The desert can be a hot, barren place where survival can be tough. It’s hard to imagine many animals that can survive out there, but there are many animals that call this harsh environment home and thrive in the oppressively hot and dry desert climate! Whether your class is studying the Sonoran Desert in North America, or the seemingly endless Saharan desert of North Africa, learning about the animals that call these places home is sure to captivate your students. Check out our list and get to know some of these amazing creatures!
1. African Lion
The African Lion is perhaps one of the most well-known members of the animal kingdom. As the leader of the pride, male lions make sure the females and their cubs are kept safe. These gorgeous carnivores live in grasslands, and places like the Kalahari Desert.
Learn More: San Diego Zoo
2. Mojave Rattlesnake
Like most snakes, the Mojave Rattlesnake prefers to move around the deserts when it’s a little colder at night. They can be found living around Joshua trees and during the winter, they make their way underground for brumation, which is a little bit like hibernation.
Learn More: National Park Service
3. Tarantula Spiders
These commonly feared spiders live in the Southwestern United States as well as Mexico. Most people are frightened by their hairy legs and large size, but they actively stay away from people! It turns out their poisonous bite will not kill you, but we still wouldn’t be keen to meet one any time soon!
Learn More: Insect Identification
4. Brush Lizard
You’ll find these lizards while visiting Western American deserts. These eye-catching reptiles love living near sand but find shelter in creosote bushes which helps them hide from predators. Their favorite meal wouldn’t be our choice though; spiders and other insects don’t sound all that appealing!
Learn More: Bird and Hike
5. Alligator Lizard
Can you believe these amazing little lizards can live up to fifteen years? That’s longer than most dogs! These cool-looking lizards are found along the Pacific coast of America, surviving in a whole range of environments, including dry, desert conditions.
Learn More: Animalia
6. Antelope Squirrel
These omnivores are also sometimes known as antelope chipmunks. They typically have grey or brown fur, with white bellies and round ears. They’re pretty small coming in at about eight inches long and love to eat fruit, roots, and seeds!
Learn More: Pets on Mom
7. Kangaroo Rat
Sometimes called kangaroo mice, these rats get around by hopping on their back legs like a kangaroo would. They can jump up to nine feet in the air and do not need to consume water as their main source of water comes from their food. Amazing!
Learn More: Nevada Department of Wildlife
8. Antelope Jackrabbit
Did you know that these cute bunnies typically only live for one year? This is because so many other animals eat them to survive. The antelope jackrabbit, desert cottontail, and black-tailed jackrabbit all look very similar and are part of the Leporidae family.
Learn More: Desert Museum
9. Dromedary Camel
Camels are everyone’s favorite desert species! The iconic Dromedary Camel is not to be confused with the Bactrian Camel, which has two humps. This species of one-humped camel is found in the deserts of Africa and Asia and is capable of drinking 30 gallons of water in just 10 minutes!
Learn More: National History Museum
10. Desert Hedgehog
These nocturnal hedgehogs live in many deserts throughout the Middle East and Africa. They are super tiny, weighing less than a pound! Their salt and pepper spines help them blend into the desert to keep them safe from predators while they sleep during the day.
Learn More: Fact Zoo
11. Mojave Desert Tortoise
Here are some fun Mojave Desert Tortoise facts for you! These western herbivorous are often confused with the Sonoran desert tortoise, but they are quite different. As humans continue to build and use up land, many of these tortoises have sadly perished due to enormous habitat loss.
Learn More: United States Fish and Wildlife Service
12. Red-Tailed Hawks
Since their little chicks do not do well in extreme temperatures, the red-tailed hawks nest in the late winter or early spring to avoid the hottest time of the year. The colder months help with successful reproduction in Northern Utah where desert conditions can be really harsh on these beautiful birds of prey.
Learn More: On The Wing Photography
13. Elf Owl
These nocturnal birds are the smallest owls alive with wings that only spread about eleven inches. As they’re so small, they are also very light, meaning that they are absolutely silent while flying. This allows them to capture their prey quietly while flying around the Southwestern United States.
Learn More: Guardians of Ga’Hoole
14. Arabian Oryx
The Arabian Oryx came very close to becoming an extinct species! There was a period of time where none remained in the wild and since then, massive efforts have been made to breed them and then reintroduce them to their original homes. Luckily, this has worked well, and they have gone from “extinct” to “vulnerable”.
Learn More: Fauna & Flora International
15. Lappet-Faced Vulture
This may not be the prettiest vulture in Africa, but it is the biggest! They lack a strong sense of smell and therefore they mainly rely on sight and observing other scavengers to know where the nearest carcass lies. Living on the remains of other animals, these vultures have a staggering life expectancy of around forty years!
Learn More: South Africa Venues
16. Arabian Wolves
These wolves have very large ears which allow them to dispel body heat and keep cool. During the winter, their fur changes to keep them warm in the Arabian Peninsula. One unusual and unique fact to note about these wolves is that their middle toes are connected!
Learn More: The Wolf Intelligencer
17. Desert Spiny Lizards
Lizards love a bit of sunbathing to warm themselves up on rocks or hot sand. This is one of many kinds of spiny lizards that live in Arizona, but its name goes down as one of the meanest! Don’t let their colorful appearance fool you, these small lizards are known to deliver a nasty bite if you get on their bad side!
Learn More: Bird Watching HQ
18. Sand Cats
This isn’t your average cut kitty! Sand Cats hunt snakes! Living in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, these cats like to roam around at night to find small animals and vipers to eat. They can also go many weeks without having a sip of water. Don’t mess with these ferocious felines!
Learn More: One Earth
19. Water-Holding Frog
It is hard to know how many of these frogs live in Australia because they can spend a long time underground to escape prolonged periods of hot weather. As you may have guessed by their name, they hold large amounts of water in their bladders and skin pockets. Indigenous Australians have long utilized this by digging the frogs up and squeezing them to release water.
Learn More: Backyard Buddies
20. Sidewinder Rattlesnake
These three-foot-long snakes will not live above 6,000 feet of elevation; so if you want to avoid them, you’ll need to climb! They leave a unique mark on sand dunes as they move sideways in a motion that minimizes their contact time with the hot sand. You’ll know if a sidewinder rattlesnake is near because the sand will have a long ‘J’ shape imprinted on it!
Learn More: National Park Service
21. Arabian Sand Gazelle
Although they look a lot like deer, the Arabian Sand Gazelle are very different. The gazelles pictured here live in the Arabian Peninsula and love finding small patches of green grass to munch on. They find themselves at risk due to uncontrolled hunting and the wild population is much less than the population of these animals in captivity or reserves.
Learn More: Environment Agency
22. Tarantula Hawk Wasp
A tarantula hawk wasp sounds like something straight out of a nightmare! However these insects are more like colorful bees, and they actually hunt spiders. The one in this picture is a male which you can tell by his antennae. If it were a female, the antennae would be curly.
Learn More: The Spruce
23. Gila Monster
At almost two feet long, these lizards are the largest ones in the United States. They mostly live in Arizona and can use their teeth to grind venom into their predators. Although they have a varied diet, they prefer to eat eggs and tiny birds for dinner.
Learn More: Smithsonian’s National Zoo
24. Bell’s Sparrow Black-Chinned Sparrow
This bird species has four subspecies which live in California, Arizona, and Mexico. They particularly enjoy breeding in the Central Valley. The black-chinned sparrow migrates to find larval insects to eat year-round, although they do not fly very far.
Learn More: All About Birds
25. Snow Leopard
These beautiful animals live in the Gobi desert of Mongolia. They are very hard to see because they blend right into the rocks they lay on as you can see in the picture above. But don’t be alarmed if you don’t see them until it’s too late because these leopards are not known to be aggressive.
Learn More: Mongolian Ways
This tiny rodent is a marvel of the desert. With its long hind legs, it hops around swiftly in search of food. Its large ears help it cool down, which is pretty vital for surviving the blazing desert heat! If you ever find yourself wandering through the North African or Middle Eastern deserts, keep an eye out for these cute little guys!
Learn More: Science
27. Fennec Fox
With their oversized ears and petite bodies, fennec foxes have all the quintessential features of an animal who’s well adapted to life in the desert! Native to North Africa, these foxes use their large ears not just for hearing, but also for dissipating heat. At night, they venture out to hunt for insects, small mammals, and birds.
Learn More: National Zoo
28. Desert Monitor Lizard
Roaming the African deserts, this lizard is among the largest of its kind. It uses its keen sense of smell to hunt anything from birds to smaller reptiles. Its powerful limbs enable it to move super speedily across hot sands during its daytime hunts. No blisters on these feet!
Learn More: Gulf Times
29. Desert Pupfish
When you found this article about animals of the desert, I bet you didn’t think you’d find a fish on the list! These resilient fish are uniquely adapted to survive in the intense conditions of desert hot springs. With the ability to withstand high temperatures and extremely high salt concentrations, they truly embody desert adaptability!
Learn More: North Carolina Zoo
30. Thorny Devil
I think we can all agree that this lizard has an impressive array of spikes! The thorny devil is an Australian desert resident and it might surprise you to know that these spikes are not only used to deter predators but also assist in channeling morning dew directly to their mouths! Clever, right?
Learn More: The Atlantic
31. Deathstalker Scorpion
Among the world’s most venomous scorpions, the deathstalker is a fierce predator of the desert that you’ll definitely want to avoid! Its sting can be extremely painful to humans, but it mostly uses its venom to immobilize its insect prey. Their light coloring makes them tough to spot against the dry sand of the desert making them even more dangerous!
Learn More: Learn About Nature
Not to be confused with its carnivorous relative, the hyena, the aardwolf is an insectivore that primarily feasts on termites. Residing in the arid landscapes of eastern and southern Africa, these nocturnal creatures use their sticky tongues to lap up their favorite food.
Learn More: Facts
Also known as the javelina, peccaries are pig-like animals that wander the American deserts in search of plant-based foods, especially cacti. But be careful, while they might appear docile, they can be very territorial, so best not to annoy them!
Learn More: Britannica
34. Pharaoh Ant
The pharaoh ant is a tiny but fascinating creature! While they are primarily tropical, they’ve adapted to thrive in hot, arid conditions. These ants have a unique social structure in that there is a relatively high number of queens found in each large colony.
Learn More: Kiwicare
35. Horned Viper
This snake’s distinctive “horns” above its eyes make it stand out in the sandy deserts of North Africa and the Middle East. It’s known for its ambush style of hunting, where it hides beneath rocks or plants and waits to strike passing prey like lizards.
Learn More: KAWA News
36. Desert Millipede
Though not the typical creature one might envision when thinking of the desert, these many-legged invertebrates can often be found under rocks or in deep sand burrows. They feed primarily on decaying plant material and can grow to be about five inches long.
Learn More: Bug Guide
Though they may look like rodents, surprisingly studies have found that hyraxes are more closely related to elephants and manatees! These small mammals, also known as “rock rabbits,” inhabit rocky terrains in African deserts, using crevices for shelter and protection.
Learn More: World Atlas
38. African Wild Ass
As the ancestor of the domestic donkey, the African Wild Ass is adapted to life in rocky desert terrains. With sturdy hooves and a strong sense of hearing, they can navigate and survive the deserts of North East Africa.
Learn More: Animal Spot
39. Golden Mole
These blind, burrowing mammals have evolved to navigate beneath the desert sands of Southern Africa. They rely on their amazing sense of touch and vibration to avoid predators and to track down prey like worms, insects, and small lizards.
Learn More: YouTube
40. Black Widow Spider
While this spider can be found in many habitats, it is certainly no stranger to the deserts of America. Its glossy black body and the infamous red hourglass shape on its underside make it instantly recognizable as one of the most venomous spiders in North America!
Learn More: Action Pest Control
41. Desert Long-Eared Bat
These bats inhabit the deserts of North Africa, preying primarily on scorpions! They have been observed to hunt in pairs or groups and their long ears aid in echolocation. This allows them to detect and capture their venomous prey with expert precision.
Learn More: New Scientist
42. Greater Roadrunner
A true icon of the American Southwest, the roadrunner is a swift predator that darts across the desert landscape. In the cartoon, the roadrunner is running rings around Wile E. Coyote, but in real life, they actually run to catch their dinner! While they can fly, they prefer to run, hunting everything from insects to small reptiles.
Learn More: All About Birds
43. Agama Lizard
Sporting vibrant colors, agama lizards truly are a sight to behold in the African desert! When trying to attract a mate, the eye-catching males flaunt even brighter hues to attract attention. These vibrant lizards mostly feed on insects and occasionally on vegetation.
Learn More: AZ Animals
44. Desert Locust
Known for its devastating swarms, the desert locust is a species of grasshopper that inhabits arid regions of Africa. They can stay in the air for a long time, with swarms known to cover anywhere from 5km to 130km per day! These swarms can cause a lot of trouble, affecting food security in impacted areas.
Learn More: The Scientist
This medium-sized wild cat, recognized by its tufted ears, prowls the deserts of Africa and parts of Asia. They are solitary hunters, primarily feasting on birds, rodents, and sometimes larger prey. These amazing cats are excellent climbers and can leap up to 3m in the air!
Learn More: YouTube
46. Greater Hoopoe-Lark
With its long beak and eye-catching crest, the hoopoe-lark is a distinctive bird of the desert plains. While most birds only sing when perched, this one is known for singing whilst in flight around the skies of North Africa and parts of the Middle East.
Learn More: Round Glass Sustain
47. Nubian Ibex
The Nubian Ibex is a type of wild goat that is well adapted for roaming the rocky terrains of the desert! With its majestic horns and nimble feet, it effortlessly scales the steep cliffs of the Arabian Peninsula and parts of North Africa.
Learn More: The Wildlife Society
48. Desert Crocodile
While crocodiles are typically associated with rivers and swamps, the desert crocodile has adapted to the arid Sahelian landscapes. These creatures retreat to caves and burrows during the driest periods, emerging during the wet season.
Learn More: Critter Science