How Do Animals Survive in the Desert?

Ken Bosma/CC-BY 2.0

Surviving in the desert involves overcoming two main obstacles, extreme heat and lack of water, so the primary means that desert animals use to survive in the desert include avoiding heat, dissipating heat, retaining water and acquiring water. Animals that live in the desert have adapted these means over years of evolution to survive in desert conditions.

In order to avoid heat, many desert animals restrict their activity to the cooler mornings and evenings. They also burrow underground or into cacti to avoid daytime heat. Some animals also migrate during the hottest parts of the year. Desert animals dissipate heat through lighter coloring, large ears and long appendages and through gaping mouth-breathing.

In order to retain water, desert animals burrow into moist earth to absorb water into their bodies, or they obtain moisture through the food they eat. Desert animals obtain water from water-retaining plants such as cactus and succulents. They also live in moisture-sealed burrows where they can recycle the moisture from their own breath. Some desert animals have organs that have evolved to extract water from their urine and recycle water from other uses. Another evolved attribute is to excrete waste in the form of uric acid, where very little water is lost.