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10 Most Amazing Desert Animals

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  • Dromedary camels thrive in very hot and dry climates. Its hump stores fat that the camel can use when food and water are scarce. In cold weather, camels can go without water for up to seven months.
  • The saiga is a member of the antelope family and is an endangered species found in Russia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia. It is known for its large Roman nose, with nostrils pointing toward the ground, helping it cool the air that enters its nose in summer and warm it in winter.
  • The Merriam kangaroo, found in the southwestern United States and Mexico, resembles a kangaroo with large hind legs for hopping. It prefers rocky deserts, although it also thrives in clay, sand, and gravel deserts.

According to scientists, a desert is a place that receives less than 10 inches of rain per year. However, not all deserts are created equal. They can be rocky, windswept deserts that are pretty inhospitable to living things. They can be deserts full of plants, especially those that have evolved to retain water, such as cacti and other succulents. There are hot sandy deserts called Ergs. Most of the Sahara is erg.

There are also temperate deserts with just enough rainfall to support woody shrubs instead of grasses. Not all deserts are hot, and even Antarctica could be considered a type of desert. Even the hot desert can get surprisingly cool at night. Animals from all over the world have evolved to live in these deserts, and here are ten of them.

#10 Amazing Desert Animals: The Dromedary Camel

Amazing desert animal dromedary
A young wild dromedary, Camelus dromedarius, also known as the Arabian camel, walks in the desert in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

© Benny Marty/Shutterstock.com

Known as the ship of the desert, the camel has a unique body shape that allows it to thrive even in the hottest and driest deserts. A strange animal if not familiar, the camel has a long, curved neck, a long tail, fairly long legs that fold neatly under the body when at rest, and a coat of brown, cream or Sometimes black. Its body is 7.25 to 11 feet long, 5.6 to 6.6 feet tall at the shoulder, and weighs between 990 and 1210 pounds. Most importantly, a well-fed camel has a hump. This hump is used to store fat, which the camel uses when food and water are scarce. In fact, camels can go without water for up to seven months in cool weather.

The hump isn't the camel's only defense against the desert's heat and dryness. The head and ears are small, and the scorching air blown in through the nostrils is cooled and humidified. The animal can also close its nostrils. The animal has bushy eyebrows and double rows of eyelashes that protect its eyes from wind and sand. The dromedary has been extinct in the wild for about 4,000 years and is found in Saharan Africa and western, southern and central Asia. Many zoos display dromedaries, including the Brevard Zoo, the San Diego Zoo, and the Louisville Zoo.

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#9 Amazing Desert Animals: Scorpions

Amazing Desert Animals: Scorpions
Yellow scorpion on red sandstone with colorful stony desert landscape mountains in the background.

©Protasov AN/Shutterstock.com

The scorpion is an arachnid, somewhat related to the spider. Like a spider, it has eight legs and venom, though it is delivered via a stinger on its tail. The tail is segmented and usually curved over the animal's body. The first pair of legs ends in pincers, and scorpions court each other by grasping the pincers, with the male "dancing" the female for a sperm packet. Not only that, but these amazing animals fluoresce when exposed to ultraviolet light.

Scorpions live primarily in deserts and are found on every continent except Antarctica. There are about 2,500 species of scorpions, but only about 25 have enough venom to kill humans. Still, these creatures find themselves prey for other animals, such as frogs, snakes, birds, lizards, spiders, and centipedes. Some predators are simply immune to their venom, while others have learned the trick of tearing off the stinger before feeding.

#8 Amazing Desert Animals: The Yucca Moth

amazing desert animal yucca moth
Yucca plants and yucca moths have a mutually beneficial relationship, relying on each other to survive.

© Judy Gallagher/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – License

The yucca moth is a small white moth that helps pollinate the yucca plant that grows in the desert. Their color camouflages them as yucca flowers. Yucca and its moths are interdependent and cannot survive without each other. Each yucca species is pollinated by its own yucca moth. This moth belongs to the species Tegeticula or Parageticula .

The yucca moth differs from other moths in that it does not have a long, protruding tongue. It has antennae around its mouth that don't help it eat because moths don't eat but instead help the female collect pollen. When she has a hunk of pollen, she goes to another plant. She checks the flowers there, and if there are no eggs in the ovary, she saves some, and adds some pollen to the stigma of the flowers. This allows the flowers to bear fruit, which in turn feeds the caterpillars as they hatch.

After the caterpillar hatches and feeds on the yucca fruit and seeds, it drops to the ground, burrows, and spins a cocoon around itself, where it stays until next spring or beyond. Every time a new moth emerges, the yucca blooms at the same time.

#7 Amazing Desert Animals: Rattlesnakes

Amazing Desert Animals: Rattlesnakes
Rattlesnakes are named for their unique form of sidestep locomotion, adapted to locomotion in loosely packed deserts.

©Roger de Montfort/Shutterstock.com

Another amazing desert animal is a snake that can walk sideways through the sand. Similar to the movement of ocean waves, the snake moves from end to end in two alternating waves. As one wave moves vertically, the other wave moves horizontally, parallel to the ground. Together, these two waves help lift the snake's body and propel it forward.

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There are several types of rattlesnakes. The Peringuey's desert adder lives in Angola and Namibia, and another Saharan horned snake lives in North Africa, the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula. Saharan horned vipers are one to two feet long, with females being larger than males. They are known for their horns above the eyes. The color of their scales matches the color of the sand, making them difficult to spot. They prefer rocky parts of deserts and can also be found in oases.

The Peringuey desert viper is smaller than the Saharan horned viper, and the largest does not exceed 13 inches. Like the Sahara snake, its body is colored to help it blend into the sand, although the tip of the tail is black. This helps lure the prey as it sticks out of the sand where the snake is hiding.

#6 Amazing Desert Animals: Roadrunners

Amazing Desert Animals: Roadrunners
Giant roadrunner in the Texas desert. The Roadrunner is native to the Southwest desert and is named for its habit of running towards cars on the road.

©Dennis W Donohue/Shutterstock.com

The roadrunner is a species of rhododendron known for its agility on land. It can go 20 mph or faster, but will fly away if it has to. Roadrunners are about 2 feet long from beak to tail and weigh about 8 to 15 ounces. They are instantly recognizable by their crests, long legs and tails, and their brown, black and white plumage. Roadrunners are omnivores and will eat anything they can handle, including rattlesnakes, lizards, snails, smaller birds, and stinging insects such as tarantula hawks. It will chase its prey and may slam it to the ground before eating it.

#5 Amazing Desert Animals: The Saiga

Amazing Desert Animals: Saiga Antelope
Critically endangered wild saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica) at a watering hole in the steppe of Mekletinskii Federal Nature Reserve, Russia.

©iStock.com/VictorTyakht

This antelope is known for its huge Roman nose, with nostrils pointing towards the ground. This posture helps the animal cool the air entering its nose in summer and warm it up in winter. The critically endangered saiga is found in Russia, Kazakhstan, and a subspecies in western Mongolia. The fur of this animal is about 3.25 to 4.5 feet long, weighs between 57 and 150 pounds, and is light yellow in color. It becomes whiter and thicker in winter.

Only the male saiga has horns, which are ridged and somewhat translucent. The horns of the Russian animals can be as long as 15 inches, while those of the Mongolian saiga are shorter. Like wildebeests, they are also known for their long migrations, crossing rivers and spanning hundreds of miles. Saiga antelopes can be seen at the San Diego Zoo.

#4 Fantastic desert animals: the eland

Amazing Desert Animals: Gemsbok Antelope
Antelope jackrabbit in the Arizona desert. Big-eared rabbits are agile and fast. They can jump 10 feet and run at speeds of 40 miles per hour.

© Vincent Professional Photos/Shutterstock.com

The antelope jackrabbit, actually a hare, lives in the deserts of southern Arizona and northwestern Mexico. It prefers areas with grassy areas shaded by desert shrubs, but can also be found in more inhospitable areas. It is a large hare with gray sides, black back, and orange chest and neck. It has a white belly and is about 22 inches long with a 3 inch tail. It can weigh up to 9 pounds and has exceptionally long ears, even for a rabbit or hare. It feeds on cacti and other plants, and is sometimes seen eating minerals from the soil.

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#3 Amazing Desert Animals: Tadpole Shrimp

Amazing Desert Animals: Tadpole Shrimp
Fossilized tadpole shrimp that lived millions of years ago are nearly identical to the ones we see today.

©Repina Valeriya/Shutterstock.com

This animal is tiny compared to the others described here, but no less stunning. Tadpole shrimp belong to the family Triopsidae and have not changed much since the Triassic era, which began about 252 million years ago. They do look like tiny trilobites, ranging in length from 0.08 inches to 3.9 inches. They are found all over the world, and some of them take advantage of the arroyo, a dry river bed found in deserts that fills up when it finally rains.

The female lays her eggs in the mud at the bottom of the pond, but will let the eggs go dormant if she senses that the pond will dry up soon. If there is enough water in the pool, the eggs will hatch and begin to molt several times until they become adults. It only takes a few days for the tadpole shrimp to become adults, ready to spawn and start the cycle all over again.

#2 Amazing Desert Animals: Merriam's Kangaroo Rat

Fantastic Desert Animals: Merriam's Kangaroo Rat
The kangaroo has almost completely adapted to life in the desert. They can survive without water, getting the moisture they need from a seed diet.

© Dr. Dominic Gentilcore/Shutterstock.com

The kangaroo rat got its name because of its large, powerful hind legs, reminiscent of kangaroos, even though they are not related at all. The kangaroo's tail is longer than its 4-inch body, helping to balance it. It burrows into the sand to find food such as prickly pear, Mexican olive and mesquite seeds. It hides these seeds in its burrow. The Merriam kangaroo prefers stony deserts, but it also thrives in clay, sand and gravel deserts.

#1 Amazing Desert Animals: Sand Cats

Amazing Desert Animals: Sand Cats
Sand cats have thick fur on their paws, including between their toes, which helps them insulate them from extreme heat and cold. Also, sand cats don't need much water at all.

© slowmotiongli/Shutterstock.com

Like other desert creatures, sand cats in North Africa and West Asia, Central Asia, and South Asia have evolved to require very little water. It gets most of its water from food, which includes small mammals such as jerboa, birds, and reptiles. It's small for a feral cat, measuring between 18 and 22.5 inches in length and weighing between 3.25 and 7.75 pounds. It has a sand-colored coat with black stripes on its legs and a red stripe running from the corner of its eye to its cheek. It is nocturnal and rests in burrows during the day.

Sand cats can outwit hot and cold sand and predatory creatures in their environment. Walking on scorching sand is no challenge for a sand cat thanks to its bushy fur and thick paw pads that provide an extra layer of protection. These specialized claws also help them find the correct foot position when traversing desert plains and sand dunes in search of food. Opportunistic breeders, sand cats prey on small rodents, spiders, reptiles, and even snakes including venomous snakes.

10 Most Amazing Desert Animals Summary

Here are reviews of desert dwellers who we think are absolutely stunning:

rank desert animals
1 sand cat
2 Merriam's Kangaroo Rat
3 tadpole shrimp
4 antelope jackrabbit
5 saiga antelope
6 roadrunner
7 rattlesnake
8 Yucca Moth
9 scorpion
10 dromedary

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about the author

heather ross


Heather Ross is a middle school English teacher and mother of 2 people, 2 tuxedo cats and a golden doodle. In between taking the kids to soccer practice and grading homework, she loves reading and writing about all things animals!

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