Plants & Animals of the Desert

Updated November 21, 2016

Desert plants and animals must adapt both physically and behaviorally to survive in a harsh environment. In the desert, survival depends on using energy efficiently and conserving water.

Plant Types

Xerophytes are adapted to survive in an environment with little available water. Phreatophytes put down long roots to reach groundwater. Desert plants can be perennials or annuals. They include cacti, grasses, yucca, shrubs, trees and flowers.

Physical Adaptations: Plants

Physical adaptations of desert plants include waxy stems that retain water and small leaves, even reduced to spikes, to limit the surface area susceptible to evaporation.

Behavioural Adaptations: Plants

Many plants lie dormant during hot spells. Others open their stomata only at night when it is cool, so they lose less moisture. Succulents, such as cacti, store water within their structure for later use.

Animal Types

Deserts are home to numerous animal species including camels, roadrunners, black widows, rattlesnakes and meerkats. Many species of desert animal are small so they can find shelter from the extreme temperatures.

Physical Adaptations: Animals

Through evolution, several species of desert animals have developed salt glands so they can expel salt but retain water. Fat deposits hold heat, so camels store fat in humps to isolate the heat retention.

Behavioural Adaptations: Animals

Camels drink large quantities of water and store it for use when water is scarce. Multiple species of desert animals live in burrows as protection against extreme temperatures. Most hunt at night.

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