Desert Animal Adaptations

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  • 0:00 Living in Extreme Environments
  • 0:50 Desert Animal Adaptations
  • 3:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Desert animals have adapted to living in an extreme environment (with higher temperatures and dryness) through the use of both physical and behavior specializations. Read this lesson to learn how these specializations help them survive.

Living in Extreme Environments

Any animal that lives in an extreme environment has to compensate either physically or behaviorally to survive. What are some examples of 'extreme' environments? Well, there are deserts, mountains, areas with extreme heat or cold, or even areas with high radiation. Even though an environment may appear unfriendly to animals, it's likely that there are at least a few different organisms that live there.

In this lesson, we will look at deserts. What makes deserts extreme? There are two main threats animals must overcome to live there. The first is the high temperatures present, and the second is the aridity (dryness or lack of water). To cope with these conditions, animals living in the desert have developed different adaptations enabling them to thrive.

Desert Animal Adaptations

An adaptation is a physical or behavioral characteristic an organism uses to increase its chances of survival. As we discussed previously, living in the desert presents two unique challenges: high temperatures and extreme dryness. However, we know that plenty of animals live in the desert, so what adaptations do they use? Let's take a look at a couple.

High temperatures are really only present during the day when the sun is high in the sky. Therefore, it may be in an animal's best interest to adjust the time it is active around the placement of the sun. Many organisms are either nocturnal, meaning they're only active at night, or crepuscular, meaning they're only active at dawn and dusk. This strategy prevents the animals from being active during the warmest part of the day.

Other animals have physical adaptations that allow the body to dissipate more body heat. For example, long limbs and larger ears (like with a desert hare) provide more surface area for heat to radiate from the body. Other animals, like the camel, store fat in one particular area (such as their hump), providing surface area to dissipate heat. Many animals are also light in color. This has two advantages: first, the pale color helps them blend in with the desert's surroundings to camouflage them from predators; and second, it prevents them from absorbing heat from the sun in the way an animal with dark skin or fur would.

This hare has enlarged ears, an adaptation that allows more body heat to radiate out, cooling the organism.

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