anywhere from sea level up to an elevation of 10,000 feet (3048 meters). This is a common species that is found in desert regions in Mexico and western parts of the United States.

They’re pretty diverse in terms of their habitat and aren’t too fussy about where they live, provided there is a good range of vegetation. That said, jackrabbits do favor open areas.


  • Jackrabbits have large ears filled with blood vessels which they use to help keep cool. They’re able to control the blood flow through the vessels in order to better regulate their body temperature.
  • Like many other desert mammals, the jackrabbit has fur all over its feet which helps it to stay protected from the hot ground.
  • Jackrabbits have a light coloration that reflects the sun, therefore keeping the animal cooler.
  • These animals get the majority of their water from their food. However, what’s interesting is that, once they excrete their meal, they’ll eat it again to get the most fluid out of it. Gross but effective!
  • Jackrabbits are mainly nocturnal and will do most of their hunting at night when it is cooler.

21. Sandfish (Scincus scincus)

Don’t let the name fool you, this isn’t a fish at all but a type of lizard; a skink, to be precise which is the largest family of lizards. It takes its name because of its ability to ‘swim’ in the sand, and these docile animals have become a popular pet, especially in Islamic culture since the animals were said to have abilities that were a blessing from God.

Range & Habitat

The sandfish is common in parts of Northern Africa, such as countries like Algeria. It’s also found across southwestern parts of Asia all the way across to Pakistan.


  • The sandfish will bury itself under loose sand and make winding movements to stop itself from overheating. Amazingly, it is able to keep these movements consistent to a frequency of 3hz.
  • These animals have very small eyes that they’re able to close to keep sand from getting into them. When closed, a small ‘window’ still allows the creature to see.
  • While the sandfish does spend most of its time under the substrate, it has specially adapted scales on its feet for walking over the top of the sand without sinking.

22. Jerboas (Dipodidae)

How cute is the jerboa! This is one of the sweetest little desert animals but don’t let its adorable appearance fool you; these are tough little critters that are easily able to survive the challenges of the desert.

Range & Habitat

The jerboa is one of the most widespread desert animals and lives in the hottest climates of the Sahara, as well as the colder temperatures of the Gobi Desert.

They’re found in countries like China and Mongolia in Asia as well as in parts of Northern Africa where they’ll normally frequent oases and valleys. They prefer to look for food in open areas and like to stay where the vegetation is denser.


  • Jerboas are perfectly made for digging with strong hind legs, nostrils that close, and little forearms. They burrow under the ground to get out of the heat.
  • As well as having nostrils that protect it from breathing in sand, the jerboa also has little hairs around the ears to prevent desert debris from getting in because when the winds pick up, this can be a real problem.
  • Studies have shown that a jerboa can live for as long as three years without ever having to drink liquid water. This is because, like a lot of desert animals, they’re able to conserve water and take most of it from their diet, which is largely made up of seeds.

23. Deathstalker Scorpion (Leiurus quinquestriatus)

Out of all of the creatures on this list, the deathstalker scorpion is one of the most poisonous. However, while a sting to a human would be painful, the neurotoxic venom would be unlikely to kill a healthy adult.

Range & Habitat

The deathstalker scorpion is commonly found in the Sahara desert from Niger and Algeria in the west as far south as Sudan. However, they are also common in western parts of the Middle East, such as Oman, Turkey, and Yemen. These creatures prefer to hide out among rocks and will also frequent burrows that have been abandoned by other animals.


  • The deathstalker scorpion is able to lower its metabolism so that it does not need to eat or drink as often. However, this does not hinder its ability to pursue or catch prey. This adaptation means that these animals can live on just a few insect meals every year.
  • Deathstalker scorpions will hide in rocky crevices and under the sand during the day to escape the heat.
  • Hunting mainly at night to avoid exerting energy in the heat of the day, the deathstalker takes most of its hydration from fluids in its food and rarely drinks liquid water.
  • These animals have a thick exoskeleton for protection against the elements and predators.

Frequently Asked Questions

Similar Posts