8 desert animals you need to know, from the sand cat to the kangaroo rat
It’s no secret that we humans and our animal friends have no choice but to adapt to our planet’s changing climate system. As we face an increase in natural disasters and pollution, so do animals. And we’re not just talking about polar bears living on melting icebergs: we’re also talking about desert animals.
While global warming is the long-term warming of the Earth’s surface, climate change represents changes in our fixed weather patterns. Both can occur naturally, but let’s face it: global warming is one of the causes of climate change, and they’re both exacerbated by human activity. And when the planet experiences extreme changes in weather patterns – extreme storms, warmer ocean temperatures, wildfires, etc. – the life that lives there must adapt.
For centuries, wildlife has continuously (and impressively) adapted to environmental change. Specifically, desert animals have adapted to survive extreme heat, lack of water and arid landscapes, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
If you’ve ever wondered how climate change is impacting desert animals, we’re here to answer your questions.
8 Adapt Desert Animals
Pronghorn antelope, especially Sonoran antelopes, can be found in deserts and grasslands. They live throughout North America, with populations in northern Mexico, southwestern Arizona, and even southern Canada. And because they live in arid climates, Sonoran pronghorns have had to adapt to survive, but they are still in danger, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
According to Animal Diversity Web (ADW), Sonoran antelopes have become accustomed to higher temperatures and intense exposure to solar radiation. And because they live in the desert, they have learned to live with a scarce water supply and balance their hydration practices. Additionally, they are herbivores, so their diet consists of grasses, cacti, and desert grasses that other animals tend to avoid.
However, Sonoran antelopes are threatened by human activities, including the production of roads, canals, fences, and housing estates. These developments result in habitat fragmentation or displacement. Additionally, prolonged droughts caused by climate change are also negatively impacting Sonoran pronghorn species.
2. Fennec fox
Fennec foxes live in sandy deserts and arid regions, especially in North Africa and the Sahara. And these creatures are known for their large ears that stick out from their tiny bodies. Plus, they have several desert adaptations!
These animals have fur-covered feet, ears that emit heat, and pale fur that camouflages with sand. And all of these adaptations protect them from predators and help them survive the desert heat. They also pant to help regulate their body temperature. In addition, their respiratory rate may increase by 23 up to 690 breaths per minute!
Luckily, these animals are listed as a “species of least concern”, which means they are not endangered and are not likely to be anytime soon.
3. Desert sheep
Next, we have the desert sheep. You may have seen these animals if you’ve traveled to Utah, California, Nevada, or Arizona.
According to National Park Service, these animals have evolved adaptations to thrive in mountainous desert habitats. To scale steep mountain ranges, they use their cloven hooves. They also have complex digestive systems that help them absorb nutrients from their food. This includes tough desert plants, such as mesquite and cat’s claw.
However, there are a few threats to their survival, including development, habitat fragmentation, and climate change. These animals need a lot water to survive (gallons at a time!) – but rising hot temperatures are accompanied by droughts and a lack of water sources.
4. Kangaroo Rat
Kangaroo rats aren’t exactly kangaroos, or rats. However, these little creatures are excellent for desert survival. Due to the heat and their small size, their bodies have developed adaptations that help reduce the amount of water needed and lost.
They mainly consume dry seeds and require almost no water. This is because they metabolize water from the seeds they eat, extracting up to half a gram of water from each gram of seeds eaten. Moreover, they don’t even need water for bathing– they roll in the sand! Their kidneys even produce concentrated, crystal-clear urine to further reduce the amount of water lost.
According to the IUCN Red List, kangaroo rats are endangeredand they are primarily threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation.
5. Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
The western diamondback rattlesnake is a heavy-bodied snake with a triangular head, found in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico.
These snakes are pit vipers, meaning they have a heat-sensitive pit behind each nostril. And these pits can detect even the smallest temperature differences, sometimes only a fraction of a degree a part. When the heat given off by an animal is detected, the snake can determine whether it is predator or prey.
And good news: these snakes are currently neither threatened nor endangered. However, research shows that these snakes must have migrated north to escape extreme weather conditions. And when poisonous snakes migrate, the chances of interaction between snakes and humans increase.
6. Sand Cat
Sand cats are desert dwellers and can only thrive in desert habitats. This means that this species is a pro at adapting to desert environments. They have soft, dense coats, and their large eyes and large, tapering ears help these creatures detect where prey is scarce.
The long, dense hair that covers the soles of the feet is another adaptation of sand cats to the desert. These hairs provide insulation against hot sands. Additionally, their thick coat also insulates sand cats from the high heat and colder temperatures of a desert environment.
However, according to the International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC)sand cats are threatened by habitat loss, particularly from human development.
While many camels alive today are domesticated, only three species of living camels are well adapted to survival in the desert.
According to National History Museum, camels can go long periods without drinking water, but not because of their humps. Despite popular belief, camel humps do not store water. Instead, they store fat, which allows them to convert that fat into energy to survive.
And that’s not all a camel’s hump can do. It also helps these animals regulate their body temperature, which means they can tolerate high temperatures. Cool, right?
Like a few other animals on this list, the IUCN Red List has determined that the domesticated Bactrian camel is endangered. Some species of camels are endangered due to sport hunting, but the Wild Camel Protection Foundation strives to ensure the safety of these animals.
8. Cactus Wren
Finally, cactus wrens are incredibly adaptable creatures. And they are quite curious too. They will explore new possible food sources, mainly eating insects, spiders and seeds. And they are mostly found in deserts and arid climates.
Male and female cactus wrens work together in their adaptations. Specifically, when females guard their eggs, males build new nests. And both are active in protecting their young.
While there is more than 3 million cactus wren populations in the United States, these populations are declining, particularly in Texas and southern California. They are particularly threatened by drought, forest fires and high temperatures. The good news is that these birds are not currently listed as endangered.
what you can do
Although not all of the animals on this list are endangered, they are still affected by climate change, human activity, etc. And that means there’s always something we humans can do to help protect them.
Simply put, you can adopt more environmentally friendly living practices. It means prioritizing the planet, environment and wildlife in your daily life. And it may look different for everyone.
For some people, putting the planet first can mean reducing waste, composting organics and following recycling rules. For others, it may mean reducing emissions from travel, respecting nature while vacationing or camping, and participating in community cleanups.
And if you’re looking for ways to help your favorite animals directly, you can virtually adopt animals! Organizations like WWF have several opportunities for animal lovers to adopt online – and your donation goes to conservation and restoration efforts.
Reporting by Mia McCallum