The desert can be a hot, waterless place. Your mind might automatically go to a snake or a camel out in the sun, walking over a sand dune. But there are lots of animals who thrive in the hot desert climate.
Whether you’re studying the Sonoran Desert in North America, or the warm deserts in North Africa, learning about desert animals is sure to captivate your students. Read on for a list of animals who thrive in various types of deserts.
1. African Lion
The African Lion is perhaps one of the most well-known in the animal kingdom. As the leader of the pride, male lions make sure the females and 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 cold deserts at night. They can be found living around Joshua trees, or areas that don’t have many desert plants. During the winter, they taken their three foot bodies underground for brumation.
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. Isn’t animal life wild?
Learn more: Insect Identification
4. Brush Lizard
These lizards find creosote bushes to sit on. This allows them to become one with the branch for protection and shelter. They enjoy lots of sand where they can find spiders and other insects to munch on. You will find these lizards while visiting Western American deserts.
Learn more: Bird and Hike
5. Alligator Lizard
Can you believe these lizards can live up to fifteen years! That is longer than most dogs. These cool-looking lizards don’t live in Florida like you might think. Their 30 centimeter bodies slither through the west and live in myriad habitats, including the desert.
Learn more: Animalia
6. Antelope Squirrel
These omnivores are also called antelope chipmunks. They have round ears and are pretty small at about eight inches long. Their underneath areas are white while their tops are brown. They like to dig holes and are similar to vultures in that they will eat spoiled animal remains.
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. Fun facts: they can jump up to nine feet in the air and do not need to consume water. Their main source of water comes from their food.
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. Notice how the tall Dromedary Camel in this photo only has one hump for less comfortable riding.
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 biome 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 little chicks do not do well in extreme temperatures, the red-tailed hawk’s nest in the late winter or early spring. The colder months help with successful reproduction in Northern Utah where desert conditions can be harsh.
Learn more: On The Wing Photography
13. Elf Owl
These nighttime visionaries are the smallest owls alive with wings that only spread about eleven inches. Because they are so small, they are also very light, making them silent while flying. This allows them to capture their prey quietly while flying in the Desert of Kuneer.
Learn more: Guardians of Ga’Hoole
14. Arabian Oryx
The Arabian Oryx had a period of time when it did not exist in the wild. 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 wild “extinct” to “vulnerable.
Learn more: Fauna & Flora International
15. Lappet-Faced Vulture
This particular vulture is the biggest one in Africa. They lack a strong sense of smell and therefore rely on sight and communication with other scavengers to know where the nearest carcass lies. Living on the remains of other animals, these vultures have a 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. During the winter, their fur changes to keep them warm in the Arabian Peninsula. One unique fact to note about these wolves is that their middle toes are connected!
Learn more: The Wolf Intelligencer
17. Spiny Lizards
Lizards love warming themselves on rocks or hot sand. There are many kinds of spiny lizards that live in Arizona and Nevada. One is the Common Sagebrush Lizard, and another is called the Southwestern Fence Lizard. They are both a few inches long and quite colorful.
Learn more: Bird Watching HQ
18. Sand Cats
Don’t let this adorable sand cat fool you by his looks. 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 go many weeks without having a sip of water.
Learn more: One Earth
19. Water-Holding Frog
It is hard to know how many of these frogs live in Wales and Australia because they spend years underground. As you may have guessed by their name, they hold large amounts of water in their bladders. They keep the water in until rain comes.
Learn more: Backyard Buddies
20. Sidewinder Rattlesnake
These tan, three-foot-long, snakes will not live above 6,000 feet of elevation. They are able to have nine babies at a time and leave their mark on sand dunes. You’ll know if a sidewinder rattlesnake is near because the sand will have a long cane shape imprinted on it.
Learn more: National Park Service
21. Arabian Sand Gazelle
Although they look a lot like deer, the Arabian Sand Gazelle / ReemGopherus are very different. The gazelles pictured here live in the Arabian Peninsula and love finding small patches of green grass to munch on.
Learn more: Environment Agency
22. Tarantula Hawk Wasp
Is it a wasp or a spider? The name makes it hard to know, but these insects are more like colorful bee, and hunt spiders. The one in this picture is a male. 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: PRBO
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. 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