Desert Animals: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: April Gwen Ellsworth

April has a master's degree in psychology and has experience teaching special populations from preschoolers to adults.

Deserts can be very hot or very cold, but all of them have very little water. Animals that live in deserts need special abilities to live in such difficult conditions. Let's find out which animals live in deserts and what they do to survive.

What are Desert Animals?

What do you do when it's really hot outside? Maybe you swim or stay in the cool air conditioning. What about when you're really thirsty? Do you get a glass of water or a drink from the refrigerator? These are ways people cope with being hot and needing water, but what do animals do with the same needs? Well, they look to their environment for help.

Let's think about animals that live in places with not much water at all, which are called deserts. A desert is an area where less than 20 inches of rain falls a year. That's not very much, which means deserts are very dry places.

Animals living in deserts have special qualities, or adaptations, that allow them to live in harsh temperatures and use less water. Let's learn about desert animals by talking about the four types of deserts they live in.

Animals in Hot and Dry Deserts

In hot and dry deserts, like in Arizona, Ethiopia, and Australia, temperatures are very hot for part of the year. The ground is rocky, but lots of plants can still grow, like small bushes and cactus.

Animals use these plants for eating and shelter. Cactus wrens, for instance, build grassy nests inside cacti. They eat the many insects found in hot, dry deserts, like grasshoppers, beetles, and ants. And they watch out for desert animals that want to eat them, like coyotes, hawks, and foxes. All of these animals live well in hot temperatures without much water.

The cactus wren lives in desert cacti.

Animals in Semiarid Deserts

Semiarid deserts are hot and dry, too, but not quite as much. Semiarid deserts are in Utah, Montana, and Greenland.

Insects like grasshoppers and ants use the shade of spiny plants in semiarid deserts to protect themselves from the sun. Other animals, like kangaroo rats, rabbits, and skunks make their homes in the ground, where it is cooler. Plenty of reptiles live here too, like lizards and snakes. Semiarid desert birds include burrowing owls and roadrunners.

Many insects, like grasshoppers, live in deserts.

Animals in Coastal Deserts

As you might guess, coastal deserts are near the coast, where land meets the sea. These deserts are sometimes cool, sometimes warm, but like all deserts not much rain falls. They are in parts of Peru, Chile, and South Africa. Some coastal desert animals are coyotes, badgers, bald eagles, lizards, and snakes.

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