7 Remarkable Desert Dwelling Animals

Discover how a remarkable array of animals have evolved to survive the harsh desert life.

Jul 9, 2024byDonna Hobson

remarkable desert dwelling animals


The desert is a harsh environment, where daytime temperatures regularly reach 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit but can drop to 25 degrees Fahrenheit at night. Here, the landscape is a vast expanse of sand, scarce in water and nutrition.


To survive in the desert, animals must find a way to retain body moisture, slow their metabolism, and fight for survival. Here are some of the most remarkable desert-dwelling animals and the unique skills that allow them to survive here.


1. Fennec Fox

fennec fox relaxing
Credit: Image by Rethinktwice on Pixabay


These adorable little mammals are the smallest foxes in the world and can weigh less than a kilo. Despite their small size, the ears of a fennec fox stretch up to six inches, making them the largest – relative to body size – of any canid. These large sensory organs allow them to hear prey up to a mile away and double as radiators, allowing the fox to shed excess body heat in the desert.


Fennec foxes are nocturnal and spend their days sheltered from the harsh summer sun inside underground dens and sand burrows. Other adaptations that help them to survive in the desert include feet with furry soles to protect against hot sand, sandy-colored coats for camouflage, and kidneys that have adapted to minimize water loss.


2. Roadrunner

roadrunner desert bird
Credit: Image by timeflies1955 on Pixabay


Most birds are known for their impressive flying abilities, but the roadrunner was born to sprint. They can outrun humans, kill venomous snakes, and survive the harsh landscapes of the desert. Tan bodies help them blend into desert sands, but the wings and crown are darker. Roadrunners do not say “meep meep”; they make a kind of “co-coo” noise.


They can fly in short bursts but prefer to run on the ground, using their fancy footwork to outrun predators. A nasal gland allows them to excrete salt from the eye glands, which would otherwise lead to dehydration. In addition, the roadrunner can reabsorb fluid from its food during the digestive process, and they are opportunistic omnivores who use the nutrients and moisture from plants as sustenance through the winter months when food is scarce.


3. Deathstalker Scorpion

deathstalker scorpion
Credit: Image by Welcome to All ! ツ on Pixabay


The deathstalker scorpion is a member of the arachnid family and one of the deadliest scorpions in the world. Its venom is the world’s most expensive liquid and sells for around $10,000,000 per liter. This high price tag is because the proteins within it can help treat many autoimmune disorders, such as arthritis and multiple sclerosis.


Their stinger also doubles as a kind of straw, which allows them to suck the moisture from plants, and flexible dietary requirements enable them to feed on various plants and animals. Deathstalker scorpions rarely drink, gaining all the moisture they need from their prey. In addition, their slow metabolism allows them to survive for up to a year without drinking water.


4. Camel

camel in the Sahara desert
Credit: Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke on Pixabay


You can’t think of desert animals without picturing the camel, perhaps the most famous desert dweller in the world, whose body is perfectly adapted to these harsh conditions. Their famous hump(s) contains fat (not water, as some believe), providing energy when needed. And their wide feet act like snow shoes to prevent their huge mass from sinking into the sand. A camel’s feet also have a leather-like coating on the bottom to protect them against heat.


Mammals lost in the desert – such as humans – can die from circulatory failure once they lose as little as 12% of their body weight in water. But the hardy camel can tolerate a loss of around 30% of body weight from water, one of the highest rates for any mammal. Camels prevent dehydration with thick, syrupy urine and dry fecal matter.


camel in desert
Credit: Image by Wikimedia Commons


Camels also have long eyelashes and nostrils that help them adapt to life in the desert. Like most animals, camels have eyelashes that sit around the optimum length of ⅓ the eye’s width. If these fail to adequately block sand from entering the eye, camels can use their nictitating membrane – a third, transparent eyelid. When we breathe, we lose water vapor due to the heat of our outgoing breaths, but a camel’s nose acts as a dehumidifier and uses mucus membranes to cool the outgoing breath and reabsorb the water vapor. It’s a similar method to why a dog may pant excessively when it’s hot outside.  


5. Meerkat

mob of meerkats
Credit: Image by Andreas Almstedt on Pixabay


The meerkat is one of the cutest desert dwellers whose small and lean bodies help them survive the harshness of the desert. As part of the mongoose family, these adorable little creatures live in groups of 20 to 50 members, which are known as mobs. They help each other survive with excellent communication and by keeping a watchful eye on predators.


The black rings around their eyes help to reflect the Sun’s glare and focus their vision, allowing them to see predators up to 300 meters away. Meerkats are excellent diggers who can dig up their body weight in dirt in just a few seconds, and their burrows can stretch for miles depending on the size of the mob. These underground caves protect against the harsh sun and help these little creatures stay cool during the day.


6. Thorny Devil Lizard

thorny dragon lizard
Credit: Image by PublicDomainImages on Pixabay


The thorny devil lizard has a particularly unique and interesting skill that helps it to stay hydrated in the desert climate – they use capillary action to retrieve water. Any time they pass through dewy landscapes, they can collect water on their skins and direct it to their mouths via tiny channels. 


Thorny devils are obligate myrmecophages, which means they only eat ants with a long tongue designed to pick up a significant amount in one movement. And these lizards also move at a slow pace. Both attributes’ purpose is to expend the least amount of energy.


7. Sand Cats

sand cat desert cat
Credit: Image by Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute


The sand cat is the only true desert cat and resides in North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. They share a similar appearance to many domestic cats but have shorter legs and more prominent ears. Sand cats roam during twilight and night-time when the temperature cools; at the hottest parts of the day, they burrow in sand or bushes to protect themselves against the Sun’s harsh glare.


Other adaptations for desert life include dense hair on the paws, which protects them against burns from the hot sand, and a barking (as opposed to meowing) call that allows them to communicate through the dry desert air.

Donna Hobson
byDonna Hobson

Donna believes that keeping a pet is the key to a happy life. Over the years, many creatures have passed through her home - Sooty the cat, Millie the rabbit, Stuart (Little) the guinea pig, and Trixie the tortoise, alongside her pet goldfish, Zippy, who lived to the grand old age of 24 years! She currently resides with her black kitten Jinx and an aquarium full of fish and snails to entrance them both. When she is not looking after her pets, Donna enjoys researching and writing the answers to all your pet-related wonders.