Desert Habitat: 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 are more than just a lot of sand and really hot temperatures. What makes deserts special, and how do plants and animals survive there? Find out these answers and more interesting facts by reading this lesson on desert habitats.

What is a Desert?

The earth has several kinds of habitats, or areas that have certain plants, animals, and climate. A habitat without much water is called a desert. In a desert, no more than 20 inches of precipitation (water that comes from the sky, like rain and snow) falls in a whole year. That is like saying it only rains three or four days out of the year. Deserts are very dry habitats.

Hot or Cold

When you think of a desert, you may picture a really hot place with lots of sand. Some deserts are like this, but did you know that deserts can also be very cold and even have snow? Plants and animals that live in the desert need to have special abilities to survive in really high or low temperatures and without much water.

A hot and dry desert in Arizona.

Where are Deserts?

Deserts cover at least 20% of the earth, and there are basically four kinds: hot and dry, semiarid, coastal, and cold. But remember, the one thing all deserts have in common is that no more than 20 inches of precipitation falls each year.

Hot and dry deserts are just that, very hot and dry. Temperatures get as high as 120°F in the summer, but it is mostly warm and comfortable in the winter. These deserts are found in places like Arizona, Ethiopia, and Australia.

Semiarid deserts are in Utah, Montana, and parts of Europe and Asia, among other places. Temperatures here are as high as 100°F and as low as 50°F. Days are very warm and nights are cool.

Coastal deserts are found along the coasts of oceans, like in Chile. Winters are cool here, and summers are long and warm.

Temperatures in cold deserts get as low as -110°F! Brrrr, that's way below freezing! And in the summer, cold deserts reach about 32°F, which is like the inside of your freezer. Examples of cold deserts are in Antarctica (the largest desert in the world) and Greenland.

This map shows the locations of deserts on the earth. Blue dots are cold deserts, orange dots are hot deserts.

Desert Animals

As you can imagine, animals that live in deserts need to be able to survive without much water. Because of this, many desert animals are small, like kangaroo rats, rabbits, and pocket mice.

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