Each individual environment requires a specific adaptation to deal with the difficulties of living in that habitat. Cold deserts combine the dryness of deserts with the harshness of winter. Animals that live in cold deserts must be able to conserve energy and live in the cold.
Cold deserts have various environments. According to the University of California at Berkeley, some, like the Gobi Desert in Asia, maintain warm temperatures of 21 to 26 degrees Celsius (about 70 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit) during the short summer but drop to minus 2 to 4 degrees Celsius (28 to 39 degrees Fahrenheit) in the long winter. They also tend to receive rain in the spring and snow in the winter at an average of 6 to 10 inches of precipitation a year. Cold deserts can also refer to barren environments in the Arctic or Antarctic.
Cold desert animals--even the ones that also live in hot and dry deserts--burrow into the ground to stay warm. Dry desert animals burrow to stay cool. Animals such as badgers, kit foxes, coyotes and lizards also burrow into the ground. Only jack rabbits tend not to. Cold desert animals usually come out when the temperature is at its warmest.
Cold deserts are also populated by many small mammals that horde food and are stingy about what they eat. These include kangaroo rats, kangaroo mice, pocket mice, grasshopper mice and ground squirrels. Larger mammals such as antelopes, deer and camels can also be found in cold deserts.
Mammals are more likely to appear in cold deserts than reptiles. With coats of fur and warm blood (meaning that they can maintain a stable internal temperature even when the ambient atmospheric temperature dips), mammals are well-adapted to deal with freezing winters. However, some lizards and snakes do make their homes in certain cold deserts.
Like many cold environments, plants in cold deserts tend to be deciduous. They also have spiny leaves, which can help prevent evaporation or protect the plant in the fight for scarce resources. Their shallow and widely spread root systems help absorb as much water as possible, so they tend to be widely scattered. Plant height can vary between 6 to 48 inches. Cacti, sagebrush and ocotillo are a few of the plants that make their home there. However, desert environments are antithetical to plants. Only a select few have managed to adapt to the harsh habitat.